Here’s something I typically say to my wife to show affection:
I love you more than I love turkey and cheese between two slices of toasted bread.
… that may not strike most people as even quaintly romantic, but it’s the kind of humor that I have with my wife. It’s always aslant, a bit quirky, and quite incongruous, but we always know exactly what is meant: I love her not more than just anything, but everything, and I’m obliged to tell her I love her more than all the little things.
Now that you know a little more about my marriage—but not much, of course—I’d like to talk about marriage a bit further and hopefully that ‘not much’ will turn into, “Wow, I like his marriage better than I like a deli sandwich.”
In the brief course of my time as an unmarried adult, I heard a number of pastors and fellow Christians decry the extensive costs and planning that go into modern weddings. I imagine the thought process going somewhat like this: “To fix marriage, we must tear down the wedding day.” These moral non-sequiturs are the fashionable preaching of our day: tidbits of advice prescribed to correct some perceived cultural decay.
As irrational as such advice might be, we are nevertheless instructed to shift our focus from the wedding day to marriage’s day-to-day compromises. We’re called to address how we’ll respond to our spouse’s faults and failings. We are taught to prepare for hot-tempered shouting matches and incisive verbal assaults that could make drill sergeants pout. We are advised to brace for financial hardships that warp personalities and turn us into something akin to that overgrown green superhero who repeats, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m mad.” We are told to be wary of marital struggles that inevitably drown out our marital blisses—I was warned openly and awkwardly by a marriage prep minister that, “Oh, you know, hormones stop working.” (Maybe they should have recommended an endocrinologist on our way out?)
The list of warnings were close to innumerable in my marriage prep experience. The ministers were, in effect, helping us to usher in our new life with a “Congrats! Welcome to sacrament of Holy Misery… I mean, Matrimony!”
And despite all these warnings, many engaged couples will gleefully surrender the equivalent of a college tuition for a single day’s revelry on their wedding day. Each wedding I’ve attended has been rich in detail and appointment: you know, the dresses and tuxedos and flowers and ribbon and lace. And wow did I run into marvelous little excesses, too, like that up-lighting with that laser-pure hue of retina-burning magenta, the wood boxes silk-screened with photos of the happy couple, trees trimmed of all mosses that the fretful bride thought saturated with chiggers, or the fireworks exhibitions that perhaps were more appropriate for third-world island nations on the anniversaries of their independence. For the cost of a family trip to Europe, you can have ten hours of preposterous revelry. You’ve likely read why such foolhardy spending should never be the introduction to a life together where most of us will battle over budgets or even stave off bankruptcy. A modicum of modesty is perhaps what the day actually requires.
But I say go for it.
I can tell you, weddings are completely worth it. The glamorous receptions, the designer bridesmaid dresses and slick groomsmen tuxes, the awkward praises of cringe-worthy toasts, and the extravagant rehearsal dinners—not a single bit of it is waste. It’s your wedding day. There will never be another day remotely like it in your life: It’s biologically impossible to remember your birth. You may have snored through your entire graduation apart from the single second occupied with the sound of your name as recited from a card. Even your very first teenage kiss perhaps went to the wastebasket of regret, embarrassment, or corniness, and if not, then I can still be certain that no one threw an extravagant celebration for you just a few hours after it. (Though maybe they should have, depending on how good it was.)
So go all out on your wedding day.
And go for all you can afford and not a cent less if it be wise, but only on one condition: that marriage is entered with the bride and groom knowing the wide, varied, and radiant graces attendant to this sacrament. Let me say that again, but in a different way: may those approaching their day at the altar prepare—and prepare extensively—every corner of their minds, their bodies, their sexuality, their hearts, and their wills for the moment when the grace of marriage is made ready for them. May that grace be as eagerly anticipated as the wedding vows, the exchange of rings, the wedding kiss, and, for good measure, even the first bite of that oh-so-rich butter cream-topped, white-double-almond, four-tiered wedding cake.
Because all of those earthly things stand no chance against the inundation of grace that God prepares for those who prepare for it.
The over-abundance involved in the rehearsal dinner, wedding and reception should mirror how deep, extravagant and lavish the bride and groom realize God’s grace pours itself into marriage. The bride’s dress should be ornate—decorated with the finest fabrics and silks for lace and tulle—in proportion to the way the happy couple knows that God is forming them into one being with varied elements and complements. The way that a bride’s petticoat or crinoline will make sway its covering fabrics should symbolize how the couple will harmoniously work together as grace moves the couple in divine rhythm.
Far more plentiful are the treasures in marriage grace than any adornment or artifice we can conjure for our weddings, and so I’m assured that any engaged couple drenched with grace will make the wise decision as to which embellishments actually illuminate marriage holiness on their wedding day.
But if the depth of marriage grace remains unsought, then all the excesses are simply that: excess. A consumerist excess. A materialist excess. An excess of futility and frivolity that may well bring a curse to a marriage instead of a blessing. (I can hear the oh-so-obnoxious professor from My Fair Lady then sneering contemptuously, “And the angels will weep for you.”)
This is not to say that every wedding ought to spare no cost. Weddings that pursue a humble venue with modest trappings are at no disadvantage. (In fact, they have the distinct advantage of receiving all the same graces without that magenta up-lighting streaming across all the reception photos.)
Humbler weddings reveal more strongly the monastic side in each of us. Lacking in material distraction, these weddings can show better our deeper aspirations to grace through the superior investment of the heart, soul, and all intangible, spiritual things. But humble or extravagant, both types of weddings are excellent, and both can be used to tune into the supernatural gifts of marriage.
Whether your most special of days contains a huge party or no party, there will eventually be a party, and it’s the one that few mention going in.
If you like what you’ve read here, then I think you’ll love it when we discuss marriage grace in depth. We’ll take a closer look in Part II, coming soon.