My fiance and I became best friends at thirteen, started dating at sixteen, and got engaged five and a half years later at twenty-one. Before the end of high school, both of us knew we had found our future spouse. Though our relationship has personally lacked the nervous, exciting buildup of certainty that often develops over time, and, for better or worse, the shock that sometimes accompanies a marriage proposal, it has had a constant steadiness and unceasing faithfulness.
We've grown overwhelmingly in our commitment to the good of the other and in our desire to have a holy relationship. One year into our relationship, we were already talking about what we could do to grow into the best husband or wife for each other. We talked about what our long term life goals were, what we sought in for our future family life and faith, and how we best give and receive love. Then we talked about how we could take practical steps to help prepare us for that life.
Along the way, though, we realized we couldn't focus solely on the future. Rather, we had to focus on being present in a way that would help us be the man and woman God was asking us to be right then.
Somewhere along the line I inadvertently ruled out engagement as a serious opportunity for growth. I must have tricked myself into thinking that since my now-fiance and I had spent so many years distantly preparing for marriage, by time we got engaged we would be ready. Plain and simple; ready to get married tomorrow.
But shortly after saying Yes to forever, I had the scary revelation that I didn't think we were ready. The steadiness that I'd felt all along seemed to falter within me.
I looked at the current state of our relationship and concluded we still had struggles that I thought we would have resolved by this point. I told my fiance my fears. He said, "We have one year till we're standing in front of the altar, which means I have one year to become more of the man you need me to be and the man God is calling me to be. Trust me that in this year I can work toward being the husband you deserve."
This may seem like it was all his fault, or that he's the sole reason I had fears, which is not the case. He is just more more humble than I am and always much better at realizing his areas of growth (I'm quite the stubborn person).
He taught me three things that day:
Being 100% ready isn't actually the most important factor in getting engaged.
Rather, being 100% committed to the good of your future spouse and future family--and moreover, being 100% dependent on the ways God’s grace will work in your heart--is what matters.
There is no specific level of readiness that qualifies you as ready to get engaged; no exact standard you must reach or boxes you must check that gets you to a magical place where you may definitively state, "I am absolutely ready and we may now get engaged and then married."
Obviously there are some signs and markers that reflect a strong, healthy, and holy relationship, and those are extremely important. But what I'm saying is that even the best relationship still isn't perfect. And because we are imperfect beings our relationships will always have room for growth and improvement. The best relationship, instead, will be the one that relies not on the strength and goodness of the individuals, but on God: the source of love and all good things.
Engagement isn't just a countdown.
I don't know when I got it in my head that engagement wouldn't be that different from dating. I used to think it was simply a matter of publicly, rather than quietly, preparing for marriage. But I have realized I was so wrong.
It is here, during engagement, that you take concrete steps to learn about your vocation and form your life in a way that will prepare you for it. Moreover, it is a time specifically set aside to talk to other married couples and families; to sit at their feet and learn from their firsthand witness about the life you're about to enter into.
Even when I stand in front of the altar and profess my vows, I will still not be completely ready for my vocation.
Marriage is not about being perfect. Marriage is about becoming evermore who God has made us to be, together, throughout a lifetime.
Marriage is about helping one another become the best versions of ourselves. It is about the constant struggle and beauty that comes in helping each walk towards heaven. Marriage is sanctifying.
I've learned firsthand in these last months that preparing for marriage, and marriage itself, is hard. When I profess my wedding vows I will be committing myself to a lifetime of hard and sanctifying work, and that is a beautiful thing.
I can't wait to marry my fiance, but it is not because he is perfect, or that we are 100% compatible, or that everything is always wonderful.
It is because for the past six years I have loved watching him grow into the man he is today, and I can't wait to be by his side as I watch him continue becoming the loving, strong, and faithful man I know he is destined to be.
I’ve been praying, ever since we had this conversation, that I might have the same eagerness to let God change me that my fiance has. My prayer is that every day from now until the day we are standing at the altar, he will open my own heart to the beauty and sanctification that is the fruit of a demanding love.
Before, our differences scared me. But now they challenge me.
I see every difference, every fault, every failing we may have as a challenge to love deeper, to love better, and to not shy away from the transforming work that love demands. I’ve felt God call me, over the past few months, to step out of the desire I have for things to fit perfectly together, and to fall more in love with the beautiful messiness that comes from two flawed human beings attempting to love as God loves.
I know God is continuing to work on my heart, to form me into the woman he has called me to be, and I pray that as my fiance walks this journey with me, he’ll not only fall more in love with me, but through me will see an ever-clearer picture of God’s faithfulness and love for us.
About the Author: Brooke Paris is marrying her high school sweetheart on June 30, 2017. They both credit Mama Mary and Saint Pope John Paul II for leading them to their vocation. Brooke is currently a graduate student and working graduate fellow at The Catholic University of America. She loves Theology of the Body, Southern cities and food, and wineries and rooftop bars. BLOG | INSTAGRAM