Perhaps you have heard the words of Pope St. Paul VI, who said that man “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” What does this mean for those of us who are dating but not yet married, or maybe married but desiring to become a better wife? How do we make ourselves a sincere gift? In the new book, “Becoming Wife: Saying Yes to More Than the Dress,” author Rachel Bulman explains what Pope Paul VI meant.
In eight short chapters, she addresses topics like “Why Spousality Matters,” “Surrender and Trust” and “Evangelization.” Her motivation to write this book comes from her lack of finding resources on spousality specifically. On what it means, as a wife, to be “with” and “for” another person.
She begins her book on this topic of spousality, writing about what it means to be with.
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Why spousality matters
First, Rachel explains how both man and woman have a shared likeness. Adam fell asleep alone but woke up with Eve by his side. “He accepts her as like him, one who looks like him, whose heart is like his own, and who is called to be loved just as he is called to be loved. She not only shares his likeness in body and stature but also something more: She shares his original solitude, this ability to be alone with God.”
Second, husband and wife are called to faithful love. “If love is from God, and God is love, then we are participating, as spouses, in the truth summarized in the creed: ‘God from God.’ Made in his image and likeness, we hand on that image and likeness to each other.” Rachel writes that in order to be with, we must be faithful always, just as God is always faithful to us. We show God’s love to our spouse through our fidelity, and through our fidelity, we bring God’s love to the world, by reflecting his own love.
Third, the importance of gift. “Giving the gift must be more about the receiver than the giver so that the giving is truly oriented outward and not toward oneself.” When a couple offers a sincere gift of self, they mirror the love of the Trinity, but they don’t lose themselves in the process. “Spouses must maintain their individuality to also maintain their communion. In this way, we mirror the Trinitarian life of God. The three persons of the Trinity are three persons for the sake of communion, who are constantly pouring themselves out for the other.”
In her chapter on evangelization, I just love the point she makes about the way in which God sent Gabriel to Mary and Joseph, inviting them to be the parents of Jesus. The angel came to Joseph and Mary separately, without the pressure of their betrothed before them. “They responded separately and then responded together.” Mary and Joseph said yes to God’s plan for their life and for the salvation of the world. They expressed their love through their selflessness. Joseph, out of respect for Mary and love for God, was steadfast in his commitment to marry her. Mary, though she did not know what her future would look like, gave her fiat to the Lord’s will, entrusting herself completely to God.
Within our own marriages, this self-surrender might seem on a much smaller scale. We may not fear the appearance of scandal in our marriage, as Joseph might have, nor are we called to birth the savior of the world as Mary was. Yet things as simple as keeping up our home, cleaning, cooking, and encouraging (and providing the time for) our spouse to invest in their hobbies are exactly the kind of things we are called to through our vows, when we promised to love and honor them all the days of our life.
“In a world that speaks only the language of selfishness, the self-denial we choose every day in the Sacrament of Matrimony speaks volumes,” Rachel concludes.
Surrender and trust
I was also moved by Rachel’s words on how we can be a huge part of how our spouse serves others. For example, it was because of Rachel’s encouragement and the freedom that she gave her husband, Jason, that he pursued the diaconate. She writes, “The spouse has the incredible power to take an idea and make it a possibility.” I felt the same way when my husband (then fiancé) encouraged me to start freelance writing. His encouragement had a huge impact on the trajectory of my life.
Rachel challenges her readers to reflect on the needs your spouse might have, that you, as his wife, can fulfill. In addition, what gifts does your husband have that you, in a particular way, can affirm and encourage him in?
“There will be missions that need your husband, things that he will need to do and people he will be called to serve. But he cannot do this fully without your support and prayers.” Ultimately, we are called to union with God, and to help bring others into this union. It was so helpful for me to think of my husband’s service this way, and how I can encourage him to be Jesus’ hands and feet rather than complain about the time away it may require. Obviously each couple needs to discern commitments to ministries as a team, but when done so prayerfully, this talent or service offered can much more easily be perceived as a joy.
The last section of Rachel’s book emphasizes the grace of the sacrament and the importance of gratitude. If we are thankful for the simple, daily blessings within our marriage, we build a strong foundation for growing in holiness. We do this by being focused not on self, but on God and on how God is loving us through our spouse.
“Never stop saying thank you” Rachel writes. “Do not allow ingratitude to numb you to the graciousness of your very existence! It is good that you exist!” When it comes to your husband, “Thank him for every moment that he makes you feel special. Thank him for the small things and the giant gestures.” In doing so you foster a heart of gratitude and an open eye for the graces being poured out into your life through the love of your spouse.