23 years ago today I didn’t get Married, but I did. I did stand in front of family and friends. I did wear a long white gown. I did take a slow walk up the aisle to face a priest. I did approach the Tabernacle with a smile on my face. I did face the man I loved more than anyone in the world, and we did exchange vows to love, honor, and cherish one another. We did promise this for good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. We did pledge fidelity and chastity inside our Marriage. I did promise to bring children God gave us into the world and raise them according to Catholic doctrine.
23 years ago today, I did not get Married, but I was with the man I called husband for three years before kneeling beside him on that altar. I did say all the right things. I did make all the right appointments. I did book all the right professionals. I did send out all the right invites to all the right people. I did go through the right motions. I did have all the right “feelings.”
23 years after that April day, one may look back and see the 17 years we were together, the 14 years spent side-by-side as husband and wife, the ups and downs, good times and bad, times of near poverty and times of relative wealth, times of sickness both mine and his, both mental and physical and think 23 years ago, I got Married, but I did not.
Marriage isn’t What You Think
Marriage is much like a child’s sitting in a classroom. You can go through all the motions of being in a school, sitting in front of a teacher, opening a textbook, and downloading an app to be passed through the system, but if you don’t invest in what education is deeply about, if you are nothing more than a space in a chair or a body going through the motions, if you do things because you are “supposed” to do them rather than because you embrace the value of them, if you choose friends based on how they make you look and feel rather than how they help you grow in Love, if you simply move on to the next grade level because the time has come to pass or fail and social promotion is what everyone does nowadays, it doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to walk slowly across the stage to face the dean. It doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to receive the meaningful certificate. It doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything of lasting worth. It doesn’t mean you’ve gotten any wiser. It doesn’t mean you can or should enter the next phase confidently.
23 years ago, I didn’t know that, and it did look like I got married. To all outward appearances 14 years and five children together would seem to have proven Marriage in the eyes of some. Once again though, Truth is stranger than fiction.
The Catholic Church says I was not Married because there is more to Marriage than a long white gown, a few words said in front of family and friends, and a big party afterward. This makes for an overpriced wedding day and not a priceless Marriage. This is celebration of a contract, not Sacrament of a Covenant. This is a recipe for disaster, not a recipe for Love.
Marriage is a Celebration of the Trinity
Marriage is a reflection of the Trinity. Marriage is a triad of God, husband, and wife. Later Marriage is also a triad of husband, wife, and children. Those bonds are unbreakable. This is part of the reason Catholics do not allow divorce the way other faiths do.
For just as God the Father Loves His children and returns to them time and again, so does He to the husband and wife who struggle in this fallen paradise. He watches them stray and return both to Himself and each other. He holds the reigns and lets them go only as far as each allows them to go. God is always holding onto the husband wanting to make Him a better man, a more powerful leader, a more respectable husband, a more engaged father, a more sacrificial Lover of Him. God is always holding onto the wife wanting to make her a better woman, a more powerful role model, a more honorable wife, a more giving mother, a more submissive Lover of Him.
God never lets go of those reigns, but just as in any relationship, those reigns must also lasso the Lord. The husband and wife must each learn to ride the bull, to not panic with the bucking, to read the ring, and to move out of the way of danger. Each must decide what to do with his and her ropes. Each trains daily preparing those ropes to be used to either chain and enslave or secure and free. In a bull ring, like in life, nothing stands still for long. For good or for evil, eventually one must lift up, apply focus and effort, and throw the rope. The only question is which prize will you aim for.
Too often before Marriage, we throw the rope out hoping to catch something, anything. There are plenty of fish in the sea, but that doesn’t mean you should sample them all or keep the one in your net. Too often we feel we’ve gone “this far” however far “this far” is, and it’s already too late to turn back. Too often we feel if people knew the Truth, we’d lose face. Too often we move onto marriage because social promotion tells us the time is right. Too often we then spend a lifetime second-guessing, regretting, fantasizing about alternate realities, and eventually making plans to create a reality different from the one we voluntarily chose. Too often we forsake the value of sacrificial giving of oneself in favor of our irresponsible finger-pointing, endless pursuit of happiness, and foolish throwing out of random ropes in hopes that this time we will lasso a better catch.
We throw out our rope again, grasping at something outside of our marital bonds. Maybe for you that something is work. Maybe it’s drugs or alcohol, sports or video games. Maybe it’s a flirtation at work, a high school classmate you’ve reconnected with on social media, or an “innocent” online porn addiction that doesn’t really hurt anyone and that you could walk away from whenever you want. Except that you don’t walk away, and it does hurt people. You just don’t see it because your rope is lassoed to the temporary escape what you hook provides rather than to the Sacramental Grace of Joy provided by the head of Marriage’s Trinity.
Because that is the part of the triad of Marriage many forget. Marriage is not just a feeling of love between a man and a woman. Marriage is an act, an intentional focus, a concentrated, unceasing effort to throw the rope and lasso the prize, but the prize is not that of the spouse alone. The prize of the spouse is secondary to the prize of the Lord which is not easily understood or apprciated.
My Mistake in Getting Married
23 years ago I knew none of this. I entered into a wedding ceremony with the full intent of “making it work!” I believed in God and in Marriage, but I had lassoed myself to my husband more than I had to His Creator. Worse, I had never stopped to think about where my lover had lassoed his rope or if he’d lassoed it at all. I never stopped to consider whether he was stable and able to settle down and provide and protect or if his rope was still swinging in the wind. That is not a criticism of him. It is a criticism of me and of my failure to do more than feel and want. It is a criticism of me and my belief that I was powerful enough to make what I wanted happen and worthless enough to deserve nothing more than whatever I could easily rope in.
23 years ago, I failed on many fronts. I compromised myself and my values. I justified my actions and invested so much time and effort. I saw no way out and rarely if ever stopped to consider if there should be a way out.
23 years ago, I made a mistake; now my children, my grandchildren, and their children will pay the price for that mistake.
Marriage is not a mistake. Marriage is a pure and beautiful Sacrament, a Covenant, a Blessing, a Grace. Marriage is the closest many can get to Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross; Marriage is also the close as many can get to Heaven on Earth.
My mistake was not in getting Married. It was in getting Married to the wrong person and at the wrong time. It was in not patiently waiting in faith rather than impatiently fearing I’d be left behind. It was in resting my hopes in a created being rather than in The Uncreated King. It was in lassoing my rope around a human being I’d placed on an earthly pedestal rather than on The Saving King on His Heavenly throne. It was in feeling in love rather than believing in Love.
23 years ago is a lifetime ago. 23 years ago, I did not get married. I have the annulment to prove it. I no longer miss my ex. Finally, my rope is lassoed where it should be, and I have found Peace in my emptiness, but 23 years ago, I did something I should not have and I still have the scars, the wounds, the strain, the sadness, the regret, and more to prove it.
So do my children.
23 years ago, I did not get Married, but I did…
I stand for Marriage and want to help couples avoid making the same mistakes I did. That’s part of why my coaching credentials will soon include ICF certification as well as Dave Ramsey financial and SYMBIS Marriage and relationship certification.
If you are discerning marriage, interested in strengthening a challenging Marriage, navigating the minefield of unwanted divorce, seeking Peace and acceptance in the annulment process, or dealing with single parenting in a world gone mad and would like a safe, confidential space to be coached, I’d love to hear your story. If you run pre-marital classes or are a priest or religious and would like me to come speak to your group on gender roles, Marriage, divorce, annulments, or parenting please contact me. I’d be honored!