When Alex and I were preparing for marriage, we researched, read, and studied everything we could on the subject matter. After all, we were committing to a lifetime vocation; one in which we wanted to be masters.
One of the books that we still recommend to engaged couples is Three to Get Married by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. In fact, I used to own two hard copies, but I’ve lent them out so many times that I’ve lost track of both!
We didn’t approach dating with rose-colored glasses, and because of unforeseen medical and car emergencies right before our wedding, we also didn’t even have a honeymoon. I will share some of the insights we gleamed from our study and our full, unique experience of marriage, both as spouses and parents. Sheen’s prose is quite dense, so Three To Get Married is not a book you can read in one sitting. Be sure to take notes to later pray about and discuss.
One of the common themes throughout the whole book is the notion that it’s better to experience the Crucifixion before the Resurrection. He warns that those who seek the Resurrection part of their lives now will be faced with the Crucifixion at the end. This is meant to remind us that we get married to work, not for fun, and the more work you put into the beginning of your relationship, the greater joy you will experience in this life—and the next.
However, most couples fall the way of rose-colored glasses and enjoy an extended honeymoon time by delaying the sacrifice children require. This may seem an attractive choice at first, but those couples aren’t escaping the Cross; they are merely delaying it. All married couples should focus on preparing themselves for the first fall. The more comforts you seek in the beginning, the more you will struggle with sacrifice later on. But if you begin your marriage with sacrifice, you will become joyfully heroic in your efforts to carry every cross every day.
As wedding guests, we often write on the cards, “Welcome to Calvary.” It’s a throw-back to Sheen’s book, and a quick-check reminder of the path the couple has chosen. Each year a couple will meet new challenges, and some exceptional couples experience those challenges sooner and greater than others.
With grace and trust in God, each couple will grow to overcome them. With each challenge, you will feel like you can’t possibly bear this cross, you will feel like the dust that you are, and in that moment of great weakness and humility, God will carry you through to the next one. As you manage each burden on the straight and narrow path, you will grow in knowledge and appreciation for God’s love.
Marriage is not like a degree you can earn and walk away “complete” or ever be “done.” Rather, marriage is like intense professional development that you have to revisit every morning and every night. It’s the certification that expires daily and requires constant renewal. The rate of growth your marriage experiences is up to you and your spouse, and what you both choose to do with the time God gave you, not by being merely flipping calendar pages to mark anniversaries.
As you strengthen that marriage muscle by offering those sacrifices for your spouse and children, your heart expands, and the stronger love you are not only capable of giving, but also receiving. It’s one thing to fall short in a marriage when the only other person it’s affecting is another adult: your spouse. It’s another thing entirely when your short-comings affect your children, too. Often times we are not rewarded immediately for our selflessness, but if we stay the way of Calvary, our faith tells us God is good, and He will reward the faithful.
This great love for each other as spouses naturally overflows into the need to love more than yourselves—and this is where children are the natural solution. The sacrifice children require is immeasurable and immediate, but this is exactly why they are a blessing and a gift to marriage. There is truly no other challenge in your life that can quite prepare you for that experience of parenthood. While the joys of parenting may be delayed at times, they will come, and they will return the love to you that you have invested in them. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your children worship and praise God, and then receive Him in Communion. What greater gift can you return to God except souls for His eternal keeping?
Keep your copy of Three To Get Married on your coffee table or nightstand. Become comfortable with the idea of marriage and parenting as a job in which you can’t take a vacation. If you want to experience the Resurrection, then start by picking up your Cross on your wedding day.