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True freedom doesn’t mean being able to do what you want to do; it means being able to be who you want to be.
You can only become thinner if you gain the freedom to say no to certain foods and drinks. You can only be an attentive person if you gain the freedom to say no to your phone. And you can only have a strong marriage if you are free enough to be able to say no to some things, too.
We all know what we wanted to be when we stood before the altar and said “I do.”
We wanted to be a strong married couple, united in love. We wanted to grow old together with a committed partner, helping each other through highs and lows, giving each other our all.
That’s a beautiful vision, but like a diet or exercise program, it entails saying “No” to certain things in life in order to say a louder “Yes” to our spouse. In fact, this starts before marriage …
1: “No cohabitation” means saying Yes to a clear-headed assessment of your relationship.
How is it “freeing” to live apart from your beloved and never express your love sexually?
Because sex binds you and blinds you — and you want to go into marriage unhindered, with your eyes wide open.
Studies show that sex is a powerful drug, literally. Sexual activity awakens physiological chemicals in your brain that make you feel bonded to another person, and help you overlook the other’s faults.
It’s no wonder that even the New York Times reports that cohabitation increases the chances of divorce. As Jason Evert put it, “The devil wants you to have a lot of sex before marriage, and very little after marriage” — so that romance will ease you into a bad relationship on the one hand, and won’t help smooth your married relationship on the other.
2: Having to raise kids in the Church unites couples.
Especially in mixed-religion marriages, the Church’s insistence that a couple raise its children in the faith turns out to be a lifesaver.
Some of the best Catholics I know (including my mother-in-law) entered the Church because they spent years raising children in the faith and eventually saw the value in joining them.
Putting the whole family under the mantle of the Church is an act of humility that allows you to bow to a greater wisdom than yours, and helping your children find their faith helps you find yours.
“Let us reserve a special place in our families for individual and communal prayer,” said Pope Francis. “If God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centeredness prevails, and joy fades.”
3: “No divorce” lifts an enormous burden.
The Catholic Church does allow separation and even divorce in cases of real abuse, so please know that I am not talking about those cases.
But many older Catholic couples can name almost to the date the times they would have divorced if it was an option. And they are glad it wasn’t.
Divorce complicates your life immensely, leaves you alone or in another relationship that requires new commitments, and when children are involved increases the incidence of all kinds of trouble in their lives.
But the Church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble is a great act of faith in your love. It tells you that when you said “I do,” Jesus Christ himself took you at your word, and he will help you fulfill your vow.
4: The Church says Yes to parents as children’s primary educators so that parents can say No.
Parents often feel at a loss about the education of their children. Something they hear kids learning might sound wrong, and they think, “Who am I to say this isn’t right? I’m not an expert.”
The Church teaches that parents are the experts. This should mean that parents get involved — and it should mean that schools let them. It is the parents’ job to pay attention to what children are learning, add what they can, and fine-tune what they must.
5: Saying “No” to contraception means saying “Yes” to true love.
The Church’s teaching on artificial contraception puts sex in its proper perspective. On the one hand it is a great gift; on the other it isn’t always ours on demand.
A contracepting husband can too easily become like a spoiled child, thinking sex is his right all the time. A contracepting wife can too easily begin to feel used, that his sex drive is what’s important and her side-effects don’t matter.
The truth is, natural family planning is a much more humane way to avoid having children if one must, and having children is a much more fulfilling way to live married life if one can.
True love means giving up what you may want, in order to give the other what you both need. Ultimately, that is what a lot of these marriage “Nos” become: a giant Yes to love.
This appeared at Aleteia.
Image: Carissa Rogers, Flickr.