Reflection on the Wedding Day
Ecclesiastes 4: 9 - 12
1 Corinthians 13: 4 - 12
It is always a pleasure to be invited to officiate a wedding ceremony. Truth be told, more than once, couples have backed out of the invitation when I told them I required three meetings in advance of the service. A lot of folks have no desire to spend meaningful time stuck in a room with a clergy person talking about life, love, and commitment.
I explained to Melissa that this requirement would also apply to her and Clinton, they agreed without hesitation. So you might be interested in what goes on in these sessions.
In the first session, we talk about their relationship. We talk about the families that raised them. We talk about what it means to them to love and be loved. We also ask each one of them to express what “unfaithfulness” looks like in their eyes.
I invite you to consider this idea. As individuals we are quick to justify and explain away our actions and behaviors from our own perspective. One of the greatest gifts human being enjoy, is to totally lie to ourselves and be very happy to believe that lie until it explodes and we are covered in our own BS, and that is not short for Bachelor of Science degree.
When we listen to what unfaithfulness “Looks Like” to our partner, we encounter a shift in reality. If I want my partner to love and trust me, then I must be trustworthy in their eyes. The ability to deceive ourselves is greatly diminished - when we declare the opinion of our partner to be the determining criteria, not our own self-justification. This is a useful moment of awareness as we prepare to make a lifelong commitment.
Yes, I am a clergy person. Yes, I believe that having a church home and a pastor are useful and important. Believe me when I say that I find a moment or two to speak to that. But what I find most important is to give the couple some hints that will help them get through some tough moments, and help their relationship last.
In our second session, I provide them with feedback based on the information about their families of origin. Our position in the family among our siblings, the roles our fathers played in our upbringing, often predispose us to patterns of behavior within our marriage.
Often folks believe that if they have lived together for a while, all of these things have been worked out. It can and does happen that way - with very secure and mature couples. For most of us ordinary humans, with ordinary levels of self doubt, making the promises of marriage really change the nature of the deal. At some internal level, our expectations revert to a life and relationship we have dreamed of, but rarely expressed. But now that we are married, we kind of thought that “happily ever after” would line up with our expectations.
So I try to name the places where they are most likely going to find reality is less than dreamlike. We name out loud where natural frictions might come from. We try to make it seem normal, and in a way predictable, that these are the places where we might be disappointed in each other.
The hope is that this bit of warning will make it possible to talk about these frictions when they appear. Instead of getting angry, or feeling like our partner does not care, or is being selfish, we can name the source of discomfort, and work it out. Love is working it out together when life turns out to be harder than we thought it would be.
And Clinton and Melissa, I want you to know that life always turns out to be harder than we thought it would be. Everyone will encounter pain and illness and disappointment. You are not a failure when life becomes hard. When life gets hard, your relationship may carry you through the toughest moments.
Then, when you survive together, friends will tell you that you have never known heartache. You can smile. Some pain can be avoided, but wisdom can allow us to use our strengths, and not make it worse. And as you trust and cling to each other, you may be able to survive together what would break you standing alone. From a distance, it may appear easy.
The sober writer of Ecclesiastes, recognizes that for those who have been given a valued partner, and the wisdom to defend and preserve the health of that relationship, much can be endured. And you also chose the words from the apostle Paul, who was likely a difficult and maddening personality, but we find it helpful when reading his letters second-hand, when we are not defensive. Love exposes us to our partner, in ways that are both flattering, and embarrassing.
In a relationship where our reality is known, the good and the bad, the grace-filled and the anxious, when we trust our partner to love us in that reality, we have a true blessing from heaven. A relationship like that, is the best description of the love of God for each of us. That is what I wish for you, and why I am so happy to share this moment of your life together.