Never ever would I have believed I could be a “bridezilla.” Not me! I’m older, independent, and an introvert. “Just give me a practical church wedding,” I’d say. Then I got engaged last week. Already I’ve felt the demanding, impatient behavior creep upon me at the news my desired venue might not be available for an autumn wedding reception.
It’s tough to admit that I had to take a deep breath and check back into reality. I know better. Marriage isn’t about the extravagance of the wedding. If it were, then my little church wedding would set a dreary tone for matrimony (especially compared to the decadent $25,200 blowouts the average American couple is willing to spend!). I’ve received the best wedding advice while single. And so it is time for this traditional marriage advocate to reexamine the meaning of marriage.
(Yes, this is an unusual type of JuicyEcumenism blog. But considering December is the most popular month to get engaged—notably Christmas through New Year’s Eve— it seems reasonable to share the top three pieces of wedding and marriage wisdom I’ve gleaned from leaders within the Church.)
(1) Marriage is not about our “happily ever after.”
Pastor Tim Keller and his wife Kathy co-authored The Meaning of Marriage back in 2011, in which they set straight that marriage isn’t about finding “the one” in order to find happiness, but a commitment to deny our own self-serving actions for the sake of our spouse. An idea shunned by our popular culture and every fairytale story I’ve read.
Fairytales convince young women love is found when the prince rescues us from our evil dragon. Unless you count the Metrorail system, there is no dragon in Washington D.C. from which I can be saved. How about those romance novels that tell girls that love unfolds in one of two ways: at first glance or over thousands of small, wondrous precious moments. Well, my fiancé and I saw each other tons of times seven years ago while in church. Nada. We’ve certainly had lots of precious moments. But it was after a hard moment that I knew I loved my fiancé because I was ready to put aside my pride and self-centered desires and work through the trials with this man.
This is a point the Kellers try to drive home. Love and marriage are not meant to fulfill our own idyllic dreams and desires. Instead, marriage is a triune covenant that we enter with another imperfect human being and God. The couple explains that marriage is a reflection of the Gospel that is both painful and joyful, writing, “The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.”
(2) Couples must recognize their marital covenant extends beyond themselves.
While reporting on an “upward mobility” symposium at Catholic University, I listened as Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said, “One of the most controversial things that I ever say is not anything that I talk about on television. It’s when I sit down with a couple who want to be married and I say to them, ‘I’m not going to allow you to write your own vows.’”
I’ve sat through weddings where personalized vows were sung, spoken in whispers so no one else could hear, or written to impress the audience. So when Dr. Moore said the age-old vows are a necessary part of the ceremony, you can bet I took notice.
Dr. Moore elaborated, “Because the couple assumes that this wedding ceremony is their event, it is about celebrating their life, about celebrating their love. And I have to say it is about you but it’s about vows that you are exchanging with one another ‘for these witnesses’ with an accountability to a larger community and to the Church.”
(3) Your capacity to love does not depend on you.
I’ll never forget asking my colleague, Mario Diaz, Esq., Concerned Women for America’s Legal Counsel and Washington Times contributor on the issue of marriage, the question, “How do I know I’m in love?” His responses was priceless.
“Love is an outward expression of your appreciation as much as it is an emotion,” said Mario. “Before trying to grappling with such a narrow question, you should first ask yourself, ‘Can I love?’” Mario explained that because only God loves perfectly, we must seek him and rely on him in order to love.
Because love is not a gushy feeling but requires action steps our flawed human nature cannot achieve on our own, we must rely on the Lord to accomplish I Corinthians 13:4-13 which tells us:
Love is patient and kind;
Love does not envy or boast;
It is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way.
It is not irritable or resentful;
It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never ends. …
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Your turn! What is your best wedding/marriage advice?