On March 28, 2016, as we walked along a secluded hiking trail (like we did on our very first date), my best friend, Jesse, got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.
With my blubbering “yes,” our season of engagement began. Slipping that beautifully simple solitaire on my finger marked the beginning of many months of planning and preparation for our wedding day. Those 13 months of engagement were full of dozens of decisions to make every detail of our wedding day perfect in our eyes: Blue or black tuxedos? Round cake tiers or square? Violinist, organist, or pianist? The weeks leading up to the wedding were full of phone calls with our reception venue, florist, limo company, and a half-dozen other vendors.
Don’t get me wrong — planning the details of our wedding day was incredibly fun, if not a little overwhelming. Jesse and I enjoyed choosing a China pattern, bridesmaid dresses, and Mass readings to prepare for this once in a lifetime, perfect day. But the most important preparation we did before our wedding was entirely spiritual.
We knew that in preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church, we were preparing to enter into a sacrament in which God would give us his grace to love each other as he loves us. We realized that, at the altar, we would vow before God to freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully give ourselves to each other.
It varies a bit from diocese to diocese, but the Church expects us to fulfill a few requirements before being married in the Catholic Church. In our diocese, we had to attend a natural family planning introduction course, meet with our priest every few months, and complete a marriage prep program with a mentor couple over the course of several weeks or in a weekend retreat.
If you’re newly engaged, spending time preparing spiritually for your wedding day beyond these requirements will even more firmly root your future marriage in Christ and bring peace to your soul as you plan your wedding. I had Pinterest boards full of centerpiece ideas, hairstyles, and color palettes, and an entire notebook full of to-do lists, but occasionally setting these aside and making time to prepare spiritually built a strong foundation of faith for our marriage.
Prayer taught us humility
Within a few days of our first date, Jesse and I decided to make prayer an integral part of our relationship. Prayer taught us to continually humble ourselves and seek God’s will in our relationship. We prayed together (and still do) at least once a day — either in person or over the phone.
Continuing to pray together every day during our engagement helped us keep our focus on gratitude for each other, prepare for a lifetime together, and realize we needed God’s guidance in our future marriage. We prayed for our shared hopes and dreams, and also became intentional about praying whenever we faced conflict or disagreement, whether it was something big like what city we would live in or something small like what songs we’d ask the DJ to play at the reception.
Another way we incorporated prayer into our engagement was choosing a devotion that we could carry into our marriage. In our case, we began to pray a weekly Rosary together every Sunday. In the busyness of wedding planning, having 15-20 minutes of quiet prayer time together each week was refreshing and peaceful. You could visit a nearby chapel with Eucharistic Adoration and make a regular holy hour together or choose a patron saint to call on regularly. Even if you both aren’t Catholic, you can still share your faith by praying regularly for shared intentions and for each other or by doing a book study that will help you in your future marriage.
Chastity taught us how to love more deeply
One of the best decisions Jesse and I made during our engagement was to avoid cohabitation and to abstain until our wedding night. Prioritizing chastity throughout our dating relationship and engagement taught me how to love Jesse for his own sake — not because of physical gratification. We chose to save that intimacy for after sharing our marriage vows before God at the altar.
Logistically speaking, it would’ve been easier for us to live together. We lived 45 minutes away from each other and usually were only able to see each other in person one or two days a week, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. By waiting to live in the same apartment and sleep in the same bed until we were married, we built a beautiful sense of anticipation for truly joining our lives together in every way on our wedding day.
Regular date nights taught us the importance of being present
Preparing to join your life with another can become all-consuming. In addition to wedding plans, we had to discern choices about jobs, where we would live, and financial decisions together. Planning date nights and taking breaks from the flurry of “future plans,” whether we were cooking together, praying in Adoration, or simply taking a long walk, helped us slow down and enjoy the present moment.
This also helped us grow in vulnerability before God and each other. Throughout our engagement, spending intentional time together helped us become more honest with each other. If one of us was having a bad day, or if we were irritated by something that the other said or did, we made a point of sharing that immediately and honestly rather than keeping it to ourselves. We became more intentional about listening to each other’s fears, concerns, joys, and frustrations and supporting the other person in those emotions. Vulnerability can grow during engagement as you continually break down walls and become more honest with each other in all things.
Our mentors taught us life lessons about marriage
Marriage is a great adventure, so it’s totally normal to have questions and uncertainty about some of the more practical aspects of becoming husband and wife. Jesse and I found it helpful to consult with people who were already living that adventure and had been for quite some time.
We completed our marriage prep program with a couple in our parish, and they became our mentors, in a way. Married for 15 years, they have two children in the parish school and are very active in parish life. We were able to ask them questions about natural family planning, making time for parish activities and service, Catholic parenting, and living out our vows in general. Whether it’s your parents, your marriage prep instructors, or an elderly couple you see at Mass every week, these folks can offer helpful insights and wisdom.
Make engagement a season of planning not only the logistics of your wedding and reception but also one of preparing your hearts for a beautiful, Christ-centered vocation.
Originally published May 13, 2019.