Monday, 15 February 2010

Stages of Praying for a Spouse

Catholics who aspire to Serious Singledom do have their challenges. Men who wish to live their Serious Singledom as priests have structures and groups (like Serra) to support them, but they still have to deal with a chorus of "Oh, how sad that priests can't get married!" The response "But I don't want to get married" is sometimes greeted with a blank stare. Searching Singles and Married People sometimes have difficulty comprehending that some people just don't want to get married. In my hometown of Toronto, nuns and religious brothers almost never wear identifying garb, so they don't serve as public reminders that permanent celibacy is a viable and honourable option. I hope this changes with the Benedict XVI generation.

But my first sympathies are with Searching Singles. Serious Singles are free to get on with it, but Searching Singles are stuck with searching until they either give up or get married. They sometimes suffer quite a lot. However, Jesus did say, "Pick up your cross and follow Me." Protracted Singleness, for a Searching Single, is indeed a cross. So pick it up, my little Singles, and follow Him.

I think there are three stages to praying for a spouse, and I described them to the St Andrews Catholic Society. They are "fun", "passionate" and "accepting." In my experience, the Searching Single bounces around them.

In the fun stage of prayer, the Searching Single looks up the saints traditionally said to find an unmarried person a spouse, and these are St. Joseph and St. Anne, Our Lord's Grandmother. The prayer asking the help of Saint Anne is "St. Anne, St. Anne, send me a man." I don't know of a similarly simple intercessory prayer to St. Joseph. But I do remember asking both St. Joseph and St. Anne to help me out. (When we were engaged, B.A. and I visited St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal, where I took the opportunity--in the original oratory, thank you, not the behemoth--to thank him.)

In the passionate stage of prayer, the Single Person gets right down into his or her heart where it hurts and wrestles with God over the issue of his or her Singleness. "Send me a Spouse," yells the Searching Single.

Now, this is controversial to some, for this may be mistaken for disrespect. Anglican converts used to the Book of Common Prayer are used to a lot of bowing and scraping before the Lord our God, and that is okay. But Jacob (or Israel) wrestled with an Angel (or Our Lord God) and before that, his mother demanded of the Lord for the answer to why her twins were fighting in her womb. In the Psalms, the psalmist intersperses his praise with demands and complaints. In the Book of Job, Job refuses to admit he had done something wrong when he hadn't and demands an account from the Lord. And, to my great delight, a Certain Blind Man Who Sat By the Wayside Begging (Luke 18: 31-43) yells and screams until Our Lord asks to see him:

Et clamavit dicens: Jesu, Fili David, miserere me. Et qui praeibant, increpabant eum ut taceret. Ipse vero multo magis clamabat: Fili David miserere mei. (My translation: And he yelled, saying: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. And those who went before, scolded him, that he should shut up. But he kept on yelling, even louder.)

So I think that if your heart directs you to inwardly yell and scream and demand that the Lord have mercy on you in your Searching Single suffering, you should go ahead and do it. This is a million zillion times better than deciding that there is no point in yelling because God doesn't care or that there is no God and this is an absurd, purposeless, random universe ruled by blind evolutionary forces. By demanding mercy, you are keeping the lines of communication open.

The final stage of prayer is acceptance. And that is when you say "not my will, but Your will be done". (And where Jacob lost the fight, where Job said he was dust and ashes, and where the Certain Blind Man shut up long enough for Our Lord to get a word in.) For many, of not most of us, this comes after a good wrestle, like Jacob's, or a big squally fuss, like the Certain Blind Man's. And, guess what, this is not always a lasting state. I think saints manage to say "not my will, but Yours be done" every single second, but I discovered that even after I was Seraphic about being Single, my prayers would zoom around between Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.

Stage 3 was the most comfortable one because it was followed by a feeling of trust and contentment. The only way I could say the Stage 3 prayer with sincerity was to remember that God loved me and had a plan for me and all creation that I didn't know about and that I should just calm down and let Him unfold His plan in His own time.

Meanwhile, there are activities that correspond with the stages. In the fun stage, I would sign on with Catholic Singles dating services and flirt by Instant Message. I even gave into massive peer pressure and gave answers to the very long and boring questionnaire set before me by Whatsit (the expensive secular one whose name I honestly forget--not LavaLife, hmm....) as my buddy typed them in. In the passionate stage, I would gripe at my Spiritual Director. In the accepting stage, I would write a nice blog post about the Single Life.

But I am absolutely sure that it was Stage 3 that made me a better and, if I may say so, more marriageable person.


Dominic Mary said...

I am sure your conclusion is accurate; but remember - even Our Lord was allowed a dose of Stage 2 before He got to Stage 3 in the Garden of Gethsemane !

theobromophile said...

I did a lot of screaming and yelling for about a five-year time span - not about being Single, but about being ill, about having men treat me like dirt, about family difficulties, and about death... and often, about all of those all at once.

It just wasn't productive.

Maggie said...

Thanks for another lovely batch of food for thought! Another question that inevitably crops up for me is: "Are you *sure* you're not called to religious life?" I usually reply that I went through a period of discernment and considered different orders but never felt the urge to go further with it than that. Yet I had a deep sense of peace when I would think about marriage, even without any Husband candidates in the picture. How did you wrestle with the vocation question?

Cecilia said...

Beautiful post!! Thank you. I really needed this today!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Seraphic. I really needed to hear this today.

Seraphic said...

Maggie, sense of peace works for me. The way I wrestled with the vocation question was to stumble about stupidly, dating this inappropriate person and that, until I got to theology school and calmed down a bit. Then I griped at the Lord (and the Spiritual Director). But I also talked with a Vocations Director for the Loretto Sisters, and I lived with some other sisters as a boarder, so I did at least contemplate becoming a woman religious. But when I was 34 (or was I 35?) it occured to me that I might have a Single vocation (whether I liked it or not) so I had better find out what that looked like for other women! Meanwhile, I dated Volker.

Goodness, my vocations journey was so messy. I kind of learned how to contemplate vocations through a process of elimination.

littlegreengardengal said...

I agree about moving back and forth between the stages. The older I get the more often I am in #3, but I still at moments am in one of the other 2 even though I know I enjoy life more in 3. Oh well, I don't know what to say except that life is a journey.

MargoB said...

I heartily agree that the passionate stage is worth going through, no matter how many times. Jesus wants us to be honest with Him -- even if we don't always use the most proper language to tell Him where we're at.

One of the benefits to telling Him exactly what I think has been a growing confidence that He really, really *does* want to be part of EVERYTHING; He really means that bit about not abandoning me. It's been a powerful thing to realize that He accepts & loves me no. matter. what.

CM said...

Great article. I'm in stage 3 so far this year. It's nice. I don't think I've ever been in stage 3 for this long.

Tattoo Dating said...

Thanks for such a wonderful post! As for me, I think I learn to accept. I don't want to be searching, hunting single. Cause it poisons my life. Gives the wrong direction.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic Singles please keep me in your every day prayer I am trying very hard to find a good faithful husband. I do not like being alone at all. I know what it takes to be in a relationship for a long time. Help me guide me and lead me to him and him to me. AMEN