The day after my fiancé and I got engaged, we sat down and wrote a prayer to say together every night of our engagement in preparation for marriage. It’s a practice we began over two years ago when we started the long distance portion of our relationship, adjusting the prayer to whatever circumstances we were in at that time to bring us together spiritually even when we were physically apart.
In our engagement prayer, we were intentional in including the invocation to help us “not let the details get the way.” I was happy to include it, but thought it was a little unnecessary – I of all people certainly was not going to be a bridezilla. My fiancé and I are both devout Catholics, so I recognized that the wedding Mass was far more important than the rest of the day. Dozens of brides had warned me not to let the wedding take over my life, and after working for a church for seven years, I’d seen plenty of brides who didn’t have the joy I hoped to feel on my wedding day, since their minds were too preoccupied by details to be truly present in the day. Thus, I vowed to never let the wedding take precedence over my marriage.
Through the first five months of our engagement, I naively thought I'd kept my promise. I picked my wedding dress in less than an hour (it was the first one I tried on), I hired the first and only DJ I ever talked to, I spent hours perusing the internet to find the best deals on everything because I was determined not to go over our budget, and I hardly delegated tasks to anyone, even my fiancé. I was an easy bride…or so I thought.
The last few weeks have been jammed. As we quickly approach our June wedding, I’ve been trying to cram everything going on in my life into whatever spare hours I have, including the brilliant idea of spending the two hours we had between work and our pre-Cana program printing our DIY invitations. After an hour of trying unsuccessfully (they printed out, but were navy, not teal, and would clash with our motif), I finally barked to forget it, and we went off on our weekend. It wasn’t until I was having a complete meltdown on the way to marriage prep that I realized my priorities were way off-track.
Oddly enough, one of the parts I was dreading most in the wedding preparations was pre-Cana. As part of our engagement present, my future in-laws had sponsored my fiancé and me to attend an Engaged Encounter weekend, a retreat-based marriage preparation program that fulfills pre-Cana requirements. I was extremely grateful for this gift, but the thought of spending an entire weekend away from our hectic lives of work, grad school, volunteering, and wedding planning was daunting.
The closer we got to the weekend, the more apprehensive I became. I knew the basic format of the weekend – someone would discuss a trigger topic of marriage (ie. money, intimacy, NFP, communication, etc.) and then we would have time to write about our responses and share them with each other. We’d also been told that it would be a working weekend and to come well rested (ha!). I imagined my sleep-deprived fiancé and myself attempting to have meaningful conversations and ending up just arguing the entire weekend. After a long week at work, the last thing I felt like doing was losing out on more sleep and fighting battles we had already settled long before.
So here we were, two devout Catholics sitting in a conference room on a Friday night dreading our pre-Cana weekend and cockily thinking that we had nothing to gain from it. I’ve planned dozens of retreats before and knew that attitude was everything, but here I was falling into the same trap as so many others before me. I was totally not present, sullenly calculating how many hours it was until we would be released, and wrapped up in worrying about how to get the invitations done on time.
At the beginning of the weekend, the moderators stressed that we were going to get out of the weekend whatever we put into it. I was cynical, but as I listened to the two moderating couples – one married for twelve years, the other for sixty – I began to realize that we have a lot to learn. These two couples opened up to us about what they’d been through in marriage: the highs, the lows, and everything in between. They were so brutally honest and open that it caused us to want to be brutally honest and open with each other as well. Their love was infectious, and I found myself slowly letting go of all of the stresses and taking the time to really look at the man I was marrying, who I realized I’d been looking past in all of my planning. Despite my valiant attempts, I’d made him just another piece in the puzzle of my dream day, instead of letting him make my day a dream.
Throughout the weekend, we slowly let our guards down and fell in love again on a deeper level through our intimate conversations. We went from being business partners, tasked with accomplishing the task of merging our lives with at times unemotional precision, to being carefree lovebirds again, totally in awe of each other and the great gift of love that we've been given by God.
What Engaged Encounter gave us was the opportunity to take intentional time to turn off every distraction and just focus on us. We talked about subjects we’d evaded in the past, or hadn't had time to fully discuss in a relaxed and loving setting. Conversations I’d never imagined bringing up that weekend came up naturally, free of tension and full of honest, thoughtful dialogue. Even more importantly, the retreat encouraged us to reground our relationship with each other in our relationship with God, and to recognize that the closer we become to Him, the closer we will be to each other.
The turning point came for me on Saturday night when we all gathered in the chapel for a special blessing. Part of the blessing involved us taking each other’s hands in the manner that we will on our wedding day. As we stood looking in each other’s eyes, I felt an overwhelming desire to marry my fiance right then and there. And suddenly, I realized it didn’t matter if the bridesmaids’ flowers were ivory or blush or if the wedding programs were printed on the same paper as the invitations; my dream wedding is going to be a dream because I’m marrying the love of my life, my best friend, the man who draws me closer to God on a daily basis, who makes me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, and who practices selfless, sacrificial love every day.
Before our Engaged Encounter weekend, I was excited for my marriage, but I was focused on the wedding, letting the details and the pressures of hosting a Pinterest-perfect party get in the way of continuing to feed and develop my relationship with my beloved. After Engaged Encounter, I am still excited for my “fairytale” wedding, but have become focused on my upcoming marriage and the excitement and humility I have in joining my life with the person I love most, second only to Jesus.
Did our engagement become perfect after our weekend? Not at all. On Monday morning, I still had to handle the invitation fiasco and hunt down the florist for a price on the flowers, and even now I still have to remind myself to not get so wrapped up in the details. But from the moment we left the retreat, I noticed that we were much more intentional in making sure that the other felt loved and appreciated and did our best to retain the joy in each other’s presence that was so prevalent that weekend.
On June 16th, I will once again stand opposite the man of my dreams, holding his hands and taking the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. I can’t say that I’m confident the invitations will perfectly match the bridesmaid dresses or that my floating candles will last the entire night, but thanks to Engaged Encounter, I now feel more confident than ever in the most important part of the day – that I am marrying the most amazing man in the world, and that I am the most blessed girl in the world to be able to do so.
If you’d like to learn more about Engaged Encounter, please visit their website.
About the Author: Emily DiBiase is marrying the love of her life on June 16, 2017. She now works in the Marketing Department at the same college where she and her fiancé Aaron met as high school students at an accepted students day. She is currently studying for her master’s in theology through the Augustine Institute, and when she’s not wedding planning, you can probably find her teaching religious education, running the parish youth group, spending time with family, or starting her Catholic marketing company, Gloriam Marketing. She loves biblical studies, especially typology, and has strong feelings about God, Jane Austen, and the Oxford comma. She blogs about Catholic young adult life at www.catholickidproblems.wordpress.com.