We were are going through the fruits of the Spirit at youth group so I was reminded about this day in my life. We were talking about Love the very first fruit. Love is great but we have to let God define love for us. First Corinthians the love chapter helps us out in this regard. We are talking about the fruit of love because God desires our relationships to look like something, he wants them to be fruitful. In a similar way for a marriage to work it also needs to bear certain fruit.
Last year I had the privilege to counsel and preside over the wedding of some friends of mine. It was a great day, hot and humid for sure, but a fun and glorious event. Everyone came away saying “I do” it was a great success.
Love was in the air.
But I was very nervous. Kimberly thought it may have been because it was my first marriage but I believe it was more than that. I have spoken in front of people many times, but this was different. If in a sermon I mess up it is on me and only my message is affected. I can easily recover or throw an audible to fix it on the fly on my feet. But with the ceremony, it didn’t involve only me in that regard. I was responsible for helping someone else shine. The day was about my friends and their oneness, a oneness that only happens once.
So I was nervous I wanted it to be good for them not for me. They would remember this event forever in a completely different way than I would.
The day is a memorable one, the beautiful dress, the beautiful bride, the beautiful room or hall the man actually wearing a tuxedo. The one thing that everyone is supposed to remember however is the vows. Because there is supposed to be weight to the words when spoken. This is why the traditional ones I think are best. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, are reflections of reality that will come about.
These are not just pretty words to add to a pretty day, but they actually reflect many of the situations that a couple will go through in their lives. They are a description of their futures together. It is smart to decide ahead of time that the couple will vow to stick it out together through thick and thin. Thick and thin will happen but our culture seems to think that everything should be thick unless something is terribly wrong. But life goes thin because that is life. It is not necessarily a reflection of a mistake or a wrong hitching.
Loving someone is a choice, emotions are nice and helpful and fun but they also go through this thick and thin process so relying on them is futile. The vows remind everyone that the point of marriage is a commitment, a covenant to the other person despite the shifting sand of emotions and life. They capture this in a ceremony but the accompanying ecstasy was never the point the other person through thick and thin is.
Writing your own vows may be nice, but what are you really vowing at that point? To simply make breakfast a few times a week? To wash the car every Thursday? To always allow the spouse to use the remote control? To take out the trash and handle the diapers? How does that hold a marriage together? The traditional vows recognize both the weight of the commitment and the reality that it will not always be easy.
A thing that I have always appreciated about the marriage vows are not just the saying of them but the inviting of witnesses to view them. I believe the witnesses of the vows are as important as the saying of them. It is accountability. I know that most people don’t think about it this way. It is just part of a beautiful ceremony but I take my witnessing the vows seriously and I took a moment during the wedding to make sure that everyone hearing them did as well.
I really appreciated the song The Scientist by Coldplay. It is a song that recognizes that relationships can sometimes be hard. And better yet that is a shame to end them because of hard times. He sings “Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it was so hard.”
First Corinthians 13:4-8 says that Love is patient and it is 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 in the truth, love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things, it never fails…
This sounds an awful lot like the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
This is the reality of the vows. It acknowledges and confronts the challenges of relationship and builds a foundation to address them. I believe the purpose of wedding guests are for those who love you most to witness and can thus help you to hold them as well. They get the opportunity and privilege to remind when times are hard. These are people that will have an ongoing relationship with the couple after all. If God really wants what he has brought together to not be cut asunder by any man, then perhaps we need all the help we can get.
Perhaps our vows are more than pretty words at a ceremony. Perhaps being a witness of the vows is a bigger responsibility than simply being in attendance. Perhaps a wedding covenant is a bigger deal to God than simply an institution about letting people share a roof, a bed, and a tax burden.
Perhaps our marriages are supposed to bear fruit and we may need as many gardeners as possible?