Gaining Trust While Losing Control
I had several years of being a single gal in a big city before I met Anthony and got married. That means I spent several years paying my own rent, finding my own jobs, making my own moves, choosing my own friends and generally planning my own life.
Anthony and I are now almost four-months married and I am sometimes asked: what is the most surprising challenge I’ve had in those short months? Without putting too fine a point on it, the most difficult thing to adjust to has been losing a sense of control over my life.
Now, when it comes down to it, this sense of control is an illusion. We don’t really control our own destiny nor can we exercise absolute control over our own lives in any sense. But the practical realities of being single certainly help maintain the precious illusion of control. I’ve slowly come to realize that if I got a phone call one day with an offer for my dream job across the country, I would not be able to shout an exuberant “YES!”, pack my bags and start in a week. I would have to have a conversation with my husband about it. We would have to decide if a move would be the best thing for our family. We would have to consider his job prospects in the new location, and a whole host of other unanswered questions made more complicated by the fact that it is not just my life and personal fulfillment to consider.
On a less dramatic scale, if a friend called Anthony asking him to meet up for a drink after work, it would be pretty inconsiderate of Anthony to give an automatic “yes” to his friend without a thought or word about it to me.
Now, this all seems very obvious and something that anyone in any relationship – married or not – would have to consider. I knew intellectually that once I knit my life to a person through the sacrament of marriage all future decisions would be made with an “us” in mind rather than just an “I”. But I was shocked at how much my mind rebelled when the concept morphed into reality.
There is also a greater gravity to this reality within a marriage because of its permanence. I realized that I will very likely never make an important decision autonomously again in my life. This realization was jarring for a girl who spent most of her 20’s forging her own path.
But when this reality is considered through the lens of the sacrament of marriage, it can be seen for the sanctifying cross that it is. Marriage crucifies our wills and our autonomy in a way that few other instruments (short of religious vows) can. And so much of our salvation is worked out when we stop seeking only our own needs and start considering the needs of others.
Personal autonomy is an illusion, and in some ways a lie. No matter what popular culture tells us, we are not made to live only for #1 and seeking out the highest level of personal happiness. This great sacrament draws our attention away from our own autonomy and focuses it squarely on the good of another. Hopefully reaching a point when their joy is our joy, or ask the Greeks call it, Agape.
More than that, the sacrament of marriage challenges every couple to radical trust in God’s providence. In its own unique way, marriage has the potential to shatter whatever illusions of control we have and ultimately help us to see reality more clearly: no, we do not have control over our lives, but we can say with certainty that everything that happens to us comes through the hands of a Father who loves us and wills our good.