People love weddings. I should know because I officiated over 50 of them! Everything is arranged to make the perfect day. Everyone cleans up, dresses up, covers up, and gets made up. Friends and family converge from all over the world and sit expectantly through the prelude. Then the elegant wedding party glides down the aisle until the real head-turner appears–the radiant bride. Then we blush with the stunning groom who is grinning from ear to ear as he beholds her approach. She arrives, the bride is given, he takes her arm, they come forward and, as the ceremony proceeds, they gaze into each other’s eyes transfixed. Everything is picture perfect! As Uncle Herman reads 1 Corinthians chapter 13, “the love chapter,” eyes are moist all around.
And then we get to the culmination of the whole event–the exchanging of vows. A holy hush occurs as everyone strains to listen to what the lovers will pledge to one another.
In a Christian wedding, they’ll traditionally sound something like this.
“I, Ken, pledge my undying love to you, Barbie, as I invite you to share my life. I promise to be kind, unselfish, respectful, and trustworthy, serving you and putting your needs before my own. I promise to love you with unconditional, agape love, like Christ loved the church. Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, remaining faithful to you as long as we both shall live.”
Beautiful words of promise fit for such a beautiful day. Everyone melts. Tears flow. Cameras capture it for posterity.
But is it honest? Will Ken really love her unconditionally? Will he really put all of her needs before his own? Will his love be unwavering when things get worse, or poorer, or in sickness? No.
The problem is, Barbie is not marrying Jesus, she’s marrying Ken. And Ken is a fallen human being, just as she is.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, it is a guarantee that all of us will miserably fail at consistently delivering Christian agape love to those we care about. 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 vividly describes God’s perfect love, but only He demonstrates it without fail. Though hopefully, we are growing in Christlikeness, we will demonstrate it intermittently at best. This is because we are humans with some serious limitations, which means…
- we get distracted
- we forget things
- we get overloaded
- life depletes us and wears us down
- we get tired, hungry, and uncomfortable
- we run out of energy
- we sometimes speak before thinking
- we lack sensitivity
- we see things from our limited perspective, etc.
- we don’t know how others interpret things
- we don’t know what it’s like to be our spouse
- we are ignorant, not always understanding what is needed in certain situations
- we lose momentum
- we lose focus
- we misprioritize
- we get lazy
- we get selfish
- we think our way is better
- we can only hold it together for so long
- we have limits
We can’t keep it together for a single day, let alone ’till death do us part!
So if wedding vows were honest, I think they would sound more like this.
I, Ken, take you, Barbie, to be my wedded wife. As your husband, God calls me to love you as Christ loved the church, with unconditional, agape love. With God’s help, I will strive to love you that way, but I know that my love will often fall short of that ideal because I’m human, and because my pursuit of Christ is a work in progress. I promise that it is my intention to treat you with the kindness, respect, and trust that you deserve, putting your needs before my own. I also promise that when I fail, and treat you in ways that are not loving, I will admit my sin against you, repent of it, make things right with you, and then learn from my failure how to love you better in the future. I also promise that when you fail at loving me, I will be quick to forgive you and will do everything I can to restore our relationship and grow from it as well. Barbie, today, before God and these witnesses, I promise to work on loving you more and more, repairing things with you when I fail, and making our home one that models perpetual grace and forgiveness–through better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health. Whatever God brings our way, I promise to remain faithful to you for as long as we both shall live.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting every future bride and groom needs to change their traditional wedding vows to match my honest ones. In fact, at our own wedding, Cindy and I shared traditional vows that were very similar to the ones in the first sample above. If there was ever a day to celebrate idealism, it would be on your wedding day! I’m not wanting to kill the mood!
But what I am saying is that–regardless of promises made–we should live with the expectation that we will regularly fail to love our loved ones and they will regularly fail to love us. That’s the real promise! So let’s adjust our expectations and be prepared for that. And then when we do hurt each other, let’s be quick to heal the hurts and grow from them so that we might learn to love more and hurt less.
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