A reader writes:
I'm a sixteen year old girl [. . .]
For a few years I very much wanted to be a cloistered nun, and read many works and practiced some of the spirituality of different orders. However, for a while now I've felt more like I might be called to marriage (and this began before I met any nice guys ;)), and though I'm only sixteen and a little young to be sure of a call either way, I've been struggling with a problem begun during the years I thought I was going to be a nun. I was very attracted to the idea of Jesus as the bridegroom, as a spouse, and due to my age I fell into a "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend" mindset. Right now I'm having trouble because though I'm not allowed to date I have a very close friend whom I feel I would like to marry someday, and this is shaking up my view of Jesus, which I think was a little warped to begin with. I was wondering if perhaps you could tell me how you, being married, relate to Jesus? My difficulty with the spousal view is that if taken the way I've taken it, it doesn't really leave room for an earthly husband, so I was wondering if you could please tell me how you deal with this.
My first reaction was, "Your idea of Jesus is a little warped? Join the crowd!" I mean, even the disciples who spent years hiking around the middle east with Him sometimes behaved, at various times, as if He were some kind of conquistador, or a magician, or a dupe, or -- oddest of all -- a normal, non-divine person. The only human who probably truly knew Him well was His mother -- and even the two of them seemed to be talking past each other much of the time. Think of the finding in the Temple, or the wedding at Cana.
So really, my nice young reader is ahead of the game. Most of us half-believe we've got Jesus all figured out. We keep Him in a box, like a cricket, and we expect Him to chirp obligingly every time we remember to open the lid. So approaching Him with the understanding that you have a lot to learn? That's a huge hurdle cleared already.
But although my own experience was vastly different from this young lady's, I see the dilemma: we often think that we have a choice of either (a) following God like a nun or something or (b) doing regular things, like getting married. We know, in theory, that marriage is a holy vocation, but it's hard not to imagine being sort of pulled in two directions: who's our favorite, God or husband?
And the truth is, sometimes you do have to choose. Sometimes your husband may want you to do something that is sinful, and then of course you must choose God and pray that your husband eventually comes around.
But in general, if you and your husband are more or less on the same moral page, there is no real dilemma:
We have a relationship with God by having a relationship with our husbands. We serve God by serving our families (and thatgoes for men and women). It's not as if God is sighing and tapping His foot impatiently, waiting for you to quit doing your husband's laundry so you can come clock in at His house for a while. That is how you be His spouse: you do the work of serving your husband . . . and darned if that doesn't bring you closer to God. Nothing delights God more than seeing a husband and wife loving each other.
As I learn how to love my husband (and yes, most people really do have to learn!), what I learn about the nature of love illuminates my relationship with Christ. And as I try to become closer to Christ, what do you know! It turns me into a better wife.
Conversely, the times when I'm on the outs with my husband, I find it hard to pray sincerely: any resentment or sulkiness I feel toward my husband dribbles into my prayer; and when I'm slipping spiritually -- when it's been a long time since I've been to confession, or when I've skipped my morning prayers four days in a row -- then my heart contracts away from my husband, and walls go up.
And that in itself is a revelation. We realize that sins are forbidden not because God is bossy, but because sins are bad for us. We discover that virtues are commanded because they are good for us. Not just bad or good in some kind of eternal scorecard that will be tallied up after we die, but bad or good right here and now, on earth, in marriage: sin makes us unhappy, and virtue makes us happy. (Well, in general. In the long term. There are always exceptions!)
But there is one more thing: there's really no way to get these matters sorted out while it's still theory. You won't know how marriage works when you're sixteen, because you're not married yet (just like, as a twenty-something newlywed, you won't know what twenty years of marriage is like). Furthermore, and more importantly, you can learn and study and understand all you want about marriage, but you may have to throw 90% of what you know out of the window once you realize, for real and true, that you're not just married -- you're married to a specific person. You don't need to know how to be married; you need to learn how to be married to HIM.
And the same is true for Christ. Whether you marry or not, He will show Himself to you, gradually, over time; and you will get to know Him, if you care to, if you dare to. He is not abstract. He is a real man. He's like something in particular, and unlike other things. Being married is one way of finding out what He's like.
Your job as a married woman will be to recognize and honor what is Christlike in your husband, and to help your husband to become more like Christ.