“You probably know the magazine I subscribe to — Love One Another. Alec recently got hold of my copies. We began to leaf through them together, pointing out the interesting parts, talking about this article and that one, observing the changes in each other’s faces, looking at the magazine and at the crucifix over my door. Naturally there had to be a breakthrough. Because living according to principles and setting limits is possible! But it is something else to lay it all out at once.
“Yesterday it was as if we were in some movie or book. We went to church. This is not so unusual, for we often go there on regular weekdays. But this time we went to say everything, to lay it all out. We made a promise to Jesus and to each other to be chaste — but not the kind of chastity that says sex is for marriage and that’s it. It was a pledge of purity of heart and mind. It was total. A sincere confession, then Communion, and then a promise at home — on our knees, before the holy picture, with our hands joined in prayer.
“You know I always dreamed of a guy I could be myself with — with my faith and everything I feel so strongly about. But when I see a guy beside me who not only accepts me as I am, but also feels the same way about these things as I do, I cannot keep it just to myself. My joy overflows. You know sometimes we even say a decade of the rosary together over the phone! It really brings us together. I knew I would not be disappointed if I counted on this.”
This is an excerpt from a letter of a friend of ours, a very close friend, for you do not say such things to just anyone. A little over a year has passed since we received that letter. For us it has been a time of trials, struggles, small failures, and huge successes. For a year we have carried our testimony in our hearts. (It is hard to put it down in writing.) What is our testimony about? The joys of living a pure life? The danger of letting your guard down and suffering defeat? Yes, there have been joys, and there have been defeats. We feel now that we must tell you about these things. We see it as our duty, though we do this more out of a sense of gratitude, since it was a courageous person’s letter that changed our lives.
It is not as if you decide once and for all — solemnly and with great resolve — to take up the challenge and become better people and then it’s downhill all the way. It is tough slogging. Moments of uncertainty, doubt, and indecision abound. Satan assumes so many shapes. He lurks among the people we meet, on TV, in a seemingly harmless song — even in the words of family members and those closest to us (that’s right!). Just as you begin to feel certain that you can handle the situation, that you will not give in to temptation, that the way lies clear and open before you, that it is all pure thoughts and loving hearts — a voice insinuates itself into your ear and, before you know it, your guard is down, you overlook things, lapse into clever rationalizations, and begin stifling your conscience. “Certainty is uncertain / it dulls our sensitivity / as does any happiness.” Father T. was absolutely right.
We now have a beautiful relationship together. But life has tested our view of many things. Now, from a perspective of time, we see things differently. We know that “beautiful” does not mean “easy.” Life is not like a movie or a book. It is not all passionate outbursts and spontaneous joy. It is much richer than that — and much more fascinating. Above all, being a couple means constantly working on yourself and on the person you have taken responsibility for. It means making decisions and choices every day, overcoming your weaknesses, and striving for self-perfection. It means talking, talking, and talking. Sometimes the talking can be quite painful, for the truth can often hurt. But it is necessary. It builds you up. It strengthens you. Of course, every couple go through such moments in their own way and many have their own tried and true ways of achieving the same goal. Having had our own share of such moments, we have worked out our ways of helping each other. We always try to do this from a position of faith, by entrusting ourselves to God, by seeking strength in prayer and often in the sacrament of confession. Early in our friendship, we set a number of rules for ourselves, as a test, in the hope that these would purify our relationship.
For example, so as not to “fall into temptation,” we decided to limit the time we spent together alone; and when we did spend time together we would keep the door to our room open. This began to bear fruit. To our surprise, our relations with our families began to improve. Suddenly we found the time to go to a movie together with my sister — or simply go for walk. We lost nothing by this, for we were still spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. As a result, we could better radiate to others the love that was maturing within us.
We were, and remain, careful with our kisses. In time, you can develop certain positive reflexes, whereby a mental “red light” goes on the moment you need to stop and reflect. This is where honesty comes in. Nobody is perfect and none of us is free from the urges of the body, which are a natural and human thing. It is up to us what we do at such times and how we react; and we can do a lot by being honest. When one of us feels weak, when we feel a lack of willpower, we talk about it. We admit our weakness and in this way we enable the other to help us. The very fact of talking about our difficulty sets our thoughts on a different course, focuses our mind on what is really important and so restores our equilibrium. Talking brings a couple together like nothing else in the world and strengthens their relationship. They learn to consider their words and the content of their talk. They try not to inflame each other’s thoughts and feelings with things that might cause them to sin. “Among you there must be not even a mention of sexual vice or impurity in any of its forms, or greed: this would scarcely become the holy people of God! There must be no foul or salacious talk or coarse jokes — all this is wrong for you” (Eph 5: 3-4). “And these things made up your way of life when you were living among such people, but now you also must give up all these things: human anger, hot temper, malice, abusive language, and dirty talk; and do not lie to each other” (Col 3: 7-8). And again: “Let your minds be filled with everything that is true, everything that is honorable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire — with whatever is good and praiseworthy” (Phil 4: 8).
Our relationship has also been greatly strengthened by spiritual retreats, by praying together in the quiet of a church or during a walk, by reciting the chaplet of Divine Mercy, and by our habit of calling each other up whenever we come across a passage in Sacred Scripture that we find especially apt or moving.
We have made our own special calendar. Not the kind you buy in the store, for we use it to count down the days to our wedding. That’s right! We have pledged ourselves to each other, asking God to bring us to the altar if that is His will. Every evening I draw a face in a special box in the margin — a smiling face, if we have kept the promises of the MPH Prayer of Consecration; and a frowning face if not. Lately they have all been smiles. Long may they continue!
We try to tell people about how we try to stay pure — not in a pushy way, of course, and often not at all directly. Life will present you with situations when you can help people, advise them, strengthen them by example, and console them. For as Scripture tells us, “Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). And so we try to convince people not to give up. Because you can never give up!
A priest once told us in the confessional (we go to confession together, one after the other) that we would be back more than once in the future, and that this would keep us from falling into pride and complacency. He was right, for we often went back, sorrowful and contrite; but we never left empty-handed. Even failures are good for something. As long as we do not give up and draw constructive conclusions from them, the experience becomes a strong foundation on which we can build ourselves up. Only we must show great patience. We try to remember that, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13). And again: “Be sober, be watchful! Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet 5: 8-9).
We wish you all the gift of perseverance and lots of love in your hearts. With prayers,
Justine & Jack
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010