If I had to sum up my adult life with a time line, this is what it would look like so far:
Age 22-35–DO ALL THE THINGS
When I turned 22, I graduated college, got married, and 9 months later we had a sweet baby to call our own. Over the course of the next two years, my husband finished school and graduated, we both got real jobs, we bought a house, and we had our second baby. We were 25 and 24. Since then, we have changed jobs and homes, and have added two more kids to the mix. All this to say that our first years of marriage were full to the brim in more ways than one.
Maybe you can relate? Even if you don’t have kids, the first few years of marriage are full. Full of getting to know your spouse in a new way, full of learning how to share a life, full of careers, full of family. And sometimes after all of that fullness, it can be easy to forget what you wanted out of your marriage in the first place. Sometimes you are just trying to get through the day, and by the time you finally get the kids to sleep and the dishes done (or not), you can muster just enough energy to flop onto the couch. This is where we found ourselves after 9 years of marriage. Nothing traumatic had happened. We still loved each other, for sure. But we were passing like ships in the night, not really seeing each other or feeling connected.
Enter the Marriage Encounter weekend.
We had seen church bulletin announcements about the weekends for several years, but in 2013 the stars aligned and we were able to work it into our schedules. We arrived Saturday morning, not knowing what to expect. I remember sitting in the event room thinking, “I don’t think I’m gonna like this.” As someone who led retreats for a living, I found it ironic that I was now on the other side with a bit of a sour attitude. But as the day unfolded, so did the blessings. Our Encounter weekend was not fancy or flashy. The speakers delivered a carefully prepared message from the heart, but they weren’t trained “motivational speakers,” per se. Just a group of married couples, speaking the words that I wished someone would have said to me before. You see, marriage is hard. Obviously. We are all told that over and over. But no one really explains what that means. It is difficult to open your life up to someone and share your struggles. We adults are pretty good at pulling the wool over each others’ eyes. We are good pretenders. And while our pretending might protect us, it also disillusions. No more illusions here. What I saw were real people with real struggles and real love for one another.
In many churches it is common practice to encourage engaged couples to attend an Engaged Encounter or some other form of marriage preparation program. Maybe that is keeping you from thinking more seriously about a Marriage Encounter weekend. Don’t let it! Engagement and marriage are totally different. I was naive and immature in my understanding of marriage and I’m positive that’s the norm. Because how can you understand what it will be like? How can you foresee the trials, hardships, and beauty that come out of married life until you are in the thick of it? And your struggles now? Most likely they are different from when you were engaged.
Or maybe you’ve been married for so many years you have to do the math when someone asks you. Perhaps you feel like after doing life with the same person for so long, you know everything there is to know about each other. The time of growing together is long past. Together you’ve experienced births and deaths, tragedy and joy—you’ve been fired in the crucible that is everyday married life for all these years. But let’s stop to consider that marriage is a vocation, and as such, it is a tool that God uses to help us get to heaven and grow in holiness and love for him. Our marriage here on Earth should reflect our future with God in heaven. It should and it actually can. In our lives as Catholics and disciples of Christ, there is always some way that we can grow or change—some way that we can know God more or be more open to his work in our lives. This is true for marriage also, whether we’ve been married for twenty-five days or twenty-five years. God wants for us to know love beyond all telling, and part of the way that he shows us this is through our own spouse.
For us, Marriage Encounter was where the rubber met the road. It gave us the tools and the time to reconnect, and to really work on our relationship without distraction. When do you get that kind of time in the real world? And nearly three years later, I can say that we are a more whole and holy couple because of it. Marriage Encounter does not claim to save troubled marriages, although I know couples who will say that it has done that for them. But what it does is offer help when you are a little in over your head. And doesn’t that happen to most of us from time to time? For us, when the waters were swirling and we couldn’t quite tell which way was up, Marriage Encounter gave us a foothold. From there, we could pull ourselves to the surface, take a deep breath, and find each other again.
So…all this to ask that you consider attending a Jefferson City Marriage Encounter weekend. If you are in the Central Missouri area or even within a reasonable driving distance click here for a list of upcoming weekends. If you are further away, visit www.marriage-encounter.org to find a weekend in your area. Consider this your official invitation!