“It’s not just about the wedding, it’s about the sacrament.” Truth abounds in these words, and if you’re engaged, you’ve probably spoken them yourself. It’s a grounding thought; peaceful, reassuring, eyes fixed beyond the view that resides immediately outside the church doors.
Practically speaking, though, what does that look like? How can you and your fiancé cultivate a heart for marriage, and not just your wedding day, during the engagement, particularly when your to-do list has dozens of other concerns to manage?
With an intention-oriented mindset, it is possible to explore your vocation to marriage throughout your wedding planning. Like any vocation, marriage is a call. Within that call lie countless habits, varieties of spirituality, and past stories that make you entirely unique as a couple loving each other in the specifics. Here, concrete ways to answer that call in a way that speaks to who you and your beloved are:
Find practical ways to develop good habits for married life
The world says living together before marriage is the best preview of what a shared life will be like. Chastity and self-sacrifice notwithstanding when it comes to the matter of cohabitation, I’d argue that the best preview of a shared life is actually taking notice of your spouse-to-be’s attitude toward daily tasks you can share together now: cooking meals, shopping for or assembling items for your future home, planning your upcoming week. Developing hearts of service, compromise, and candor now won’t necessarily make the day-to-day of marriage perfectly easy later. Yet cultivating these habits during engagement through shared projects can help to ease the transition into sharing a home, a schedule, and their accompanying responsibilities.
Develop a shared prayer and devotion routine
A general habit of praying together is praiseworthy, but a specific routine can be even better. Amidst wedding planning and on into the daily obligations of married life, creating a ritual the two of you can share keeps you accountable for one another’s spiritual lives, gives you moments in the day to look forward to, and inspires stillness and presence. Quietly resting in the Lord is something all of us crave, yet it’s all too easy to push prayer time to later or until you have a large block of time free.
A prayer routine looks different depending on every couple’s schedule and spirituality, and that’s good. Talk together about what devotions and saints you’re individually drawn to, and find ways to incorporate them into your prayer life together. Along with standbys like the Rosary or Divine Office, consider choosing a patron saint for your relationship, writing down each other’s and family and friends’ intentions in a visible spot in your home, and selecting a particular prayer (prescribed or your own) to say at the same time each day, even when you’re apart.
Read a spiritual book together on love or marriage and meditate on the Catholic marriage Rite or on your wedding readings. If you’re looking to go theologically deep, the Church is rich with spiritual nourishment, both classic and new. I love Ven. Fulton Sheen’s Three to Get Married, Karee and Manuel Santos’ The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est.
Identify ways to give of yourself completely, now and later.
Married love is intended to be free, faithful, fruitful, and total, a complete gift of self. The expression of this love looks different before and after marriage, yet starting during the engagement, you can embody self-gift even now.
It’s worth identifying ways to empty yourself for love of your spouse, in nonphysical ways, throughout both engagement and marriage. One of the most concrete, most purifying ways my husband and I have found for doing this is the practice of identifying specific daily sacrifices we can make for each other. In addition to consciously offering up your day’s inconveniences for your spouse (traffic, tantrums, or misplaced belongings much?), you might consider fasting from one meal for him, once a week, rejecting unnecessary spending, or taking time to pray or do an act of service for him before settling into your daily leisure time.
Talk about your future family culture
Marriage prep materials are intended to prompt thoughtful discussion, but when the discussion time is relegated to a few minutes during the actual course, often within earshot of strangers, it’s hard to be candid and to dig deep into even general marital matters. Instead, spend some time when you’re alone and at your leisure to get a little more specific about what you envision for your married life.
There’s great value, one that isn’t always acknowledged outright, to discovering and identifying what makes your relationship unique, and how that uniqueness will inform your life together. A family culture focuses less on the material aspects of marriage, and, God willing, parenting, and more on guiding principles and favorite things that can shape who the two of you are as man and wife. My husband and I, for instance, are Love and Responsibility devotees. We make active efforts to will the good of the other over ourselves, to see and to cherish each other in a specific, particular way, and try to teach our young children, in simple ways they can understand, that love is more than a feeling and that each person is created unique and unrepeatable. Pope Saint John Paul II’s wisdom has informed our family culture in a major way. Similarly, yours might include the philosophy or devotions of a particular saint or blessed, as well as traditions, meals, or movies that take on special meaning over time.
If during the engagement, it’s hard to envision a fullness of your future family culture or any other aspect of your life to come, that’s because it’s in your future! In marriage I have learned the value of not over-planning for what lies ahead, and, so long as my husband and I are actively discerning God’s will for us and our family, being at peace with where life leads and what preferences and dislikes arise from that. What avenue we will choose for our children’s education, for instance, is a matter that we have yet to determine, and we’ve found that at this time in our lives there is more peace in not yet knowing than in analyzing every possibility or reacting too emotionally to possibilities and decisions that haven’t yet come to pass.
It’s okay, and good, not to have every single aspect of your life planned out before marriage! My prayer for you is this: that your engagement is an active, fruitful time of sacred anticipation, that the heavens open on your wedding day, and that your life together be abundantly blessed. Keep these suggestions in mind for keeping your vocation at the forefront of your wedding planning and find your peace in flexibility and waiting on the Father’s timing.
Written by Stephanie Callis. She is the Co-founder and Editor in Chief of Spoken Bride and writer of INVITED: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner.