It’s hot. Really hot for the end of September in Indiana. It’s been a while since I’ve been in my home state and I’ve never been in this tiny town of 600 people west of Indianapolis, but I remember September in Indiana being much more Fall-ish in than this blue-skied day has turned out. Guests in fancy clothes are lined up in white folding chairs placed very close together and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wishing I was on the end to catch the occasional slight breeze.
Since I’ve been living in the South for over a decade now, the heat doesn’t bother me as much. So, while it was definitely not the most comfortable I’ve ever been, the over 90-degree temperatures weren’t enough to distract me from the covenant ceremony unfolding a few rows in front of me.
This was the second of two weddings I’ve been to since moving to Tennessee in 2007. I think the last wedding I attended before these was for the daughter of a friend who was married while my own marriage was a complete mess. So, while I could appreciate the beauty and pageantry of that occasion and I loved my friend and her family dearly, the event left me uncomfortable and sad rather than joyful.
During the time between the two recent weddings and the wedding of my friend’s daughter, I’ve been through a lot of life. Divorce. Bankruptcy. A cross-country move. Turning 50. Mistakes. But also healing and growth. I have fewer things but more humility, patience, and empathy.
The wedding I attended last year was that of a friend I serve with at church. I knew at least half of the guests in attendance. Her fiance worked for my sister. I’d watched their relationship blossom from the beginning and I was heavily emotionally invested in that day and the people there. So, I wasn’t thinking much about the idea of weddings.
This weekend’s wedding was different. I was there as a plus one. My boyfriend and I attended with a double agenda. Not only were we there as guests celebrating with the family of his long-term neighbors, but I was also there to meet his ex-wife. Their daughter is getting married in less than two weeks and his ex-wife thought it would ease the awkwardness during that event if we met beforehand. It was a wise plan. And it found me sitting next to him in the middle of a row filled with his kids, their dates, and his ex-wife and her fiance’. I’d met his kids only once before (They live over nine hours away). I knew no one else there.
Attending a wedding as a plus one and knowing no one at the event gives you a different perspective. When you’re less engaged with the people and their stories, it gives you a chance to reflect on the ceremony itself. When you attend weddings in your youth, they seem full of promise and potential (and they are). When your own marriage is falling apart, or you’re widowed or divorced, the experience can be incredibly painful.
Sitting in a white chair in a small Indiana town in the midst of strangers yesterday, I had my own mixture of emotions. There was a familiar sense of pain, shame, and failure for the mistakes and failed marriage in my past. But, the sting of that has receded. Not one bit because I’m in a relationship again. But, entirely because I’ve grown spiritually.
Because I am learning to look beyond my failures into the face of a Father in heaven who loves me, not my performance. Because I can look through my experience within a covenant and understand more clearly what keeping one means for all parties. Because I understand more clearly the meaning of covenant itself.
Marriage is much more than a social contract. Marriage is a covenant that is intended to be life-long and requires the continual submission of our own ego in a choice to love. John Piper says, “the most foundational thing you can say about marriage is that it is the doing of God, and the most ultimate thing you can say about marriage is that it is for the display of God.”
There were a lot of wise things said over this couple in the final moments before they were made one in a covenant relationship. One in particular has stuck with me. I wish I’d written it down, because it was really beautifully said. But, here’s my paraphrase. He wished better and better things for this couple. But, the only way that would happen is if they both, individually and together, consistently look toward Christ, live for Christ, and love because of Christ.
I know that’s not how I understood marriage when I was married. And as I sat in the heat of a Fall day and watched a man perform an absolutely beautiful marriage ceremony for his own daughter and her fiance, I was awed at the wisdom of God in creating the marriage covenant. Awed at the grace he offers us as the only way to keep it. And awed at the way we flawed people can choose–and must choose–again and again to love no matter where we are in our journeys and no matter what relationships we’re talking about.
Choose love, friends. In all circumstances. Whether in simple relationships or ones that seem impossibly complicated. Choose love. And know that the grace of God is the only way you can do so.