When Josh and I were dating, we were intentional from the beginning discerning God’s will for our lives, together. We had known each other for 8 years, having met in high school, becoming better friends in college and best friends in the years after. In some ways it was a challenging transition from friendship to dating and romance because the stakes were so high; if this didn’t work, if it ended badly, we’d lose something precious.
After nearly a year of evening phone calls and as many weekend visits as we could manage (we were living in different cities), it was clear that our discernment together was taking longer than we – or anyone else, really – expected. Most people (and at times even we ourselves) had expected that it would take no time at all and that we’d be engaged in three to six months and married within the year. But that wasn’t the case.
We’re slow discerners. (Once God confirmed His will for each of us we were married in six months and are expecting our first child soon, so we’re not slow at everything!) After about 10 months of dating, we asked to meet with a holy and wise couple in our diocese. Our question was this: How do we know if we’re discerning well?
That day, we walked out of their office with a gift not just for our current discernment but for the rest of our lives. I think they saw in us what we couldn’t, or weren’t ready yet, to see ourselves. They encouraged us to spend time in prayer together asking for God’s blessing to be married, to confirm His will in each of us. They reminded us that we might not receive His confirmation at the same time or in the same way but that He would offer it to us both. They handed each of us a small pamphlet from the USCCB, a Novena Prayer of the Annunciation, and encouraged us to pray it together, for however long we determined.
That prayer was a most precious gift to us. It was originally intended for couples who use or are being encouraged to begin using Natural Family Planning. But the prayer itself simply asks for good discernment: for openness to God’s will and for the grace to “know and do [His] will in this life and in the next.”
We began praying it each night together, telling the story of the Annunciation, reciting the words of the Novena and ending with the Magnificat. It became so familiar that soon we could do it from memory. At first the prayer made me nervous because I was opening myself more and more to the possibility that marriage was not God’s will for us. But hearing “the story” each day and praying, “O God prepare my heart,” and, “Enlighten the darkness of my soul that I may be filled with Your light,” and ,“Grant me a grateful heart,” began to crack at the shell of fear around my heart. Those words turned from a source of anxiety to a wellspring of consolation.
The prayer taught me how to “ponder in my heart” as the words would run through my mind and be on my lips throughout the day; as I became less fearful of God’s will and more ready to accept it; as I learned to desire whatever my Gracious Savior intended for my life, and for Josh’s.
God confirmed His will for me on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. It was what I had originally asked Him for (read: the deadline I had given Him), though by that time my heart had been opened to the possibility that God would take more time preparing us, enlightening that darkness of our hearts and making us grateful. I was ready to wait longer. And yet, on my favorite Feast, He spoke. Clearly. And it was only a month or so later that He confirmed His will in Josh, too. We had received His blessing.
I’ve been thinking of this beautiful Novena a lot recently and have returned to the telling of the story and the praying of the prayer. As I leave a job that I have loved dearly and begin a new position in parish ministry, and as I prepare for the arrival of our baby and a new aspect of my vocation, I find myself with some of the same fears as before. What if I don’t like the will of God?
And then I remember. I “remember his promise of mercy” and I return to the words that have brought me so much life:
“Generous and loving God, like your daughter Mary, help me to know and do your will in this life and the next. Grant me a grateful heart and help me to always pray as Mary prayed: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…”
Copyright 2013 Megan Swaim