Yesterday, I had the great honor and privilege of giving the devotional at the bridal shower of a dear young friend of mine. She will not only be very soon married, but will be living on the opposite coast with her new husband, so it’s a bittersweet event for our family.
The morning of the shower, I felt a bit panicked. I had polished off what I wanted to say very late the night before, and as I scanned it over in the rush of trying to get out the door, I felt that it perhaps was a little too edgy…a bit vehement in spots. It was my sincere desire to encourage my young friend, but also to very strongly exhort her with solid, biblical counsel and to share some wisdom gleaned from my own experience as a married woman.
Oh no! What if that roomful of ladies, there to wish her well and share in her happy day and expecting to hear a sweet, nice little devotional with a verse or two about marriage, what if I make them uncomfortable with this at-times-strongly-worded speech?
I should have given them more credit. There was no cause for concern. Those lovely, godly ladies were touched by this very honest and deeply personal little talk. Several mentioned that they wished they had known these things as they embarked on their own marriage, and many asked for copies of it or encouraged me to share it with others. So I share it with you! I have had to change the names…her name isn’t Jane Smith, nor is his John Green, but you’ll get the general idea.
Here goes (deep breath! I still feel like this is a little more soul-baring than my usual post!):
I brought with me today a little visual aid. This picture hangs up in my living room, at the request of my husband…this is a copy of our wedding vows, and of course I had to make it all fancy and special with a handwriting font, and a scrapbook style picture…apparently, this makes it hard to read, or so he tells me. When I made this, I opted to change the wording slightly to take out our individual names, replacing that section with “I take you to be mine”…
When my husband and I got married, we wanted our marriage vows to have a great depth of meaning, to be both personally meaningful as a reflection of who we were, and also to have deep spiritual meaning and to be as biblically accurate as possible, all while not straying too far from a traditional wedding service. We went to the library and pulled out old, dusty books of words that have been spoken over couples for centuries, and we also looked over glossy new books with more modern phraseology…and it wouldn’t take you long to figure out which we favored.
But we didn’t end up with this particular set of words because they were old, or traditional, or sounded nice. We chose these words to say to one another, standing there that day facing each other, promising to one another…because they are TRUE, and a reflection of the Gospel.
Jane, today I want to share with you, and with everyone here, my wedding vows, and a little bit of the “why” behind the choosing of these particular words, these specific truths, as the foundation of my own marriage, and I say them to you as a benediction for your marriage with John.
These are the words I said that day:
Before God and these witnesses, and in reliance upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take you to be mine. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, to speak and to listen, to repent and to forgive, to respect and honor, until God shall separate us by death. I promise to be faithful to you in all circumstances of our life together so that we may join to serve God and others as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow.
Now, let’s back up to the beginning. “Before God and these witnesses.” Standard wedding stuff, yes. But there is meaning here! The fact that the state will legally recognize you as married to John Green really matters very little. What matters most is that you will stand together before God, entering together into the covenant of marriage. You will be surrounded by your family and friends, the people in your life who love you the most, who will witness the vows you make to each other.
“In reliance upon the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I take you to be mine.” I’ll tell you right now, you don’t want to take anyone to be “yours” unless you do so fully relying upon the grace of Christ! And I say that coming from the position of a happy, solid marriage between two people wholly committed to Jesus…it still requires loads of grace! Grace to bite your tongue. Grace to love and serve when you’re tired or cranky. Grace to weather the storms of life together, when trouble comes and there’s fear, or loss, or illness.
“To have, and to hold.” You will belong to each other, body and soul. Give yourself wholeheartedly! That sounds easy now, but it might not always be. There may come days or even seasons when you feel less inclined to be physically or emotionally intimate, perhaps days when young children have been tugging at you and clinging to you, and you feel like you want to draw a ten-foot circle around yourself and defend your perimeter with sharp weapons! Days when you are weary and even a hug seems like a lot to give. Remember the promise— to have…to hold. Keep close to one another, in every way, and draw upon the strength of the Lord on those tough days. We have all had them. I’m pretty certain you will, too.
“To love and to cherish.” In our ceremony, these were my husband’s words to me, and I pray that you will be deeply loved and tenderly cherished by your husband. My promise was to love and obey, and the specific word “obey” was very important to us to include for my portion of our vows. This is imperative! Ephesians 5 tells us: “Wives, submit to your husbands” and “Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He is to love you…you are to obey him. This is a picture of Christ and the church, and a glorious testimony to those around you, who have the opportunity to see Christ in you, to see the Gospel play out in your marriage. I find it interesting that “love” isn’t part of the command to wives in this particular section of scripture. I think it just comes a little more naturally to us, while the “obey” doesn’t always. Fight for it in your marriage, this preservation of biblical roles, this beautiful picture of the Gospel!
“To speak and to listen.” This line has special meaning for me. This was a phrase that my husband insisted on, and I remember the look in his eyes…speaking volumes to me how very important this was to him. We would commit to each other to communicate. To speak. To listen. To really hear what the other person is saying and to respond. Once again, this probably sounds really easy right now. You love talking to each other. You find John endlessly fascinating! As you should. But look ahead…over the years, as your household falls into a rhythm of days…John comes home from work, you greet each other, the conversation takes on familiarity. Often the same words exchanged, day to day. And though pleasant, and nothing wrong with this routine of family life, it can lead to a disruption of real and true communication, because you know the script! You don’t really have to stop and listen, or think of a unique and meaningful response, because you already know what to say. Now, this is you we are talking about, and I know that you will keep fun and witty banter as a part of communication in your marriage…but even so, a fair warning. Commit to speak. Commit to listen.
“To repent and to forgive.” A sister promise of to “speak and listen”. But these words, this communication, goes even deeper and is often difficult to execute. This is gritty, gutsy, courageous stuff in a marriage. It’s so very much easier to follow that script we talked about, and to sweep offenses and grievances under the rug, allowing them to be concealed and forgotten in the busyness of days. But these little weeds in your garden tend to grow, and to spread quickly…and over time, nagging and accusation and sinful attitudes toward one another can take root and become a threat to your marriage. Repent! Ask for forgiveness! If you have been wronged, extend that grace, give that forgiveness freely! As a believer in Christ, as a child of God, you have been forgiven so. very. much! One of the primary reasons God places us in marriage is so that we can be a reflection of this aspect of his character, this lavish grace and mercy that he bestows. So in your marriage, determine now…you will repent. You will forgive.
“To respect and honor.” Respect your husband, always! Your marriage will flourish as you honor him as the head of your household, as the authority in your home. Don’t ever let this hierarchy that God has established be turned upside down. And in return, it is my hope that John will honor you as his bride, the wife of his youth, and respect you as created in the image of God, redeemed as a child of God. Yet determine in your heart to always regard your husband with the utmost honor and respect, second only to God in your life.
“Until God shall separate us by death.” We chose this phrase over “until death do us part,” for one thing because the latter sounds a little too archaic (and we like old words!), but mostly in order to acknowledge that God has sovereign authority over our lives, over our days. Psalm 139:16 says “in your book were written, every one of them,the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” You will spend your life with John, as one, together, until your are separated by God, through death. That could be mere days, or many decades. Only God knows!
“I promise to be faithful to you in all circumstances of our life together.” This is more than just physical, sexual fidelity. That’s why the “in all circumstances” is there. This means that you don’t run your husband down or disparage him to your friends. You don’t contradict him in front of other people, or make fun of him to the point of making him look like a fool. You don’t complain about him. You may sit here today, a lovely bride-to-be full of love and devotion for your groom and say, “Well, of course not!” But this will be a point of testing for you! No one is perfect, we are all sinners, and even the most loving and attentive of husbands will at some point do something to annoy and irritate his wife. Does she immediately text her best friend and start complaining? Does she bring up his faults in front of other people, or tell stories about him that, while true, might embarrass him? We all struggle with this. James 3:8 tells us that “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The temptation to sin against your husband in this way will at times be strong. Be vigilant and prayerful. Be faithful to your husband, in all circumstances!
“That we may join to serve God and others as long as we both shall live.” You will be more together than you are apart. No longer John Green and Jane Smith. Now you will be Mr. and Mrs. Green….you’ll become “The Greens”! And I pray that you will settle in to your local church as a flourishing, young married couple committed to serve the body together, to impact your neighborhood and your community for the gospel…that you will be a shining beacon, that your home will radiate the love of Christ, and that you may truly join together to serve– To serve each other. To serve your church. To serve one day as a family, as you, I hope, raise children together for the glory of God. May the giftings and talents that God has graced you with complement one another. May you strengthen each other and spur one another on to love and good deeds.
“This is my solemn vow.” This is serious. This is more than just a ceremony, more than a big party. Aside from choices regarding salvation and following Christ (and that’s really not a choice we make, anyway, it’s God’s!), this is the most important decision of your life. Your vows are your covenant, together, before a holy God. April 5th, 2014 is a solemn day for you. A happy day, yes. A grand occasion, one to be celebrated with great joy! But this is for real. The Gospel is at stake.
I pray you will be blissfully happy as Mrs. John Green. I pray you will be a godly, faithful wife, one that young women look up to as a shining example, all your days as a wife. I pray that you will become the happy mother of children, and that your home will be full of joy…that you will throw open your doors in gracious hospitality, that words of grace and love will be spoken there, that your days will be infused with prayer and thanksgiving, and that Christ would be the center of your lives together, always. I love you as a friend, and as a sister in Christ. My family adores you and we will miss you tremendously. You will always be welcome in our home, from whatever corner of the world you hail from. May God richly bless you, my friend.