A young friend of mine is dating a fellow who wants to be a Catholic priest. They have a curious quandary: Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy.* This couple is of marriageable age, and both are serious-minded. They are not playing around. They like each other. A lot. They simply (or not so simply) do not know yet where their paths will lead.
For the most part, my friend says, her family and friends no longer express the anger they once did over her colossal waste of time; the anger has given way to a confused type of support as they fear the heartache she courts. She sees her relationship as neither a waste nor guaranteed heartache. For her, he’s worth the risk.
I know another story kinda like that.
Once upon a time, there was this girl who caught this fellow’s eye. Truth be told, he’d caught her’s, too. Smitten at first sight(s), they traded a few phone calls, one lunch date, and he snagged an invitation to her birthday party (she worried throughout that he’d find her charming friends more intriguing than she) before she flew 3,000 miles away for two weeks of Christmas vacation with her family.
In the Land Before Twitter, in a time before texts, the two writers spent hours at their computers plugged into the east and west coasts, composing voluminous, casually clever emails exchanging tidbits about themselves. He was careful to highlight the cute blonde toddler-niece sitting on his lap while he typed. She made sure to mention a love of hiking and the outdoors.
She wondered if his first-born son was required to have the name “Charles,” as this royal appellation graces both his and his father’s birth certificates.
He said he’d like to find a wife before choosing his son’s name.
Because as it turned out, writers though they both were, they also were quite different.
I do not know my young friend’s story well enough yet to know how alike or disparate are she and her priest hopeful. Personality differences are not the point of comparison between stories. The comparison is the slow twisting path of decision. So back to our story…
Whether out of concern for various differences between them (could they really be an “effective team“?) or in the pure and honest effort to understand her own calling (likely a bit of both), she wondered aloud to her beau if she were meant to be single. Was she called, instead, to a life of solitude and service and writing…something she’d wondered more than once in the past decade? Would a husband distract her too much from other things she’s meant to accomplish? Should she toss all plans to the wind and move to Kansas to care for an aging grandmother?
He, in turn, wondered aloud why he was dating someone who maybe should be single or wanted to move to Kansas. But the truth was, he believed it not one bit (or at least held out reasonable hope that she liked him too much to stay that course) — and so he continued his pursuit.
Reasonable hope is the key in both stories. That, and enough fondness and honesty to walk the journey, respecting the process. In both stories, one party wrestles with desires and callings at odds with each other, while the other party watches and waits.
To outsiders, this is patently unfair to the one who waits. “Figure out what you want, and then date if you’re going to!” they like to demand. “Just dump him/her,” they advise the other. I understand. I’ve wanted to give similar advice to one or more of my own friends — now that I’ve safely navigated the process and am happily settled in marriage myself.
Thankfully, before saying something stupid to my agonizing friends, I remember my own story. I remember the angst of being told to stop keeping the poor boy waiting, to not be a perfectionist. The truth was, my guy had as many questions as I did — he was just smart enough to not talk about them, and let people pity his role and admire his stamina. The night before he proposed, we wrestled together with “What is love, anyway?” Really and truly; what is it? And how does one make such a momentous decision as marriage when you have no intention of allowing a back door exit once the vows are spoken?
As I walked my path, wrestling with my doubts and desires, Rob knew how very much I was drawn to him. And he knew why I hesitated. He always had the option to walk away. He always decided I was worth the wait. While he waited, I worked hard to reach a conclusion. At the same time, Rob was honest and pushed for what he needed — and I respected and responded to this, as well.
We both held the hope that our paths would lead us, together, to the altar. Yet we had to be honest with ourselves, each other, and the process each step of the way. Part of that honesty was a willingness to let go, if that is what wisdom revealed. And part of that honesty was continually risking another step forward.
My story is not the same as my young friend’s. But it is similar enough for me to be willing to walk the journey with her, listening…trying to truly listen…and encourage her that God is good on His promise to give wisdom to those who ask. But the wisdom in the situation is for her and her fella; not for me.
*For the record, Catholic.com states that “priestly celibacy is not an unchangeable dogma but a disciplinary rule.”
Nehemiah Notes has been helpful to me through the years, in various points of my journey. Here are two of those Notes: