When I was 22 I got married in a big church with over 500 guests. I wouldn’t have dreamed of eloping, though it sounded really romantic. And I wouldn’t have dreamed of having my wedding outside of the church property. Friends who took their vows barefoot on the beach seemed to be taking an unnecessary risk.
I actually thought the church building gave my marriage the right foundation (and me, a good Quaker girl). Where did I go wrong?
There was something legitimizing about being married in a church, like God was more “for” you in the building where you were christened or baptized or dedicated. That building was where I got my first gold-leafed Bible with all the generations clapping my Bible verse retention, where I marched down the central aisle holding a flag during Missionary Week, where I played Miriam as a fifth grader. The church building got imbued with the power of a holy, historical site
I had met God in those walls, I wanted them around me for the scary step of marriage., like a security blanket. Because, let’s face it, marriage is risky business.
Marriage is scary AND beautiful so we make the day extra special, we surround it with clothing and preparation to show we care about what it means.
I can’t think of any other church sanctioned event where a girl is permitted to be star of the show, where her dress is permitted and expected to outshine all others. My father often called me the “Queen Bee”, too hungry for being up front (I have since re-cast this “problem” as “the gift of leadership”).
If my wedding day was my one big moment where I could legitimately ask everyone to look at me, then I wanted to make it count. I wanted the center aisle to be really long so I could maximize the time, I wanted a veil as gorgeous as Marie von Trapp. I wanted thirteen bridesmaids.
O yes, I made it count. If there was a right way to do weddings, I did it. Every participant had a typed script complete with directions to know what to do and when to appear and how to maximize the most beauty and meaning out of each moment. My fiance was very involved and as an actor he had plenty of ideas, too.
I’m thankful “Bridezilla” as a label hadn’t been popularized, yet.
Looking back I see two mighty myths weaving together to create my wedding story. The first is the hunger for THE perfect wedding day as evidence of THE perfect life, easily swallowed by most perfectionistic, idealistic teens. The second is the myth that your wedding starts (and ends) the most important moment of your earthly life
The wedding day is not as good as it gets. Nor is the wedding night as good as it gets, thank heavens, right?!
Most churches fuel both myths with Biblical texts, with stories of couples who saved their sexuality until their honeymoons and experienced such exhilarating orgasms that the heavens shook.
Now, faithful readers, you know I’m not bashful about wedding or sexual fun, but to climax our lives at our wedding is not appropriately human. Nor is it an idea found in the wide sweep of the Bible.
The Bible, in fact, has very little instruction about marriage, the day, the ceremeony, the church body as witnesses or anything we’ve come to take as hard and fast rules.
If you saw the movie Avatar you’ll know what I mean about “coupling” moments, when a man and woman just go off and sleep together and that by the rules of the Na’vi, this makes them married, for life.
Seems very simple and I loved it, in the movie.
But in real life cultures put sophisticated rules around marriage. We honor the specialness of the day by special food and clothes, just like every culture frrom millenia past. I love the way our ceremonies sanctify and sanction the beauty of two humans choosing to officially mingle their lives. The culturally distinct rules make sense. Marriage affects everyone, not just the couple. And doing things “the right way” whatever that happens to mean in your culture (nose ring for Rebekah in Canaan, black wedding dress in Scandinavia, engagement ring for me in Los Angeles) gifts us that conscience soothing pat that we can make it.
Who doesn’t need that encouragement?
However, cultural wedding brouhaha aside, we are misleading young people into thinking romantic love peaked by their wedding day is the climax of all human experience.
A beautiful wedding doesn’t make for a beautiful marriage, just like a beautiful dress doesn’t make for a beautiful prom. A church wedding doesn’t predict a divorce-free marriage.
And romantic love? There’s much more to digging our toes into the sand of life than those butterflies in our stomach.
How can we tell a fuller story?