You may or may not know, but today (August 6) is Katie and my 5th wedding anniversary.
Now, before you start tossin' the "5 YEARS - THAT'S IT?" and "You just wait until you're married 30 years"... I will kindly ask you to refrain from that because ALL WE'VE BEEN MARRIED FOR IS 5 YEARS! The length of time is out of our control, so relax.
I am pretty big on self-reflection, and I found it fitting to do so on our 5th anniversary of entering into wedded bliss. Here is a list of things I have learned in the last 5 years:
1. It's not all about me.
As much as I would like it to be... it's not. From the moment we exchanged our vows up until now, I have been in a constant state of growth and challenge to focus outward. My ego doesn't really appreciate it, but who cares. I like to think that the days of "do you not know who I am?!?!" and "that's not the way I would do it" are behind me, but alas... this is not the case. But I am trying!
2. My wife is a SAINT!
Over the past 5 years of marriage, the following things have happened:
This is quite the list. My crap alone would be enough for me to go crazy. But, she bears it, faces it with class, and crushes it! She bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things... Sound familiar? Yeah, she's that loving.
3. Mutual Faith is Important!
I know you're probably thinking "well DUH!"... but sometimes it doesn't happen. I am so blessed to have a spouse that I can share my faith with.
On the other hand, one can take this for granted even within a Catholic marriage. I must admit, there have been times when I was afraid to take the lead and be the 'Priest of my Domestic Church'. But, again, it was an ego thing (See #1). Along with praying together, it is very important for one to continue working on one's own individual faith. If not, jealousy can set in. I remember one time when I wasn't feeling super close to God and I assumed that Katie wasn't either. I went so far as to sit her down and ask her how she was doing in her faith. I found out very quickly that I was the one with the problem! (See #1). Although I was so adamant about us having great individual relationships with God before we entered into a relationship and then marriage, after marriage you STILL HAVE TO DO IT!
4. Getting married doesn't change anything.
You are still the same broken, sinful, forgetful, human being you were before you were married. Marriage isn't some magical switch that God flips as soon as you put that ring on that makes you perfect. I romanticized marriage. I quickly found out that all of the crap and baggage I was dealing with before marriage was right there with me on that altar. The biggest thing was that now I was bringing all that into a marriage with someone who also had some stuff to deal with. We all do! We had / have to work on this together for the good of our marriage. Just like when you remove an ice cube from a glass of ice water and another one quickly floats to the top, I am constantly finding new things I need to deal with. This leads nicely into my next point...
5. There's Beauty in Brokenness
A while back, I wrote a blog post called Beauty in Brokenness. In it I shared how when you finally accept the fact that you are broken, you can experience such freedom because you don't have to spend so much time and energy trying to be perfect. You don't have to try and convince the world you're perfect. You don't have to convince God you're perfect. Marriage is the arena in which this skill gets perfected. As a couple wise men told me once, marriage is your path to sainthood. Sainthood communicates sanctity. Sanctity comes through purification, prayer, and sacrifice. The road is not easy, but it the married person's path to sainthood. Accepting your brokenness before God and your spouse is another step on that path.
6. NFP DOES WORK!
We were married on August 6, 2011. Our first child was born on November 26, 2015. Many times throughout the first four years of our marriage, the question was raised (both to our faces and behind our backs) whether we were using birth control or contraception. There were many who speculated we were. We are living proof that if you follow the rules, NFP works. Now, if you must know, we use the Billings Method.
Oh get over it...
I love you Katie with all of my heart. Thank you for inspiring me to become the best version of myself every day.
I have a confession to make: I still love my ex-girlfriend. To be perfectly honest, I still love all of them- and I am not embarrassed to say this to my wife (she usually edits these posts). Let me tell you why…
Over the ten years that I dated, I couldn’t exactly tell you how many girls I asked out who said no (it was a lot… I was an awkward teenage guy). There were, however, four brave young women who said yes to going out with me a second time, and each of these relationships endured at least a few weeks all the way to nearly a year. Looking back on those four along with other friendships & first dates that never materialized into a relationship: there are two things I am both grateful for and proud of when I look back on those ten years.
First, I loved each one of them then, and I still love them today. The whole reason I entered into a relationship with any one of them began from a superficial attraction, but when I consider the four relationships that had the chance to grow… I was able to move past attraction and hormones to genuinely wanting the good of the other person. In one case, this meant letting her go to pursue a religious vocation (leaving me with a broken heart at the time – although things have certainly worked out for the best!), and in another it meant hearing hard truths about my own brokenness – and being challenged to grow beyond them. Each of these young women was a person of character and quality, for whom I wished the best when we were together, as we broke up, and still today. In a word, I loved them then and I love them now – and I would be proud to introduce them to my wife, because they each played a part in forming me for my own marriage… and I pray I was able to contribute as much to their vocations along the way.
Second, and closely tied to the first point: I essentially regret nothing. Yes, there were a few moments that I would handle a little differently – particularly choosing to make a clean break or draw clearer boundaries when I realized a relationship wasn’t going to work out. My biggest regret from my dating years was that I was guilty on occasion of leading girls on – both by my actions and by the way I spent my time. That being said (and they being the forgiving type) even those experiences were learning experiences for me where I learned a little about where I lacked self-control… a very important virtue to bring into marriage.
Why am I sharing this? I’ve spent the better part of the last seventeen years working with teenagers. One thing a good number of you are concerned about is relationships – and I hear a lot more regrets about from teenagers about what you have compromised and done in relationships than any other aspect of your lives, hands down. On a weekend when we celebrated Valentine’s day – on a Saturday, no less – I’d like to offer you the best two pieces of advice I learned along the way during my decade of dating.
1) Love comes first. I don’t mean the butterflies-in-your-stomach twitterpated feeling, or the lack of control that raging hormones can sometimes bring over us… but rather a genuine care and concern for the person you are dating. Dr. Seuss once expressed a beautiful truth in the book Horton Hears a Who – that a person is a person, no matter how small. We can talk about the value of each human life – particularly the most vulnerable (the unborn, the elderly, the sick, the marginalized…) – but we ought to always recognize that our dates are people, too. They aren’t a prize we have to show off to our friends, gloating that we have someone and they don’t. They aren’t someone to use to make ourselves feel good. St. John Paul II wrote that every person “…is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”
2) Aim for no regrets. This is easier than you think, and starts by thinking through clearly the purpose you have for dating. Mary Beth Bonacci, one of my youth ministry instructors says that: “Dating is for dumping” and that “Real love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry I messed up your life.“ She means that ultimately, you date with the idea that you’re trying to discover (or discern) if this person is the person – or sort of person – you could commit to love for a lifetime. And at the moment that you realize the answer is no, out of genuine love for the other person, you should end it. (Likewise, if you see that right from the start – no matter how attractive the person is, or what it might do for your reputation, you also say no.) This doesn’t even begin to explore those who pressure you for photos or physical gratification… but there’s a huge red flag there, too.
The reality is that to be in a relationship – and to feel loved, no matter how flawed that love might be – is a powerful experience. Every one of us wants to feel loved by someone else, and at times, the desire to feel loved can overwhelm every rational part of who we are. But to feel loved and to actually be loved are not always the same thing. Real love is sacrificial, and looks out for the good of the other person first – not hanging on to the “trophy” of a boyfriend or girlfriend, and not trying to use the other person to make oneself feel better. Surround yourself with people who care about you enough to call into question those moments where you’re tempted to compromise things for that (fleeting) feeling. Studies say that the average romantic obsession lasts two years (often even less time during your high school years) so you need to build a relationship on something much more. What our faith offers us first and foremost is the understanding that we are positively loved by the God who IS love. [One of the things I learned to look for in the girls I dated was someone who loved God more than they loved me, and though this was the reason one young lady left me for religious life, it’s probably the most important advice I was ever given.]
Ultimately, on the day our relationships end – as most of them do – we want to be able to say that we acted towards our boyfriends/girlfriends out of a genuine sense of love: seeing them always as a person first. The hope is that their future boyfriends, girlfriends, and eventually their spouses – can walk up to us and say “thank you for the way you treated him/her.” After all, this person you are dating is a son or daughter of the almighty God – created in His image and likeness, beloved by Him… just like you are. Treat them with love now… and you’ll be able to say years later that you still love them.
Mike Landry serves God first, then he serves others as a husband, father, youth minister, speaker, musician, and most days as the division chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools West of Edmonton. You can keep a closer eye on Mike at www.thirdplaceproject.com.
*From the perspective of a Catholic man.
It's Saturday morning. It is your first day off in weeks. You were very productive last night to ensure an epic sleep in. The blinds are drawn, your phone is off, the sheets are fresh, and you even remembered to turn your alarm off... and you never do that! The stage had been set for a sleep-in to end all sleep-ins. You look forward to a tranquil sleep the likes of which you have never encountered. Years later you'll look back on this particular sleep thinking, "maybe that was the lucid thing all the kids are talking about". Nothing was going to separate you from your bed. Nothing.
Then the inevitable happens. Either your neighbor starts cutting his lawn, your other neighbor starts building a fence (saw and all), or that friendly missionary religious group rings the doorbell wanting to talk to you about where your life is headed. It could be a number of different things, but they are all trying to do the same thing - wake you up. You will not be defeated. Not today. You toss and turn and toss and turn. You try to employ every strategy you know (counting the sheep, blocking out the sounds around you, earplugs), but nothing works.
At this point, your mind has started to wander and bring up everything you should do today - the very same list the night before you were easily able to justify putting off until after your epic sleep. You are officially awake. Another great conflict rises within you. To get out of bed or not becomes the most difficult decision you've had to make in a long time. Your bed is at the perfect comfort / temperature level. It's an oasis of relaxation and contentment. It is a supportive cocoon that is eager to let you stay as long as you need. It is the only place at this moment that is allowing you to avoid facing the harsh realities of life.
Now you're probably wondering what this bed story has to do with discernment.
We can get so comfortable in discernment that we don't want to leave.
Before I got married, I discerned. Boy did I discern. My wife and I discerned everything. We discerned marriage (naturally) - which was great. I discerned when and how to get engaged. Prior to that I discerned the priesthood. We even discerned whether or not we should date! Most of our energy was spent on trying to get a straight answer from God - a 'lightbulb' moment, if you will. All we wanted was a simple yes or no. Don't get me wrong, this resulted in me making one of the greatest decisions in my life, and I wouldn't trade the result for the world. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I may have gone about it differently.
At the core of my 'discernment' was what I initially identified as fear of making the wrong decision. I was so scared that if I made the wrong decision, God wouldn't love me anymore. It was one of the biggest conflicts in my life. On one hand I had these very strong desires for marriage that led me to peace and excitement, and on the other hand I had this fear. At the time I equated fear and anxiety with God. I thought these feelings were God's way of saying "Don't screw this up!" or "Are you sure you're doing the right thing?" or "The only way to live a holy life is to be a priest even though you feel a strong call elsewhere". My image of God was not a healthy one. I was so scared he would be disappointed in me if I made the wrong decision.
*Sometimes we perceive our relationship with our heavenly father the same way we perceive our relationships with our earthly fathers. This is exactly what I was doing.*
I went to every one for advice. I asked so many people for their opinion in hopes of locating a direct messenger from God like some sort of Where's Waldo-esque scavenger hunt. If you're doing this, read Sirach 6: 6.
I was scared! I had to remember that God is love. And if I truly believe that, I should truly believe this too:
"There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love."
(1 John 4:18)
You see, there was one big thing I was leaving out of the picture: FREE WILL. I thought, "I know I have free will, but I couldn't possibly have it in choosing a vocation." I was scared because I knew that my training wheels were off, but I didn't want God to let go of the bike seat. I was scared of making a decision. I was comfortable in discernment. I was feeling sorry for myself.
This is where those amazing words of God to Job come in: Gird up your loins like a man. I understand I am probably taking these words a bit out of context, but they really spoke to me. How often do we have other guys telling us to 'man up', 'be a man', or 'gird up your loins'? I wish I had people telling me that! This is exactly what I needed to hear back then.
Make a decision!
At the core of our discernment was the ever popular Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux. Throughout our Novena, my hopefully soon-to-be girlfriend and I kept seeing red and white roses. I asked for Red if we were supposed to pursue a relationship, and she asked for white (unbeknownst to me). We each got both. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine about a Novena he did. He sought some direction from a priest, and the priest told him that it sounded like he had a choice. As my (now) wife and I shared our Novena results (like we just got our exam marks back), that priests answer to my friend resonated in my heart. Perhaps we also have a choice. We did have a choice! We have free will and "we know that all things work for good for those who love God" (Romans 8: 28). So what's the problem!? When we realized this, we began our relationship and discernment of marriage. Again, with our marriage discernment, it was also choice. But let's be honest... by that point I knew I wanted to marry her.
Now, don't get me wrong. Novena's are beautiful and I wouldn't be where I am today without praying that novena. But, God revealed to me through this Novena that I had a choice. If only I had known/believed that beforehand.
You see, there is a beginning and an end to discernment. It is important to identify both. As much as it seems that we call upon her intercession, Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment is not a prayer card you can buy in any Catholic book store. And yet, it seems like many of us have a strong devotion to her. Weird.
So to all you guys out there who are discerning a vocation, good luck. Know, however, that there is an end to it too. I am not telling you to rush into anything. Make sure you discern. But, know when to stop.
Don't be afraid to make a decision.
In the words of my good friend and fellow Silversmith Collective contributor, Colm Leyne:
"Sometimes God's will is for us to make a choice".
As a previous spiritual director of mine once put it, "You'll never win the lottery if you don't buy a damn ticket!"
In closing, I will leave you with a great visual from The Art of Manliness detailing the process of girding up one's loins.
We're all in this together.