The only word I can use to describe the whole task of becoming engaged is ‘surreal’ but it’s unlike any surreal I have previously experienced. Even now – just a week into being engaged – I think back to visiting the jeweller and wonder to myself, ‘how on earth did I even get there’? However, buying a ring was child’s play compared to the thought of actually asking another human being to marry me. In the weeks before proposing, Jane and I had talked about getting married and it all seemed like a fun idea providing plenty of smiles and giggles. To actually stand on the precipice though, between being a single man and being an engaged man, is something I can still barely comprehend.
In the days around the proposal the image that came to my mind was that of the prophet Moses standing before the burning bush and hearing the voice of God thunder, “Take off your shoes for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” How could I with all my vices, sins and inadequacies offer to Jane the promise of love for a lifetime? The whole concept, the very idea, is a mystery beyond me. After Moses removed his shoes he covered his face, afraid to look at God, not because God was bad but on the contrary, because God was so perfectly good. Before the Divine Majesty, Moses realised how unworthy he was. And this was me; the concept of proposing marriage rose up before me like a mighty mountain and I could only bow in trepidation before the grandeur of such an idea.
In one way my whole life had pointed towards this moment; I have thankfully had the example of parents happily married 35 years, of three brothers all married, and a strong formation in faith. However I still sensed that to take the path towards marriage was to take a path that was bigger than me. I am now convinced that it is simply not possible for one person to offer to love another person for a lifetime. Yes I have the desire to love Jane but I am well aware that I don’t fully understand what that means (and on my deathbed I will probably be still working it out). In the secular Western world most couples move in together before marriage. Perhaps for the first time, in considering engagement, I understood why it is that so many young people cohabit instead of taking the step to propose. Perhaps they realise deep within, that marriage is big and to vow one’s life to another requires more than a person can actually offer. Perhaps they sensed some of the same fear that Moses sensed before the presence of God.
In these days I have come to the conclusion that I could not propose and I cannot look towards marriage without leaning on God. I know people always say those Christian niceties about prayer and trust in God, but I have lived 32 years and only in the last week did I realise how much I am going to need God. I will need God because I am looking towards making a promise with another person that will bind me to them; and if I do not rely on God to make up what I am lacking, I am under no illusion that I will fail. So now when people congratulate Jane and me, I find myself very quickly and sincerely asking them to pray for us as we walk this journey over the next 200 days.