Being Engaged and Experiencing Doubt
In my own vocational discernment of marriage, there were many moments along the way that were opportunities at victory or defeat. What I mean is that there were times where my own belief in the vocation God had chosen for me was put into doubt. There were also certainly instances where these doubts were dispelled by the Grace of God. What follows are two experiences of doubt concerning my discernment of marriage. In no way do I believe myself to be an expert in this process! At best, may these musing assist you in the knowledge that just because things aren’t easy or if there are troublesome times, it does not mean that you’ve made a mistake necessarily. Above all things, we men must remain in constant communication with God about our discernment.
Vocational discernment is often a long, confusing, and what can be frustrating process. If we are lucky, through prayer we will know where God is leading us and direct us in this. Or, things may get confusing and worrisome. In fact, as a man, all vocations are beautiful and good. Be aware, when we get nearer and nearer to the vocation that God is calling us toward, the Enemy will do everything in his power to draw us away from that. Here is where vocational discernment can get dicey. What makes it so difficult is that we are choosing between goods. The Enemy, in his slyness and deceit will often try to draw us away from the life that God is leading us toward, the life that will bring us much joy and flourishing, and present us, tempt us with an alternative vocation, one that is also good! What comes out of this is two goods pitted against each other. Do I pick the steak or the chicken? Both are definitely not the veggie meal, and one will actually be better for you.
This is what we need to be most cautious of in discernment. That as we approach acceptance and execution of our vocation - the very thing that God is calling us toward to live a holy and therefore happy life - the Enemy is trying his hardest to draw us away from that vocation. He desires our demise. In my own life and discernment, on two separate occasions I have seen how the Enemy has attempted to bring me away from that life of pure bliss.
The first instance occurred before my engagement. Some background. In college, I was a part of a vocational discernment group that was mainly based in bringing together young men considering the priesthood, but also to draw men together to deeply consider the path God was calling them to. We would meet about once a month on a Friday evening and celebrate Mass and then eat dinner together. What brought me to the group was a desire to know more clearly what God was calling me toward. What had me coming back was the free meal that wasn't cold pizza, but a full spread in the Jesuit residence. Fast forward to a retreat that I went on my senior year of college. This was a five day silent retreat, a modified version of St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. On this retreat, my main intention was discernment. As the week went on, I found myself unable to sleep, feeling anxious, depressed and entirely unsure of where God was calling me. Through my prayer and reflection, it became more and more apparent to me that the priesthood is the vocation that allows men to most fully live out a life dedicated to God. I mean think about it, I remember thinking, the priest is able to celebrate mass, participate in the sacraments, be in people's lives. I was almost convinced that I would be breaking up with my girlfriend when I returned from the retreat. But what came to me on the final morning of the retreat was the realization that while the priesthood was the ideal for men, it was not the ideal that God had in store for me. Through prayer and reflection, I was better able to understand my gifts. I was able to reflect on my relationship with Emma, with the love that we shared. With the lessons I've learned. With the beauty that came forth from true sacrificial love, from laying down myself in small ways to be her beloved. What's more, I was able to see more importantly the goodness of marriage. That it's not just an outlet for horniness, but a real and true reflection of the Trinity when it is lived out fully. During this time, I realized that the Enemy was trying to convince me to follow a path that was not my own. And he didn't tempt me with something that was inherently evil! How sneaky he is.
The second time that I was tempted was during my engagement. In this time, Emma and I had been engaged for six months or so. In this, we had been praying and preparing for our sacrament. What started to happen was doubt. What brought this on was getting to know other women. And in meeting these women, I started to doubt my own relationship with Emma. Preparing for marriage draws you much closer to each other. It causes you to scrutinize and get ready for what the rest of your life will be. In this process, I wrongly but naturally compared Emma to the people that I recently met. Here were women who in some cases might be considered more objectively beautiful, might be smarter, more faithful, more personable - you name it, insert characteristic here. My doubts stemmed from comparing a person who I knew for a week, to someone I've shared three years of my life with. Incomparable. This doubt had me thinking that maybe I made the wrong choice in proposing to Emma. How wrong could I be?! Here again, through discernment of spirits, I was able to see how this was not the Spirit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, but that same spirit of lies, deceit, and despair. Logic and love were thrown out the window to be replaced with objective adjectives that were not meant to stand against each other. My bride, my beloved, transcended all of that. Too often we focus on objectification as dealing with the body. Do not get me wrong, this is a great evil and trap. But even more so, we often neglect the objectification of persons in the sense of attributes, abilities, and personalities. As if we could somehow transplant all these into the perfect woman. That is a fake woman. What is real is beautiful and what is beautiful is my future bride. Beware of doubts concerning comparing your bride to other women. Remember that as you near closer to the true calling that God has destined you for, the Enemy will be hard at work to ensure that never happens. Stay strong, steadfast and patient. My doubt stemmed from focusing solely on the present. In many ways, I know that I can use this experience of doubt to be ready in marriage. Without a doubt I know that I will run into and meet other women. Being a male, I will naturally and biologically be attracted to them. But with all of my being and with the Grace of God, I know the commitment and sacrifice that marriage is. I can now see these opportunities as a way to continually sacrifice and lay my life down for my beloved. Perhaps God gave me this moment to be more aware and more keen of the need to sacrifice in marriage. Because if marriage cannot have sacrifice, it will become dry and desolate.
Whatever your experience is, never stop praying. There may be instances where doubt may in fact be alerting you to the truth that God has in store for you. Continue to bring the Lord into it. Speak and discuss with the people close to you who you trust. Above all, never forget that you are a beloved son of God the Father. And never forget that He has incredible things in store for you.
You may contact Charles at: firstname.lastname@example.org