I think getting married early, even as early as 18 or 20, is a wonderful thing. Maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age and there is no guarantee that getting married later will help you stay married longer. I also think that having children early, in your twenties, is a wonderful thing. Your body is much more prepared for it and you will be a younger parent, which are all benefits for you and your children.
However, I wasn’t able to do either of these things. I still got married relatively early, and we had our first child relatively early (especially compared to average ages for doing this in Portugal), but we had a long and arduous dating period. Sometimes when I tell people how long my husband and I dated for (five years), they comment “oh, that’s a long time.”
Now I realize how necessary those five years were for us. How much change and conversion took place for both of us individually is astounding. I once heard a nun say that the best time for conversion in a person’s life is when you are dating. You are vulnerable, you are in love, you are enchanted, but you aren’t depressed as with the death of a loved one, for example. We both experienced conversion, learned to walk with God and together, and set the groundwork for the marriage we are blessed to have now.
We Live for the Ideal, But We Don’t Live the Ideal.
I have heard that Familiaris Consortio suggests a dating period of 6 months to 2 years before marriage. Although I cannot find this in the Apostolic Exhortation, I would agree that this is the ideal. It is also ideal to grow up in a Catholic home, where you learn to pray and love. It is also ideal to never stray from the Church if you were a cradle Catholic. It is ideal to never cheat on your spouse. It is ideal to never sin, to make all the right choices, to never be affected by any type of addiction.
However, we don’t live in Heaven. We strive toward Heaven and experience bits of Heaven here on Earth. We are creation, not Creator, and very weak and fragile with sin. Even if you are blessed to know and love God from early on, and if God guides you in making wonderful decisions in life, you will still be surrounded by human misery. That just gives you more responsibility to help others live the ideal, to love and serve the Lord. “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Humility, Humility, Humility
Pope Francis is always asking people to pray for him. All saints’ writings I read have the constant theme of their own inadequacy and their total reliance on God’s grace. If we made all the right choices and never took any time arriving at the Truth, wouldn’t we fill up with self-reliance and pride?
We each have our own journey, filled with brokenness, self-doubt and trials. We all have blessings in abundance, but we all also have our thorns. “Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Our struggles in dating and the change that took place in my husband and I helps us have compassion for others with similar struggles. It helps us be extra grateful for the people that God puts in our path to help us. It gives us a sense of being saved by God’s powerful hand from something altogether terrible, instead of the sense that we are very holy and following God’s will is easy.
It really makes us embarrassed to boast of ourselves, knowing that we have only God to boast of. “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Journey: It’s Hard To See
Some saints are given the power to see as God sees in more direct ways. Sometimes they can see the future or what people are thinking. St. Faustina also had gifts of vision from God. After describing a moment of spiritual communion with God that she had, she goes on to describe how it is out of that moment.
“When the soul returns to its habitual form of life, it then sees that this life is all darkness and mist and dreamlike confusion, an infant’s swaddling clothes” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, n. 767).
This is how us “common people” see. Not clearly. “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 12). So of course we grasp and grapple through this arduous, uphill climb called life. Of course, we fall, we don’t understand, we whine and we complain. Of course, we make mistakes and aren’t sure if we are doing well or making a big, huge mess out of something.
There are some people that get married early, raise a beautiful, Catholic family early and are shining cities set on mountains (Matthew 5:14). There are some people that have years and years full of serious, mortal sin and isolation from God, before “coming back home”. And there are a million stories in between. The problem comes from our human comparison and judgment toward others. How many ways are there to get to God? Pope Benedict XVI said in Salt of the Earth, as many as there are people.