Marriage is a beautiful vocation. Too often, though, many see it as the fulfillment of personal happiness or just a life milestone to reach — but it’s so much more than that. Marriage is a mission: a call from God for the greater good of each other and the world. It is a vocation, a state of life which has a particular way of loving and serving God.
Like any vocation, its mission is service: service to one’s spouse, to any children that come, and to the community the family lives in.
In his apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (“The Fellowship of the Family”), St. John Paul II said, “Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored… Particularly today, the Christian family has a special vocation to witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating the joy of love and the certainty of the hope for which it must give an account,’” (FC 17, 52).
It’s no small thing, to raise a family in a world like ours — it’s a joyous responsibility and tremendous gift.
So if you’re getting married, or hope to be one day, here’s what you need to know to prepare for the mission God has called you to, according to priests who guide marriage preparation and a few people who have been there.
1. Know God, know yourself.
One of the most important things to do to prepare for your future vocation is to know yourself and know God.
Seth DeMoor, founder of OneBillionStories.com, said that this self-growth is crucial to grow in holiness in general.
“Know yourself, which means turning the digital world off more, get to know yourself through prayer and sacraments, get into spiritual direction,” DeMoor said. “Certainly keep God at the center [of any relationship], and if both the guy and the lady are heading toward God, eventually, you’ll meet in the middle.”
Father Scott Bailey, who does marriage preparation, agreed that knowing ourselves and putting our relationship with God first is the first step.
“Make God the first priority…[singles] have more free time, so work on making him your first love,” Father Bailey said. “Know yourselves and know what you want – especially women. They too often can compromise…it’s important for people to know what they do want.”
Growing in virtue is also invaluable preparation — especially the virtue of chastity.
“If a couple cannot make progress in chastity, they’re not ready to get married, because marriage also requires chastity. If a couple or individual isn’t able to make a sacrifice for the other person, then you won’t be ready to [do so] in marriage,” Father Bailey said.
2. Work on communication and vulnerability.
Communication, next to prayer, is probably the most important key to making relationships flourish, and in our tech-heavy world, it can be easy to get caught up in the instant gratification mindset of communicating.
Rather than having conversations in person or over the phone, we text. Texting is easy. What’s hard is vulnerability.
“Vulnerability is painful and it’s easier to lock your heart away,” Father Bailey said, referring to the song, “Hello My Old Heart” by the folk band, The Oh Hello’s, which talks about hiding our hearts from pain, and therefore, love, as a result.
“I think our younger millennial generation seems to struggle with intimacy…we desire [it] but seem to close [ourselves] off to it…people don’t share the important things and over-share the unimportant things,” Father Bailey said.
Father James Fox, pastor at Good Shepherd Parish, has been doing marriage preparation with couples for over 40 years — and had some valuable advice. To grow in communication, start with “putting away your phones and talking.”
“There has to be transparency. You can’t be afraid to share a fear, an expectation, a hope,” Father Fox said. “No two people will know each other completely before they get married, but there does need to be transparency. We can’t go into marriage having expectations without partners knowing what they are.”
3. If you’re engaged, remember what’s important.
Engagement can be an exciting and challenging time, full of mixed emotions. But rather than getting caught up in the all-too-easy cycle of perfectionistic wedding planning, remember the purpose of marriage: to help your spouse get to heaven.
“Talk about what you want together…what are your goals, about your faith – this is fellow souls traveling toward heaven,” said Cheyenne Becker, who is engaged to get married this spring. “Do I like and do I love this person’s soul? It’s a feeling and a choice and an act, but at the end of the day, it’s a commitment of the heart.”
Engagement is also an opportunity of deeper conversion for both future spouses.
“Getting married requires two conversions. As soon as you tell someone you’re getting married, you realize it’s not just for you…it’s for a community of persons,” Father Fox said. “The second [conversion] is [realizing] that not only is it not their wedding, but it’s not their marriage alone; God has a plan for their marriage.”
4. Create a vision for your marriage.
When preparing for marriage, it’s also important to have the question in mind: What is it that God wants to reveal to the world through your marriage? How will you be of service to each other and to society?
Father Fox recommended coming up with a two, five and 25 year vision for your marriage, even adding little things like making it a goal to embarrass your children with your affection for each other.
“What is your vision for your relationship? I think having a vision is critical. What would we like people to say about us as a couple?” Father Fox said. “Start [your] mission as a couple by going to a charitable organization. [Your] being married is a mission from God, and reveals God’s heart to the world. Get to know what poverty is, and make that a part of a mission…then it begins to give focus to [your] marriage.”
“We believe marriage is not only possible, but [that] your vision and God’s vision for your marriage should get closer every day of your married life,” Father Fox added.
While you can work hard to grow in virtue and prepare for the great adventure that is the vocation of marriage, one will never truly be “ready” — at some point, you take the leap and trust God. And for those still single and longing for marriage, trust that God has a plan — and a timeline — for everyone.