Jen of Conversion Diary wrote a beautiful post yesterday, and, as often happens when I read her blog, she got me thinking.
It might just be a symptom of being in one’s early twenties, but lately it seems that nearly everyone I know is engaged, married, in a serious relationship, or entering the priesthood/a religious order. Even two college friends who swore on pain of death that they were going to focus on grad school and careers before “settling down” are well on their way toward engagement rings. I’m happy for them, certainly! I’m so glad that they’ve found their earthly partners and are living out their call of life. Several of those friends have started to have babies, and it’s been beautiful to watch young couples grow together as they prepare for a new life. However, there comes a point when smiling and trilling congratulations like a Disney princess can get me only so far.
A wise friend of mine (also single) once said, “It’s especially frustrating when you know what your vocation is but you’re not yet living it.” She’s absolutely right. For a while last year I wondered if my near-perpetual singleness was a subtle hint; I tried very seriously to discern if I’m called to the consecrated or religious life and ---I think--- I received a definite “no.” Rather, I’m confident that I am called to be married and have children. This doesn’t shock me; after all, eight-year-old me was planning her wedding and naming her future kids. Back then I expected I’d follow a path much like my mother: I’d meet someone in college or shortly thereafter, become engaged within eight months, married less than a year later, and live happily ever after. Well, I’m twenty-three, one year out of college, and have no expectations of being married anytime soon. Huh. “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
However, as hard as it can be to be single in a world that is essentially designed for married people, I’m glad of it. First of all, I know with absolute certainty that I’m not ready to be married yet; that is, God still has a lot of work to do getting me ready to be someone’s wife. Sometimes my womb literally aches to nurture children, but I also know that I’m entirely too selfish at this point in my life to be a good mother, so that’s an easy one: no children yet, so no marriage yet. (those two do, in fact, go together, despite what our contraceptive culture would teach.)
Why do I ache to be married? Well, there are several reasons, some silly, some substantial. But then, there's also a nagging feeling that maybe I shouldn't be, despite what I might want. I know that if God wants me to be married he'll send me a prince eventually so I'm not terribly worried. However, despite my hopes for a husband and a big family, God might have other ideas. Am I brave enough to accept that? I don't know. Another wise friend (I'm gifted with several of those) noted once that since marriage is an earthly reflection of a heavenly reality (Christ's relationship with the Church), why settle for the reflection when we could instead spend our time preparing for that inevitable future? She's right, up to a point. St. Paul agreed, certainly; advising unmarried persons to remain single as to better focus on affairs of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7). It's also true that I am falling more deeply and deeply in love with Jesus the longer I stay single. In my last relationship I mis-prioritized my beau over my Heavenly Bridegroom, and it showed in my lax prayer life, my focus on unimportant things, and our easily-rationalized/ignored bouts of unchastity. However, I know that doesn't always have to be the case. In fact, husbands and wives ought to help one another grow in holiness and grow closer to God. I've seen this work in the lives of several couples, so I know that my most recent experience doesn't have to be the rule.
Far be it for me to know the mind of God, but I suspect there are two key reasons why I'm single right now. Firstly, the work I'm doing is more easily done by a single person. Many awesome youth ministers are married, but I don't know if I could be married and do a good job at work as well as a good job at home. Some women can do two things at once, but I'm not sure I can.
If I'm honest with myself, one of the biggest reasons I want to be married is pride. Not the good sort of pride, either. I'm an ardent practicing Catholic (and not the Nancy Pelosi kind), so I get very passionately fired up about chastity, marriage, natural family planning, and respecting life. It's easy to talk oneself blue in the face about why the Church is teaching the truth on these issues, but living out the Catholic Faith is a much more effective means of witness--- and a much harder one (look at many Sunday-only Catholics who contracept, condone abortion, support the death penalty....etc.) Because I'm single and therefore am not having sex or children, it can be incredibly hard for people to take me seriously about NFP and chastity. I told a co-worker that when I'm married my husband and I will practice NFP and seriously discern whether or not God is really calling us to postpone another pregnancy or not. I was dead serious when I said that I'm open to as many children as I'm called to have (*note: not "as many children as possible" but "as many children as God thinks we should bring into the world, decided through careful prayer, discernment, spiritual direction, and openness to life). Her response was a snorted, "Well, honey, just see how you feel after you've had your first couple kids; you won't want anymore." This is coming from a devout Catholic woman who works at the parish, loves Jesus and the Church, is fiercely pro-life, and helps minister to people in the community! And still she's plagued by the brainwashing of our contraceptive culture! It makes me crazy.
That said, if the main reason I want to be married is so I can have an intensely beautiful Catholic wedding, be open to life, raise lots of children, and write books and blogs about Catholic motherhood, then it's just pride. It's "See, look at our family! We follow the Church's teaching and things are great! We love being open to life! Chastity rocks!" Pride. "Look at us, doing it the right way. Aren't we fabulous?" Satan is so sneaky! These desires- for good things, like marriage and family- are so easily corrupted into a selfish "I am
These feelings remind of the way I often felt in junior high. I wasn't the most popular kid back then, a bit awkward and nerdy with horrible fashion sense. I desperately wanted to be well-dressed and popular and pursued by the boys, but it wasn't to be. I was also deeply infatuated with Prince William at the time, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were going to fall in love and get married. I couldn't wait to show up at my ten-year reunion with the next King of England on my arm, able to gloat and lord it over my seventh grade nemesis that I had married the ultimate popular guy. See the resemblance? Clearly, middle-school-me didn't want to marry Prince William because I loved him or because I wanted to help him grow into a more Godly man; rather, I was using our [imaginary] marriage to prove a point and show off. Pride!
"Speak the truth in love," St. Paul tells the Ephesians. When and if I do marry, I'll have to be very careful to remember that. Chastity and children are good things, but if I twist those concepts around for prideful ends it's still sinful. I need to learn how to detach "ha! told you so!" from witnessing an authentic Christian life. Until then, the wedding gown I've designed will just have to stay confined to the sketchpad.
So perhaps my prince will come, someday when I've leared to be less selfish and prideful and more giving. Or maybe I'm gifted with singleness and will be able to fully focus on the "affairs of the Lord" forever. Either way, I need to be at peace with what God wants and not fall into self-pity like Kate Monster at the beginning of Avenue Q:
I'm kinda pretty
And pretty damn smart
I like romantic things
Like music and art
And as you knowI have a gigantic heart
So why don't I have a boyfriend?
It sucks to be me!
Because it doesn't! My life is pretty peachy; I just need to trust God a little more.