Marriage as Conversion

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As newlyweds, J. and I are often asked the question, “So, how is married life?!” Struggling with this question calls to mind the same feelings as when I returned home from studying abroad, came back after a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or re-entered life after a short-term immersion program in El Salvador.  I usually find  myself saying something in between “So great!” and “Umm…how much time do you have?”

On the one hand, it feels impossible to capture the intimate mix of joy and sacrifice, of both lighthearted and difficult conversations, of learning how to balance my own needs with J.’s in a new way. On the other hand, for an external processor like me, it feels impossible not to try to verbalize my experience of this new transition.  If I truly believe that marriage is a vocation – from Latin, to call – what does it mean in the day-to-day when it will take a lifetime to realize its effects? How is it possible to describe being married when it constantly (as in, daily, if not hourly) requires an immediate, intimate, and very current call for transformation?

Just this morning, J. and I argued about something small and silly.  I think it had to do with groceries. And by “silly,” I mean foundational, values-based, and deeply ingrained; by “small,” I mean, had the capacity to render me grumpy all morning.  Both of us underestimated our conversation; both of us were wrong, and both of us owed an apology and a promise to widen our perspective.  Passion, humility, and forgiveness, all before lunch, courtesy of newlywed life.  Indeed, “Everything…” – and I’m pretty sure St. Ignatius was thinking about groceries here  – “…has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”

Now, I had familiarized myself with these concepts before we got married. Both J. and I are natural analyzers and share a desire to be intentional about our life choices.  Between engagement retreats, marriage prep, books, and many shared conversations with married couples, we had a pretty robust idea of what kind of commitment we were entering, at least as best of idea as any before having the actual experience.  After all, both of us had lived in intentional community of sorts (where doing the dishes serves as the ultimate spiritual and communal metaphor #AmIRight), both of us are blessed with the examples of our parents and other long-term marriages in our families, and we had – both individually and together – done our share of thinking about our personal call to marriage.  We feel so grateful for all of these things.

And most things are really, really fun about living with J.  The way we divide up household tasks feels easy, the joy in going to bed together and waking up together feels easy, the fun parts of being married (joint taxes! he takes out the trash! shared assets! a built-in plus one! Sherlock marathons! cooking affirmations! decorating our new place!) feel easy.  The deeper meaning of our marriage feels solid, and supported by our community; our commitment to each other, to God, and to others is our foundation. Our shared values of hospitality, welcoming, justice-seeking, community-building, and family life are hopefully reflections of our shared vocation to move our relationship outwards in service.  I trust this foundation.

However prepared I might have considered myself to be, though, and despite our deepest convictions about God’s role in our marriage, I simply feel – daily – the newness, the awkwardness, and the lostness that, for me, has always accompanied a transition. Even as I type this, I’m thinking, “Well, DUH. Of course being newly married is a transition!” Yet, the actual encounter with this newness has taken me by surprise. I am surprised by the consideration of J.’s preferences in grocery shopping, the vulnerability of closeness and intimacy, the intensity of my feelings for J., the responsibility of signing up for life insurance, the fear of losing each other, the initial difficulties inevitable in learning NFP, the happiness of setting up a home together, the uncertainty in our financial situation, the profound drive for connection, the holy shame when one of us messes up and is forgiven, the deepest joy from experiencing God’s love through each other.  “Bearing the beams of love” has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Allowing this encounter to change us, profoundly, is my prayer for our marriage; that we may experience marriage as a continual call – and response – to transformation.  Like any sacrament, marriage for me has been abundant with outward signs of this conversion. I have new name, a new ring on my left hand, a new softness in my body  – a new way of encountering God.

God, help us to change. To change ourselves and to change our world.To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it. To feel the joy of it. To undertake the journey without understanding the destination. The art of gentle revolution. Amen.  

– Michael Leunig, A Common Prayer

-E.

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