Vocation vs. Vacation: Marriage as a Path to Happily Ever After
As a teen, I was obsessed with romance novels, romantic movies, and that well-known scene of the newly wedded couple driving towards the sunset and their “happily ever after”. What “happily ever after” actually looked like was all kind of vague in my mind, but it didn’t really matter because, after all, they were in love, right? The image that all of these stories portrayed was that the dragon was slain, the villain conquered and now, marriage was the time to just sit back, and enjoy being in love.
Anyone who has been married longer than five minutes could probably tell you that this is not a very realistic impression, and really, I did know better. As a cradle Catholic and the daughter of a happily married couple for over 45 years, I knew that love was an act of will and not a feeling. I knew that being married and having a family involved sacrifice. The problem was, as a freshly minted 25-year-old bride, it was all still very academic. Deep down inside, the hopeless romantic inside was still picturing an endless stroll on a sandy beach. I knew that love was a choice, that the example of love that we needed to follow in our vocation was that of Christ dying on the cross, but I hadn’t come remotely close to living it yet.
Needless to say, the learning curve was steep. My husband and I quickly discovered how many things we disagreed about. But there were two important things that we did agree on that made all the difference: we both believed that there was no way out and we both were open to life. It turns out that all other variables aside, this dynamic duo is an excellent teacher of what love looks like off of the silver screen. 17 years later, life may not be easy, and we are still learning how to love each other, but each year of marriage just gets better. Over the years, I’ve picked up some tidbits that have helped me reframe marriage as a vocation, I hope it helps you as much as it continues to help me:
That marriage is a vocation means that it is a path to sanctity, a path to heaven-not only for ourselves but we are called to bring our spouse, our children, and many others with us. We would not consider a priest a very holy one if he was only concerned with getting himself to heaven and nobody else--so too with our vocation in marriage. Even monks in monasteries are praying and sacrificing themselves for the sanctity of the world. We do this through our example as well as through our prayers, sacrifices, and explicit discussions with our family and friends.
A vocation necessarily involves the cross. This should not scandalize us. It is the suffering, struggles, disappointments that are the raw material for our family’s sanctity. Our Lord told us, “If anyone should follow me, he should take up his cross.” Enduring hardships together as a couple is precisely what will help the relationship mature and deepen as time progresses.
Suffering and joy do coexist in a Christian marriage-as Christians we should seek to have the supernatural perspective to see the silver lining to every cloud--we can pray for the patience, perseverance, and wisdom to see God working where it may not be immediately evident. A sign of this perspective is peace.
We will serve as great witnesses of God’s love in the world through the joy we transmit despite inevitable struggles and sorrows.
The devil hates strong marriages. He attacks marriage in society through lies about the dignity of the human person, the intrinsic value of men and women, laws and policies that confuse what marriage is, marketing and media representation of what marriage is or should be.
The devil is also attacking marriage on a personal level. If you don’t think that the devil is attacking your marriage, one of two things is happening: He doesn’t see you as a threat (not likely), or he is being sneaky.
We need to consider what our internal dialog about our husbands and our marriage is. Are we frequently annoyed and critical? Do we speak in a way that is sarcastic or condescending about our spouse?
Is it our default to put our own needs before our husbands or spouse? Are we generous with physical intimacy- only refusing sex for a serious reason? Do we let ourselves fall into a routine? Everything we do should be at the service of our marriage and our family--there is no “me time”. We need to take care of ourselves, but for the purpose of being better servants, not for self-indulgence.
Do we protect our marriages by avoiding close friendships with other men, in work or social settings? Are we aware of the real threat that porn is to marriage? Do we protect our families from it with a concrete plan--allowing internet in public places only, not just relying on a filter (it will fail you), turning off the internet at night and when parents aren’t present, talking to our middle school and older kids about the danger and how to handle it WHEN they are exposed?
We have to be proactive! It is not enough for us to shake our heads and throw up our hands at the state of society. We must employ both human and supernatural means in a very consistent and personal way. This is not a political debate, it is spiritual warfare and if we don’t take personal ownership, we will lose the battle for our own marriage and those of our children and grandchildren.
Have a concrete sacrifice you make for your marriage every day- we make sacrifices for almost every other area of our life that matters: professional development, fitness/health, if we want to continue strengthening our marriage, we need to put our money where our mouth is and do some small sacrifice daily for that particular reason. Those graces will fortify us in times of trial.
Make time with your husband a priority in your calendar--plan it! Think of date nights, a nightly cup of coffee/wine, weekends away, finding activities you enjoy doing together (exercise, books, art, music, discover something new!)
Be generous, both in having children when possible and in welcoming other families into our home. We have to create our own strong family culture.
Examine our conscience and go to confession frequently. Humility is a critical tool for strengthening our marriages. Of course, the sacrament is also a conduit for the grace that we need in order to resist temptations.
We are a walking billboard for marriage and joy sells! We want to take care of our appearance both for our husbands as an act of charity and as a way of attracting others to generosity in marriage (our own kids and grandkids, the schools, doctor’s office, everywhere we go). We don’t have to walk around looking like June Cleaver but we should be making an effort with make-up, diet/exercise, and flattering clothes.
Last but not least, we all need help. Seek support from resources such as CanaVox, Family Enrichment, talks, books, and regular spiritual direction. You can also be a support to other couples. We all need help and community!