What a pandemic taught me about marriage

“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux).

I have always been an intense planner. In January of 2020, when my now husband, Nathan, and I first began seriously discussing marriage, I spent a lot of time thinking about the wedding. I spent hours debating over green or purple tablecloths, cake or cupcakes, this date or that date. I was preoccupied with the details of that big day and, more immediately, the grand proposal I looked forward to.

When the pandemic arrived, my ideas for a big proposal faded. Even worse, I didn’t see Nathan for almost a month because of the stay at home order. When we did finally see one another, it was to go on a walk around my neighborhood.

It was early April. We walked for an hour. When my feet had grown tired, we paused beside a small lake. I noticed a set of steps leading from our current path to an open grassy field with a cherry blossom tree in full bloom beside the water. Just beside the tree was a dock overlooking the lake. In excitement, I raced down to the dock, and a gentle breeze settled onto my skin. When I turned around, I saw Nathan standing by the cherry blossom tree. When I approached, he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

The proposal was simple and just us. Afterward as we walked back to my house, I couldn’t stop glancing at the shiny new ring on my finger. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected things to turn out this way, but they did. It has taken me the next year, and surely many more to come, to realize just how much being engaged in a pandemic has allowed me to grow.

Marriage as a sacrament, not a wedding

Shortly after we got engaged, Nathan and I began reading a book called “Rediscovering a Pearl of Great Price: The Surprising Sacrament of Matrimony” by Father Thomas Vandenberg. The main premise of the book is that marriage as a sacrament has been largely underemphasized and not properly explained to those in the Church. This is reflected in the sad reality that more and more couples opt not to marry in the Church and seek not to live out their marriage with God as the center.

Father Vandenberg explains that sacramental marriage is a call from God for the life of the Church. A sacrament is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an “efficacious [sign] of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (No. 1131). To give a concrete image of marriage as a sacrament, he goes on to say how couples marrying in the Church enter into a covenant not only with one another, or even with God, but with God’s people, the whole Church community. This was a view of marriage I had never considered. Anyone can get married these days, but not every marriage can be that sacramental sign of grace that gives divine life to others.

As Nathan and I continued to read Father Vandenberg’s book, my focus shifted away from wedding logistics to the liturgy. I started spending my time thinking about how we might put together a Mass program that explained each part of the marriage ceremony and the significance for guests (Catholic and not) so that they might better understand the sacrament we were entering into.

Father Vandenberg’s book helped me realize that our engagement, and ultimately our marriage, was not just about us, our families or even about God, but about all of these things in combination with God’s people. I came to see that our actions and decisions in marriage should be a positive example of love in other people’s lives, not just on our wedding day, but for every day after. Through our witness, we can reveal the sacrificial love of Christ to those around us so as to ultimately inspire others to greater love in their own lives and vocations.

Embracing acceptance and perspective while engaged

While the book helped me to see and understand God’s sacramental intention of marriage for our future, the pandemic helped me to see the importance of both acceptance and perspective in our current time of engagement leading up to marriage. Engagement, in normal circumstances, is a time of major transition. It can be easy to get overwhelmed, especially with the added challenge of preparing in a pandemic.

What helped me tremendously to manage these many transitions was acceptance. Over the months of our engagement, I grew frustrated over my lack of control. Due to the pandemic, we faced questions regarding how many guests we could have, the issue of face masks, the possibility of rescheduling our reception, and even if we would be allowed to travel for a honeymoon. These questions left me feeling angry and defeated. It was only through prayer and conversations with loved ones that I finally found acceptance: that whatever our wedding would be and whatever challenges the pandemic or otherwise threw our way for building our life together, I could still find joy.

A big part of this acceptance came through perspective. It is so tempting to focus on one moment in time — a proposal, a wedding, the birth of a child — instead of life as a whole. While the pandemic has undoubtedly been hard and depressing, it is but one moment in time. Engagement is about preparing for marriage, which, God willing, will last a lifetime. Likewise, marriage is not about one moment in time, but about all of the many moments wrapped up in years of love and trial.

This advice can be applied to any state in life. In my everyday moments, I am trying to accept the good and bad times, knowing that both will have their season. I can’t say I accept everything in my life with joy or that I have perfect perspective on everything, but I am learning to take stock of the blessings, to trust in God and lean on those he has placed in my life.

Having finally married my husband on March 19 of this year — the solemnity of St. Joseph — my greatest takeaway from my year of engagement during a pandemic has been to embrace each day as it comes and not lose track of the present moment by planning too much for the future. I would encourage readers to learn more about Catholic marriage as sacramental and to ask the Lord for greater acceptance and perspective in your lives wherever you are on your journey of faith.

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