What To Expect Before You’re Expecting
by Rijo Philip
One of the most important aspects of marriage preparation that Megan and I encountered was to make sure we were approaching the sacrament with appropriate expectations. Many of us expect to experience the very rewarding elements of marital life, especially with the bliss of falling in love. We might even approach marriage or dating with idealistic or romanticized views.
As Megan and I were approaching the sacrament, there were several people who reminded us of the various trials that can come in marriage. They challenged us to realize the gravity of the commitment one makes in Holy Matrimony. What best puts this into perspective for me is recognizing that one of marriage’s primary purposes is to make us holy. The advice we received helped me tremendously as I prepared for my vows to Megan.
Marriage on earth helps prepare us for the eternal marriage with our Lord in heaven. However, before we can do that, we must be purified of all the qualities that stand in the way of our loving and receiving love purely, which we will be doing with God in heaven. We must shed our self-centeredness. We must grow in humility to be able to seek forgiveness when we do wrong, and to extend mercy and forgiveness when we are offended. We must learn to be patient and kind and comply with all the traits of love enumerated by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
In short, we must grow to love our spouse and others as Christ loves us. After all, in heaven we will be caught up in that perfect exchange of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, marriage is a laboratory for making us saints. It is our school for sanctity where we put into practice the lessons taught in Scripture, even if it got so extreme that the lesson is to love your enemy. Marriage is ultimately where we begin experiencing the bliss of eternal life with God, and its challenges help prepare us for that life with Him.
During our marriage preparation, Megan and I learned that one of the reasons many marriages fail today is because couples are not prepared for this kind of commitment. Their marriage does not match the one they pictured when they entered it, so they decide to escape it. Sometimes couples fail to rely on the graces that God promises to provide that would allow them to stay committed in their marriage and ultimately lead them toward holiness. Marriage can stretch us and test our faith in ways we’ve never imagined, but if we persevere in faith, we will also experience the rewards of the Christian life that Jesus has promised us. We will come to know the joy, the peace, and the happiness that only Christ can offer and the world cannot give. Despite the challenges we might face, if marriage is our vocation, it can be the best thing for our life because it can lead us to eternal life.
During my first and only Lent while preparing for wedding vows, I had a prayerful reflection that profoundly impacted the way I approached them. The vows state, “I promise to be faithful to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.” I reflected on these words as I witnessed the way Christ loved His bride in the days leading up to Good Friday. I came to recognize that my vow would be to love and honor Megan all the days of my life, regardless of anything else. It would NOT be contingent upon her accepting me or making me happy. It would NOT be dependent upon her meeting some expectation of mine or even living up to her own vows. My commitment and promise would still stand even if Megan were extremely difficult to love, as hard as it is to imagine at this early stage of our relationship! I am being called to love Megan the way Christ loves His bride, even if Megan were to treat me the way Christ’s bride treats Him.
While I certainly don’t expect Christ’s suffering in my marriage and am confident that Megan will be faithful to her vows, the gravity of those vows struck me as they relate to Christ’s love. I imagine at certain points in a marriage, one might feel like Christ during His agony in the garden or the Way of the Cross, due to either the direct action of the spouse or some other life circumstance that makes them difficult to love. It is especially in those moments when spouses must rely on God’s grace to carry out their vows.
Marriage is a journey of learning to love and be loved, and choosing to love the other day after day. In doing so, we become more like Christ and better prepared for the eternal wedding feast with God. I can expect marriage to be perhaps the most challenging endeavor I undertake in my life, but also the most rewarding if I am willing to receive the blessings that God wants to bestow upon me through it.
Some of us hear the advice that we should never expect our spouse to change after marriage. While I can appreciate the sentiment of loving your spouse and staying committed to them even if they didn’t change, I believe a primary purpose of marriage IS for change to take place – in both spouses – hopefully for the better and holier. Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” Marriage is meant to change us and help us grow in holiness. Like growth in most areas of life, our growth in marriage can have its own pains and discomforts as we are purified and perfected in the ways of love. If you find a partner who shares your Christian values, recognizes the commitment and indissolubility of marriage, and strives for holiness themselves – then you may truly have a match made in heaven, or better yet, a match that will make you better fit for heaven.