Watching a young couple giggle through their wedding vows recently I couldn’t help thinking, “God, help them! They have no idea what they are promising.”
In our society, we’re familiar with contracts. When we make a contract with someone, we are saying, ”I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your end of the deal, I no longer have to live up to mine.” Contracts are broken all the time when one party or the other doesn’t live up to their promises. ¹
What many prospective brides and grooms don’t realize is that marriage is not a contract, but a covenant. The vows are not meant to be contractual: you do this and I do that. Rather, the wedding ceremony is a sacred promise that one partner will show love to the other, regardless of the other’s financial status, health, mistakes or betrayal. And this promise is meant to be for life.
That’s why although we share the joy of the ceremony, we who are older may listen to the vows with some unease. We know that life will bring with it trials, tests and mistakes. That’s the way life is. The wedding couple’s love will need to be strong enough to encircle and absorb all of that. It will need to be flexible and stretchy enough to allow for the annoyances, disagreements, and disappointments we all inflict upon each other. As the traditional wording goes, “Marriage is not something to be entered into lightly.”
The test of love is not how happy you are to have found each other or the joy you feel when you are together. We don’t need a marriage covenant for those times. The test of love comes when you have made me angry or I have hurt you. The test comes in the moments when I don’t like you very much or when it seems to you that I’m not fulfilling my obligations. It is when we feel least loving, that the marriage covenant is most necessary.
As the Clint Black song says, “Love isn’t someplace that we find . . . Love’s not just something that we’re in . . . Love isn’t someplace that we fall . . . It’s something that we do.” ²
Covenants that invite God’s presence into the relationship are the strongest and most precious. God has already promised to love each of us with an everlasting love that is unchanging no matter where we go or what we do. Asking God to enter our marriage is inviting Him to help us love each other as God does — patiently, unfailingly, looking for ways to delight the beloved and help them on life’s journey. God’s involvement in our relationships makes those relationships stronger. As we align ourselves and our marriage with God’s faithfulness and Christ’s example of sacrificial love, we find clarity and strength for whatever circumstances may arise.
The “two shall become one” concept entails more than physical union. It means giving up my self-centeredness and my demands that life go the way I had expected. It’s not about me now, but about us, working together to build a strong home and support each other throughout life’s seasons. This is the purpose of the sacred wedding covenant.
My wish for you this day is that your marriage will be blessed as you invite God to be part of your relationship.
¹ (Adapted from Bread for the Journey, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, ©1997 Harper San Francisco. ) ²(Title: Something That We Do, Album: Nothin’ But The Taillights)