REPLACING THE MYTH OF "HAPPILY EVER AFTER" WITH THE REALITY OF LIVING OUT OUR VOWS IN EVERYDAY MARRIAGE
Our eldest daughter Kate recently married Steve at a very special, beautiful outdoor venue in northern Michigan - my sister's and brother-in-law's house! The day turned out pretty close to perfect, from the weather to all the carefully chosen details that made the ceremony and reception a truly meaningful and joyous event.
If you had been there, you might have noticed that amidst the beautiful music, decorations, cocktails, yummy food, and heart-warming toasts, there was a healthy dose of "real marriage talk" sprinkled in. It wasn't ". . . And They Lived Happily Ever After . . ." because that is the language of fairy tales. In real life, "happily ever after" is never the way marriage plays out.
My brother-in-law, Dave, officiated the ceremony (and then changed into his DJ clothes to get the party started!), and his message was not what you might expect at a wedding ceremony. Rather than warm and fuzzy, lovey-dovey fluff, he crafted a message inspired by real-life love and hope-infused truth. He talked about marriage as the perfect place for God to teach us how to love, how to forgive, how to lean into Him when it gets hard, and how to discover the power of God's grace for our own shortcomings as well as those of our spouse. Kate and Steve reflected an understanding of this in the vows they wrote and shared with one another before God and those who were present. And then later, when my nephew prayed a blessing over the food at the reception, he shared a few words of encouragement for the new couple. He too talked about how God would help them through the highs and lows and be with them in the good times and the hard times.
You see, it is not a question of "if" we will face challenges and hard seasons in marriage. It is a given. The better question is, "What will we do when the hard times come? To whom will we turn?" Bernie and I have been married for 27 years, and we are still growing. We are still learning how to love. We still hit some bumps in the road, and when we do, we know where to go for help. First we go to God. We go to our trusted circle of family and friends. We still get help from a counselor when needed. The ups and downs will always be a part of this journey. We have tried to normalize our struggles - to model what it looks like to "struggle well" - so that our daughters will not be surprised when they hit some bumps along the way.
Our prayer is that Kate and Steve will always turn to God for help and keep Him at the center of their lives, and that they will turn to us, to their families, to their community of people who have pledged to walk alongside them in good times and in hard times.
When we marry, we choose to become family with our spouse for the rest of our lives. I shared these words with Kate and Steve a few months before they took their vows:
“I hope that on your wedding day you are crazy in love with each other. I hope you feel like no other couple on the planet has anything close to the amazing love you’ve found. And, I also pray that when those feelings fade—and they will—and when hard times come—and they will—that you will not be surprised. There will be times when loving one another will be as easy as breathing. You won’t even have to try. And there will be times when loving your spouse will be the hardest, most sacrificial thing you’ve ever done. In fact, you won’t be able to do it on your own. You will hurt each other more than you can imagine, and you will need God’s help to forgive. When you say, ‘I do,’ you are signing up for a life-long journey of transformation. You are pledging to love each other through the good and the bad, the best and worst of times, whatever comes your way, for the rest of your lives.”
In his book Sacred Marriage, author Gary Thomas writes, “The beauty of Christianity is in learning to love, and few life situations test that so radically as does a marriage. . . . If we view the marriage relationship as an opportunity to excel in love, it doesn’t matter how difficult the person is whom we are called to love; it doesn’t even matter whether that love is ever returned. We can still excel at love. We can still say, ‘Like it or not, I’m going to love you like nobody ever has.’”
Here are the Scriptures Steve and Kate chose as readings during the ceremony:
This wedding was a blast. It was a celebration of real-life love and the God who shows us how to walk out our vows every day. Kate and Steve are beginning the adventure of their lives, and we truly could not be happier for them. I think these photos tell the story of God's faithfulness to so many of us as we have walked together, rejoiced together, and persevered together through life's ups and downs.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled
to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
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