About four years ago I started to crack up. This isn’t that unusual for me, as I find myself “grieving over Goldengrove unleaving” during October, but that year was different. And I could be excused for the number of tears I shed, since I was struggling with a soon-to-be-diagnoses chronic illness, and was settling into a long-distance relationship that hadn’t felt so long-distance during our first freewheeling summer.
But it wasn’t just fear and confusion over chronic pain, or the new and agonizing feeling of being in love from afar that overtook me that fall. To my own surprise I started being terribly hard on myself, beating myself up over the silliest little things, finding fault with everything I did. I’d never had a particularly positive view of myself, but I’d never spoken to myself as harshly as I did that autumn.
For the first time in my life I was in love, and was loved in return, and the last gasps of my conviction that I was unlovable were brutal and forceful. Someone was saying to me “I love you just as you are”, and it wasn’t a family member who was required to by blood, or a distant God whose assured love was too often theoretical. Years of built up self-doubt were resisting this new knowledge, the knowledge that perhaps despite everything I really am lovable just as I am.
We lived apart for four long years, and a bittersweet bonus was that everytime we saw each other we were truly excited, even if we were simply finding each other in a department store after one had wandered off. His eyes would light up and he’d wave and I’d think “that is how God sees me. Delighted every time.”
When we had first met, and were both separately deciding whether or not to buy into a relationship that seemed to have the deck stacked against it, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. I would rise at 4:30 am to take long runs and daydream ways to get out of this torturous mess. And every night I would sit in stillness with my journal and pray, looking for answers or relief. Without fail, the message would reach me: God wants to teach you a new way to love.
We have been married just six months. There is much, much more I will learn. I already know that living in close quarters with another does not always bring out the best in me, that I can be fussier than I should with someone who I know has to come home to me at the end of the day, that getting to know someone deeply means getting to know their flaws as well as their charm.
I also know that we are still two separate mysteries, that there will always be a space between us and that such space too can be holy. I know that there is terror in committing to another person’s mystery. I’m not sure if the terror really goes away, or if it just becomes commonplace.
To say that marriage might make me holy doesn’t mean that it will make me perfect, or that the sailing with always be smooth. But I know that I am being taught how to love, that I am being invited into something profound. I believe that learning to love people is a way of better loving Christ himself. Our life together is a creation, and when we create something new we are mirroring God’s own creation.
This weekend the Church canonizes Louis and Zélie Martin, the first married couple to be canonized who were not also martyrs. I doubt my dear and I will find ourselves on the canon of saints when our lives are done, but I’m confident that we can move toward holiness, two beautiful mysteries, always growing in love.