The last two years of my life have been a whirlwind of change! Yet with gratitude I recognize these years as the best time of my life. I went from being a single woman to dating, engaged and married within eight months. Then, after three months of marriage, and shortly before my husband and I had technically known each other for one year, we began expecting our first child.
While we didn’t follow the typical length of time it takes for a couple to discern the Sacrament of Matrimony, we are absolutely certain that we correctly discerned our vocation together. There has never been anything but peace, no doubts. God makes it abundantly clear when you’re both committed to the Catholic Church and her teachings, and when your personalities, values and even families fit together so well.
Such an experience can make it difficult to believe that it isn’t all just too good to be true! For a while, I was wondering, “When’s the other shoe going to drop? Surely there’s a catch somewhere.” This was a lie and an accusation planted in my heart from the devil, as I had already struggled with doubting God’s plan for me.
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During my college years, my heart was hardened to doubt God’s goodness. I observed girlfriends in relationships all around me while I remained single, and I was convinced that it didn’t matter how much you might desire your vocation — some women were lucky enough to find their spouse, and others would have to search through heartache after heartache for many years. It seemed so unfair, and I imagined the worst for myself.
I feared that God would hold out on me. I feared that in my brokenness I would grasp onto more relationships that weren’t actually God’s will for me, and that I would walk away with more break ups and the collateral damage of dashed hopes that marriage just wasn’t meant for me.
I also believed that maybe God didn’t want me to have such strong desires for marriage. Perhaps those were just romanticized emotions that got in my way and kept me from seeing the cold, hard reality of how we don’t always get what we want in life. But that was a distorted view of suffering, one disconnected to the reality of Jesus resurrecting from the dead so that he could resurrect our personal sufferings.
This changed one afternoon, about two years before I met my future husband, when I had a powerful encounter with sacred Scripture in Eucharistic adoration. I often liked to reflect on the woman in Old Testament Scripture named Hannah, my namesake. This time, the Holy Spirit poured out a new insight as I pondered the passage before the Eucharist.
This holy woman desired a child with all her being, but always went away from the Temple each year with greater sadness, until one day everything changed:
“Hannah rose after one such meal at Shiloh, and presented herself before the Lord; at the time Eli the priest was sitting on a chair near the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. In her bitterness she prayed to the Lord, weeping freely, and made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if you look with pity on the hardship of your servant, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life. No razor shall ever touch his head.’ … Eli said, ‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have requested.’ She replied, ‘Let your servant find favor in your eyes,’ and left. She went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and no longer appeared downhearted. Early the next morning they worshiped before the Lord, and then returned to their home in Ramah. When they returned Elkanah had intercourse with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her” (1 Sam 1:9-11, 17-19).
After Hannah poured out her heart to God about what she desired most, she believed in the priest Eli’s words — that she would have her prayer answered. Because of her faith, she went away in peace, and it even says she no longer appeared downhearted. This could only be because she trusted that her intention would be fulfilled. Hannah goes away to continue to worship the Lord in her home. After all this, God was ready to answer her prayer.
Jesus made it clear as I gazed upon him exposed in the monstrance: “I want you to give praise and thanks to me as though I have already answered your prayer. I want you to desire this more, not less, and offer me the suffering of desire.”
At last, it made complete sense. Jesus needs us to desire the deep matters of the heart more, not less. To admit to yourself and to God how much you desire something, like a spouse, will increase the pain of the waiting. It means letting go of any denial we might be holding onto, such as that God isn’t going to fulfill his part, or that this desire is just something “from me.”
But the truth is that it is God who plants a good and holy desire in our hearts in the first place in order to create an opportunity to completely trust in his mercy and timing. Our task is to believe in him so strongly that we will begin to thank him in advance for answering our prayer, even before we see the outcome!
Then we give Jesus permission to act. In the midst of the cross of waiting and asking, we have the opportunity to enter into Jesus’ own crucifixion. We make ourselves an offering of total love for the sake of another, even one yet unseen (just as Jesus offered his entire body on the cross for every “unseen” person who ever lived or would live).
Complete trust gives God freedom to enact a resurrection in our lives. If we aren’t convinced that God is going to come through for us, we’ll be tempted to take matters into our own hands. Just like Eve, we might grasp for the fruit in the form of control in our lives, trying to force a relationship to make our dream come true on our terms, in our timing. But our understanding is always radically insufficient compared to God’s. He knows who and what we need, and when we’re ready for it. He does not put desires on your heart to torture you. God is a lover and the ultimate author of all love stories.
Changing my prayers to trust and thanksgiving prepared me to meet my future husband when the time came. I did not earn, deserve or make it happen sooner by manipulating or changing God’s mind. Rather, God enabled me to receive this gift, and I am deeply humbled each and every day by the holiness of this man God has given to me as a husband. God is faithful and generous!