One of our fears about getting married was that we would lose our independence. I was used to living on my own and making my own decisions. After college I did a little traveling, and then I discerned on my own to enter, and later leave, the Jesuits. It was a good feeling being able to make adult decisions. Sarah had done a year of service and then moved across the country for grad school. Being the strong woman she is, she took making her own choices seriously. But now we’re married, and things change.
The blessing is in how that fear has subsided. The first sign of peace was how well we compromised on decorating our apartment! Check. We’ve also been good about creating a household budget, and haven’t been at each other’s throats about what to buy or not buy at the supermarket. Check. We’ve even budgeted our own separate “fun money” that we can spend without worrying about the other’s judgement. Check. Admittedly, marriage means you lose some independence because you now have a life companion to rely on and care for. But so far, we’ve been good at maintaining some individual freedom.
The next thing on our plate is our future. I finish grad school in less than a year and will need to look for a job. Sarah and I were already open to moving wherever a job is available, but recently a new wrinkle has appeared: Sarah has been considering doctoral studies. This would mean either staying put in the Boston area or moving to another city with a school that has a suitable doctoral program.
This caused me to stop and think: What about me? Where does my future come in?
It’s easy to keep our desires separate, but marriage means that when one of us feels drawn by God toward something new, we both must enter into discernment. Marriage means that if God is indeed calling Sarah to a particular doctoral program in a certain city, then I, too, am called to move there. Sarah and I are no longer boyfriend and girlfriend. Our wedding vows mean that everything affects us both. What affects one affects the other. Decision-making is not just about my future or Sarah’s future, but about our future. Where God calls Sarah, God also calls me. Where God calls me, God calls Sarah.
As Sarah began researching doctoral programs and seeking out the advice of others, she also sought out my advice. Her parents often ask her, “Have you asked Andy what he thinks?” As I saw Sarah’s excitement and the richness of the various programs of study, I began to get excited about this future. “Remember,” I said, “not getting a Ph.D. is also a valid option.” In our excitement, we need to remind ourselves that making decisions as married people should be made for the good of us as a family. Will her further studies be life-giving for us? What will a choice mean to our dreams? What about future children?
When I decided to enter religious life, all I left behind was a dog and a recent ex-girlfriend. There was not much that held me back from pursuing whatever I wanted. As a husband, I pursue my desires within the context of a marriage. As a father, there will be additional considerations. But these life milestones do not reduce freedom. Sarah and I must be free at times to let go of our own desires in favor of the desires of the other and the welfare of our family. That is true freedom. Freedom also means I know that if I feel God calling me to something new, like a new job, Sarah will discern with me wholeheartedly and will be open to new possibilities, which may include staying put.
When Sarah and I promised in our wedding vows that we would be true to each other and love and honor each other, that meant honoring each other’s call and making a true discernment together. It meant being true to our marriage and going together wherever God called us.