When I was growing up, I often thought about my future vocation. I had a number of people ask me if I’d considered the religious life, and for some time I thought that that may be what God was calling me to.
About two months before I met the man I would marry, I came across the suggestion to “write a list of what qualities you must have in a future spouse” and then to take that list to prayer. At the time, I was in college, and had access to a chapel in my dorm. I took my pen and pad of paper and I wrote. I described what my ideal spouse would need to look like, and I quickly realized that my ideal was very different than the sort of guy I was dating. The guys I had been dating were good guys but they were not the quiet, steady, patient type that I would need to balance my own personality. In addition to these qualities, I realized that I also needed a man who not only practiced his faith, but for who his faith would be everything. I needed a man who loved God with his whole heart, and whose worldview was colored by that faith.
Andrew, the man I began getting to know two short months later, had considered a vocation to the priesthood (and continued to discern as we were dating). He, too, was at a place in his life, though, where he wanted to find a woman who took her faith seriously.
Andrew and I began dating, and right from the beginning, I could sense something very different about our relationship. When friends asked me what I like the most about him, I didn’t describe his amazing blue eyes, his gorgeous brown hair, or even a list of his personality characteristics. I found all of those things attractive, but what attracted me the most was how respected I felt. I kept telling people, “I’ve never felt so respected before.” It wasn’t any one thing he did. It was just who he was, and who we were together.
Within about seven months, during which we grew together as a couple, but also grew together in our faith, we began to feel very strongly that God was calling us to the vocation of marriage. And we both felt, very strongly, that God was calling us to that vocation soon (about a year earlier than either of us had thought we would possibly be getting married). We tried to dismiss that call, but we both just knew. I can’t fully describe the feeling, other than to say that it was incredibly strong, grew stronger with prayer, and that once we gave God our “yes” we were given a tremendous amount of peace (even in the midst of opposition from well-meaning loved ones).
What my experience of dating and engagement taught me was that marriage truly is a vocation, and one well worth prayerfully discerning.
To be clear, Andrew and I were in love in the traditional sense, too. We both found the other very attractive, and there was certainly a sense of romance. But what really drew us together, and what continues to make us fall in love over and over again, is our shared faith life. The deepest desire of our hearts – then and now – is to help the other one get to heaven. When we were dating and engaged (and even as a married couple) we would often end our letters by saying, “I am so glad that you are the one who I am journeying to heaven with!”
So, how can you cultivate that sort of relationship? Here are my five tips for discerning the vocation of marriage, prayerfully, in a dating relationship:
1.Make sure that you’re on the same page from the start.
From the beginning of our relationship, Andrew and I talked about serious things that mattered. We were completely honest with each other, sharing aspects of our respect pasts that we thought the other needed to know, and also being honest about what we wanted for the future. But our faith was also a core part of our relationship from the very beginning. We knew that the other person had already reached a degree of maturity in the faith, and we had both already gone through the phase of “making our faith our own.” We weren’t just living out our faith because it’s what our parents had taught us – we were living out our faith intentionally, as adults. I don’t think it’s necessary to have reached that point before dating your future spouse (although it certainly makes things easier) but I do think that it is necessary to know where the other person is spiritually. Growing together in faith is a beautiful thing, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting yourself into from the start. Remember – you can’t force someone to fall in love with their faith. It is the work of God’s grace. However, your love and prayers can certainly play a role in the deepening of the faith of a future spouse. In fact, that will be the work of your marriage!
2.Make the Eucharist (especially if you are both Catholic) a part of your dating life.
We were fortunate enough to attend a Catholic college, and had access to daily Mass and chapels with tabernacles galore. We spent a lot of time sitting in chapels and just talking. That was intentional on our part. We wanted Jesus to be a part of our conversation, just by his being present. It also helped us to stay accountable to what we had committed to, chastity-wise, and it helped us to be open to listening to God at work in our relationship. I really believe all those hours we logged in chapels while dating, was a huge part of why we ended up hearing the call to our vocation so soon. Of course, most people don’t have the luxury of so much access to Eucharistic chapels, but apply this suggestion as you can. Go to Mass when you can, find an adoration chapel, and just daily invite Jesus into your relationship.
3.Pray together from the start.
From the beginning of our relationship, we prayed together. We still bless each other each night, and pray for our joint intentions, and that was a practice we started while dating. A prayer life isn’t born overnight – it happens over much time. It also can be awkward to prayer with another person at first, but as you persist and adjust to each other’s prayer styles, it begins to feel more natural. I’ve often said that I know when I’ve connected sufficiently to Andrew when I can personalize my nighttime blessing for him, by being able to list whatever his recent intentions are.
4.Pick patron saints.
Andrew and I both have a love for the saints, and early on we picked patron saints for our relationship. These saints were our friends and advocates, praying for us (and continuing to pray for us!) in the rough spots in our relationship.
5.Have some novenas tucked in your tool chest.
The last bit of advice is simple – use novenas liberally when discerning a vocation to marriage. Not only will you benefit from the intercession of the saint whose novena you choose, but you will also benefit as a couple from daily, intentional, prayer time.
Many blessing on you and your future spouse, as you discern this beautiful vocation!