Navigating the dating field for young-adult Catholics nowadays is a tricky, if not frustrating, endeavor.
We know through our faith that we were created in the image and likeness of God — who is Love (1 John 4:8) — to be loved and to give love. We all have an ache in our hearts to be a "gift" to another; for even God said, "It is not good that man should be alone."
This ache especially deepens as we grow older and watch our friends get married, and the temptation to settle out of fear of being alone — and thus grasp for love — becomes all too real.
When this is the case, we view each attractive Catholic of the opposite sex as a target of potential romance (and may even start envisioning the wedding colors and future children within a matter of 2.5 seconds).
We’re not called to marry each attractive Catholic who comes our way — we’re only called to marry one.
God knows who our future spouse is and truly wants what is best for us.
The last thing he wants us to do is to settle — to settle out of fear, out of lust or out of insecurity.
He has "plans for our welfare and not for our woe" (Jeremiah 29:11) — and while it can be frustrating to wait on God’s timetable, it is well worth the wait.
The phrase "You know when you know" was always annoying to us when we were single, yet it made complete sense when we finally found each other.
After years of dating, discernment of religious life (on both sides) and journeying with the Lord, we have a few tips to share when it comes to discerning whether or not God may be calling you to marriage to a specific person.
We’re assuming that those who are reading this are longing for holiness and desiring a spouse who shares that goal.
So here are three indicators of how "you know."
You finally have peace and joy. Two important fruits of the Spirit are peace and joy. We know in the depths of our hearts when we’re sensing anxiety in a relationship (or that "pit in the stomach" feeling), and we begin to rationalize our relationships or the actions of our significant other. For instance, maybe you’ve even heard a friend (or yourself) phrase such sentiments as, "Oh, it’s not that big of a deal that he’s not as into the faith as I am; we have good chemistry" or "We’re in love … it’s okay to be sleeping together if we love each other, right?" or even "She’s perfect on paper, so why not?"
One of the core elements of Ignatian discernment is learning to distinguish whether or not you have peace — that deep peace that comes from listening to God and acting with him, not against him. When we make excuses for another’s behavior or begin compromising our standards, it’s a likely sign that we’re not experiencing that peace of heart that God desires for us to have. Childlike joy also will naturally flow out of our relationships when they are healthy and holy. Our family, friends and co-workers will easily be able to see this authentic joy (as opposed to a highly emotional infatuation).
The relationship is life-giving. We’re called to be "equally yoked" in a spousal relationship — spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically. There will naturally be times when one person is stronger in a particular area or needs to lift up the other person when he or she falters. When we’re constantly dragging someone along in any of these areas, though, it can take the life out of us. Imagine that marriage is like running a race. Your spouse should be running alongside you toward the goal: heaven. When you get tired or lazy, he or she should encourage you. When he or she falls, you help him or her get back up. You wouldn’t want to marry someone who is miles behind you in the spiritual life, for instance, or who is not even running the same race. Marriage is difficult enough when you and your spouse are on the same page spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically. It becomes much more difficult, however, when you’re not.
If our best friendships are those that are life-giving, why would we not want to marry someone who helps us live life to the fullest? If you find yourself continually "relieved" when your significant other leaves after a lengthy time together, it’s probably a red flag that you shouldn’t spend the rest of your life with that person.
Just as your close friends bring out the best in you, so should your spouse help you become the "best version" of yourself. If marriage is "friendship with romance," and the best kind of friendship is a "virtuous friendship," where the two share a common goal should be our goal.
A Catholic marriage should be one where the spouses are leading each other to the ultimate goal of heaven. With this goal in mind, our spouses should help us grow in holiness and encourage us to be fruitful with our gifts and talents. If Satan would attack anything in your relationship, it will likely be your prayer life. And if you feel like you can’t pray with your significant other (or go to Mass or pray the Rosary with him or her), then maybe he or she is not the best person God has in mind for you.
St. Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive" — and thus a holy marriage will enable you to be truly life-giving and most fully alive.
You can be yourself. When you find the one you’re meant to marry, it feels as if you can finally be yourself. You don’t have to wear a mask or be afraid to show your oddities. Your spouse is the one whom you’ll be naked with both physically and spiritually. He or she will see you at your best and at your worst — and will love you all the more, despite your faults and weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, and your spouse will know this firsthand. You’ll know that he or she is "the one" when you no longer fear that he or she will leave if you reveal your true self (in all your sin and vulnerability). "Perfect Love casts out all fear" (1 John 4:18), and we should not be afraid to be the goofy, silent, nerdy, vibrant, loud or romantic people God created us to be.
Don’t be afraid to let God write your love story. Trust that his plans are better than your own!
We are witnesses of the fact that it is possible to find someone with whom you can find peace and joy, be fully alive and be your awesome Catholic self.
As our own wedding day approaches, know that we’ll be praying for you all in your own discernment and journey with the God who loves us.
Follow Catholic singer-songwriter and speaker
Jackie Francois (JackieFrancois.com)
and her fiancé Bobby Angel’s
pre-wedding journey at BobbyandJackie.com.