Is There Life Before Marriage?
My website is Restless Pilgrim and I do a podcast that goes into it discussion of Mere Christianity by CS Lewis.
“This is the faith; walk in it.”
I first gave this talk on a retreat where all the married people would be in one room, and I would be giving a talk to all the single people. After asking friends, and some thought and prayer, I came up with this title. Even though people here tonight aren’t all single, I think this is something that the single people here need to hear and the non-single people need to remember — how much of a role they play in the lives their single friends. Don’t “wait until marriage” — that is, don’t just wait. And the same when you’re in a relationship, don’t just wait for the next thing. Your value doesn’t come from what you do but from who you are: a person in the image of God. Your worth is intrinsic. Your single years are not like a waiting room, or the previews at a movie that you’d like to just skip.
This sentiment that I will get married and then I’ll start to live — this is tragic. A lot of people, by their actions, would answer the title question “no”, but that comes from not understanding what marriage is. It’s not to make you happy; it’s to get you to heaven. It’s a life-long Lent; it’s the biggest form of mortification. Your spouse isn’t going to fulfill all of your needs. Your ache for a spouse is really an ache for God.
“Honey, you don’t fully satisfy me. Sweetheart, neither do you. “
Saint Augustine — the heart is restless until it rests in God.
Until you have a ring on your finger, a Roman collar on your neck, or a habit on your back, you’re still discerning. God might be calling you to a vocation you don’t expect, or not to any vocation. What could be worse than spending your life waiting for something that happens?
An alternative: Don’t live future, but embrace the state in life as it is. These things are going to change — make the most of where things are now. Not hedonism; live in the present but with purpose.
Friendship, discernment, virtue, service. Four areas to look at in your life.
Seek out good, holy friendships. Look for the bridesmaids before you look for the groom. History is full of great teams. We’re shaped by the people we spend most time with. We want to assemble around ourselves a saint-making team. Saints come in clusters. Likewise, build strong relationships with your family. In a monastery or after marriage, you might not get to see them as much. And spend time with good couples you admire. Divorce is rampant; it’s easy to become cynical when the only story you hear is one of failing marriages. Think of TV shows — there are very few examples of good marriages, and many of the ones that come to mind are from quite a few years ago.
When you have a child, you really get to see who you married — you get to see what they are like having slept four hours and having to get up at 3 am to look after a screaming pooping baby.
Getting married teaches you who you are. After taking your girlfriend out on a date, you can go back home and sit in your underwear and read a comic book and unwind. (My past roommates can attest to me doing this.) When you’re married, you’re together.
Speaking to the guys in the room for a moment: Form good friendships. Statistically, today many guys have few or no good friends. Good friend are the people you have given permission to speak into your life. Last Lent, I let my friends pick my Lenten penance — and it was the hardest Lent ever for me because zeroed in on my weaknesses. They know me and what would help me grow.
Don’t just assume a vocation, actively discern it. Not just some fake naval-gazing, discernment has to be active. I had two points in my life wher I felt I was called to the priesthood. Find a good spiritual director. Make space for silence. You need quiet so you’re ready to listen when God speaks. A full holy hour is great, but regularity is important too. I do thirty minutes I call a Holy Half.
Deal with your baggage. Everybody has some. Reflect on your past and reflect on what you learned. In addition to spiritual direction, try counseling.
Seek out people who are in the vocation you’re discerning, and ask them about their story. If you’re single, maybe they’ll ask you to come have dinner — and if you’re married, by all means invite them, and maybe they’ll look after the kids for a bit, and you can go on a date after dinner to get ice cream!
Growing in your faith is important, regardless of what you’re called to for vocation. Use this time to go on retreat, and attend Bible study, and so on. These things become harder in a vocation. At the moment, you can go to mass any time you want; you don’t have a small person to feed. Confession is good preparation for marriage by saying you’re sorry. The wedding ring isn’t magic — it doesn’t transform you into a paragon of virtue. Virtue is a habit. An Olympic sprinter prepares for years before the race. This is no different. Be the person you would want to marry or that you would want your children to marry.
Saint Pope John Paul II — only the chaste man and the chaste wooman can have true love.
Porn is a terrible prison for relationship because it teaches gratification without sacrifice. And fast — we’re just getting into Advent which is a traditional time of penance. Fasting is immensely powerful — this is how many people break addictions. It teaches self mastery; we master ourselves so that we can give ourselves away in love.
Be generous with the life God has given you. Give of yourself in the ways that you can, and support the ministries of the local parish. When you see a need, you just go and serve — that’s entrepreneurial Catholicism. Dying to self and serving others is good for whatever vocation your going to in the future.
No vocation is easy, but there you find joy and the will of God. What if you’re not really looking at those areas from my talk today? It’s easy — start looking! Think of it like an investment; a little today will reap dividends in the future. Likewise, don’t wish away the time you have today. If you allow God to do so, he will use the time you have to make you a saint.
How to choose what to work on for virtues? Classically speaking, we’d talk about the cardinal ones. Those are a great place to start. Also, you can ask close friends what you need to work on and what vices you need to work on. They know you well and they can tell you about it if you’re willing to ask and listen.