Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
So you are about to get married! Congratulations! You’re looking pretty youthful back there in 1983 and I know you are excited and nervous because you’re, you know, me. So I know what you are thinking about—and what you aren’t thinking about.
You’re amazed that somebody as great as Jan has fallen in love with you. You had your days when you didn’t think any woman would. And you are going to have days to come when you will be terribly afraid that Jan made a huge mistake. Because behind that shiny young face are deep wells of anxiety about yourself, God, and what would happen if people found out what you are really like. The very fact you feel tempted by various sins seems to you proof positive that you are living a lie. You try to keep a stiff upper lip and be a good Evangelical Protestant, but fear dogs you. You spend your life waiting for the other shoe to drop, the hammer to fall, the mask to be ripped off the universe and Something Awful to happen—to your relationship with Jan, with God, with yourself.
Lemme tell you something, pal: lighten up. It gets better. Yeah, bad things are gonna happen. That’s life outside the Garden. You’re going to have the boss from hell for a while. You and Jan will hit some rough patches for a bit. You’ll feel inadequate over the growing responsibility you bear for a growing family. You’ll make your share of mistakes with the kids and commit your share of sins. You’ll even watch in fear and wonder as your normal and anticipated 9 to 5 job melts away and you are forced by an unlikely set of circumstances into the high wire act of maintaining a steady income as a freelance Catholic writer (something that would never enter that behatted Protestant head in a million years).
But here’s the thing: God and Jan will be with you every step of the way, because she is the real deal and so is the God she worships. Consequently, everything you are afraid of as you sit there smiling sweetly for the camera in your cool Indiana Jones hat is something that the grace of God—a grace mediated to you in huge measure by your incredible wife Janet—will make you able to face and overcome. Jan is going to teach you immense life-changing lessons in simplicity and charity. She will teach you, for instance, to say small words of love throughout the day. And these will build up over the years to make a rich loam of charity and security. She will teach you that there is deep joy, not a “ball and chain” in taking responsibility and not just continuing on as a video-gaming man boy. She will show you the Catholic faith (which you suspect is a “cult”) and you will eventually figure out that the sacrament of marriage is rooted, like all the sacraments, in the Eucharist and the Great Sacrifice. You’ve got a lot to look forward to, kiddo, and it ain’t over yet! So be not afraid. This life you are about to embark on is an amazing gift. Grab it with both hands and say “Thanks!” big and loud!