When we got married, the priest in his homily noted that in several conversations he had about our wedding, people kept saying to him, “They must be crazy.” We got married the day after we finished our finals at the end of our senior year in college.
Our GPAs might have suffered slightly during that final semester, but it was a nice bookend to our college experience—we met during our first week on campus as freshmen.
We shared a small freshman seminar class together, and I knew when Stacey first walked in the door that I wanted to get to know her more. I remember being struck by her natural beauty and her courtesy. She seemed grounded and certain of who she was.
I finagled a way to talk to her outside of the classroom, and was fascinated by her. Stacey was a beach girl from Florida, I was from a small town in South Dakota—we were from different worlds. It was endlessly interesting to learn more about each other, our families, and our life experiences. We learned that we shared many values on a deep level—our faith, a commitment to family, a love of sports.
Looking back at some of my high school relationships, I remember realizing that within a few months, we had exhausted the growth that we were going to experience. The budding relationship with Stacey was different—it seemed like there was no end to the learning and growth that we were experiencing.
At the same time that I was growing in this relationship with Stacey, I was also wrestling with a call to the priesthood. I felt called to consider becoming a priest since I was in middle school. Friends and family had always told me I would make a good priest, and I knew that the Church needed priests. I felt an obligation to explore the possibility of a religious vocation.
Stacey was aware of my discernment, and displayed heroic patience in walking with me as I tried to figure out God’s will for my life. By the time we were juniors, we knew that our relationship could be leading towards marriage. Before I committed to that, I felt like I needed to resolve this question about the priesthood. I set aside Christmas break to reflect and pray about it, and experienced an important movement during those weeks.
Stacey and I had a phone conversation one night about this decision. She told me that she was willing to let me go if that’s what it took for me to be happy. That selflessness struck me and stayed with me after we had hung up. I was full of anxiety about making the wrong choice. What if I chose the wrong path? I didn’t know how to make a decision.
I remember being at my wit’s end. I was curled in the fetal position on my bed, frustrated, angry, confused—I was stuck. Then I recalled Stacey’s words—that she was willing to let me go if that’s what it took for me to be happy. That selflessness suddenly stood out to me as a way through this. I realized I didn’t have to figure this out for myself—I just needed to be willing to follow where I was being led.
It was a moment of grace that allowed me to place my life in God’s hands. I knew that I would find my deepest happiness when I was doing that for which God created me. I decided to let go of trying to figure it out on my own, and to align my will with whatever God had in store for me.
A tremendous sense of peace and relief filled me. It felt like a ton of pressure had lifted. Instead of struggling to figure out how to construct a happy life for myself, I felt free to simply follow where God was leading. That freedom was a crucial aspect to my discernment—it allowed me to set aside all that I was grasping and clutching so tightly and to see everything with balance and an open hand. In itself, it didn’t give me a clear answer to my questions, but it did give me the freedom to discover it.
I continued to talk with trusted mentors. One conversation with a priest helped me to see that my sense of being called to the priesthood was really a strong sense of obligation and responsibility. I knew the Church needed priests; I thought I would make a good priest; therefore, I should become a priest. That was logical.
On the other hand, though, I was absolutely thriving in this relationship with Stacey. It was enthralling and exciting, and I was growing as a person. Why would God place me in this relationship, which was a clear source of new life and energy, and call me away from it?
Two things became clear to me: First, I understood that what I heard as a call to the priesthood was my own voice projecting itself into a vacuum. Second, I was convinced that I would become a better man sharing life with Stacey. In the end, the choice was easy.
I remain convinced that this is God’s path for me. I am still becoming a better man with Stacey’s help. And after 16 years of marriage, we are still not done learning and growing together—there is always more to discover about our relationship.
Again, I have to thank my wife for her patience—she would have been well within her rights to say, “I told you so!” She knew I had to figure this out for myself, and she stuck with me, which was a brave thing to do. Having invested herself in our relationship, she put herself at great risk to let me explore the possibility of walking away from it. Her patience made us both better.
So we set a date, struggled through our final senior projects, and had a great party with all of our friends and family. Were we crazy? By the standards of the wider culture, we were out of our minds. From our faith perspective, however, it seemed like common sense. We were ready to capitalize on the one certainty we had established during our college years: we had discerned a call towards marriage. We knew that we could figure everything else out together.
Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for 16 years and have three children. They write of their experience of marriage and family life in the Happily Even After blog.