If you ever imagined and prayed once your finger held an engagement ring, your relationship and spiritual life would soar to the heights and become less complicated, only to learn the truth sometimes more resembles the opposite, you aren’t alone. The love of man and wife is transformative and real, life-giving, with the power to transcend and change this world. It’s obvious why the enemy constantly snaps at the the heels of something so good, so beautiful, so much more powerful than death.
During my own engagement, I was suddenly more aware of spiritual warfare than ever before. In times past, to be honest, I’d always considered attacks from Satan more of a superstition than a reality, yet here came a hurricane of self-doubt, anxiety about the future, and particularly for my fiancé and I, battles with purity. At the time, I was serving a mission year as a chastity speaker, and my boss told us to expect a battle.
As I began my mission, and as my husband-to-be and I embarked on thirteen months of long-distance dating and engagement, we struggled constantly, spending our rare visits arguing about wedding matters and staying up too late, too physically close--sex was a line we were resolved not to cross, yet we’d inch closer to that line than we’d intended, all the same. The deeper I fell in love with him, the more I wanted to express that love fully.
Don't misunderstand me. Desire for your beloved is good and it’s holy, but of course, its fullness is ordered toward marriage. Before engagement, our physical relationship was something I was proud of. The degree of purity my fiancé and I had preserved had deeply healed me from a past relationship, and I could honestly say I'd never felt lustful towards him, never felt the desire to overpower, to take from him, or to reduce the truth of who he was.
But the human heart is a battlefield between love and lust. When authentic love is what you prize and when you’re able to rise above the culture’s message that being lusted after is desirable, you still might find yourself sliding into habits of lust and use without even meaning to, and find yourself wondering if you’re worthy of your vocation. That’s a lie.
When I was with my fiancé--and even when I wasn’t--I couldn't get the enemy off my back. Between my engagement and my work, I was determined to be pure in my thoughts, words, and actions, to become ever more free and fully alive. Yet I found myself constantly going back to confession for what felt like the same old sins, and there were a few times I just broke down with anxiety.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when Our Lady's conception crushed the head of evil, I was consumed with anxiety about my worth as a woman. Rather than looking to Mary as a perfect model of faith, beauty, and purity, I saw her as an unattainable ideal whom I could never come close to imitating. How could I--so imperfect and so unworthy--be a real bride when it was her who was the real one, the one seeking the will of the Father in all things and embodying a perfectly integrated sexuality? It became increasingly difficult to not view my marriage as a finish line I couldn't wait to just stagger across, when the whole fight would presumably be over and I could stop feeling so fake, keeping my battles a secret. Another lie whispered in my ear: if only they knew.
The world wonders why, if chastity is such a fight, not to just give in and plant a white flag in the sand. But I knew I wasn't just following the rules. I was so internally convicted of the right path, knowing it was the best way to show my love.
So live in encouragement. Live in the tension of awaiting the full expression of your love for one another on the day you become man and wife--become one.
Believe with your whole heart you are good. You are worthy. You are also human, and the Lord delights in our humanity, flaws and all. Looking back, I'm sure now that through every attack on my purity, I was receiving graces I didn't even know about. Ask for the grace to refuse your temptations, to silence the part of you that feels unworthy, and to endure whatever trials your relationship is going through. Run to his mercy as many times as you need to, and be renewed. The Father is so loving and so gentle with us. Remember to be that with yourself, too.
A Benedictine monk told me once to combat spiritual warfare by standing between the pillars of Our Lady and the Eucharist. He said when we recognize darkness, say, Evil, I reject you. I claim victory. I claim the Cross.
I made a consecration to Our Lady in college. Sometimes I forget that behind every perfectly worn chain or Miraculous Medal is a very imperfect woman. I am inadequate, strengthened only by grace. These devotionals aren’t so much a desperate tether to stay close to her, I’ve realized, as much as a reminder that she has also chained herself to me. A loving mother never gives up on her children. Rest in her loving mantle, cling to her son, and even while storms rage and the battle continues, you will know peace.