At the end of September, I participated in my friend J-P’s wedding. J-P, whom I met in seminary, is an associate pastor in West Des Moines, so I spent the weekend in Iowa with several minister friends. It was the first wedding I’ve been a part of in the last seven years where I wasn’t the officiating minister. What a great feeling to be a follower instead of a leader for once!
As J-P and Amy shared their vows to take each other as their life-long partner, to love and honor, for better or worse, until death parts them, I had a little smile on my face and I found myself thinking, “They have no idea what they’re getting into.”
Now, before my wife reads this and I have to sleep on the couch, let me explain myself. As I stood up with the wedding party, I thought back to my own wedding day 10 years ago. If only I could pull J-P and Amy aside and tell them what lies ahead, the challenges and the triumphs and the frustration and the joy and the deep, deep love of being in relationship to each other. But how do you put marriage into words?
And more importantly, how do you prepare and bride and groom for all that the future holds for them? I try to do this in my premarital counseling sessions, but there’s only so much you can say to a cuddly, love-smitten couple looking forward to their wedding day. Who would listen to an old married man like me?
Besides, marriage is the definition of on-the-job training. It’s the epitome of experiential learning. You grow to love your spouse even more once you are committed to each other. You learn more about the other person as a child of God. You even learn skills like compromise and forgiveness and humility at a greater capacity than you ever imagined. But how do you tell someone this ahead of time? As J-P and Amy made their vows to each other, they had no idea what they were getting into.
That’s like another vow we make in our lives. To join Community Christian Church, you don’t have to take a class or pay a fee. You simply have to confess or reaffirm your faith by answering one simple question: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior? If you answer “yes,” then you are welcomed into membership.
But let’s be honest: When we answer “yes” to that question, do we really know what we are getting ourselves into? What does it mean to call Jesus the Christ, the son of the living God? What does it mean to accept him as our Lord? Our Savior? The rwelve disciples struggled to understand these concepts. If they spent three years with Jesus and still didn’t get it, what hope do we have?
Thankfully, our source of hope is not our own level of understanding, but the One who has graciously revealed himself to us. There IS hope we’ll understand what this confession means, but only after a lifetime of learning and forgetting, successes and failures, and countless moments of grace. Interestingly, I would say a good marriage is full of the same things.
The vows we make as humans are often far beyond our limited ability to fulfill them. Honestly, none of us can fully live up to our marriage vows or our faith statements. But that’s all the more reason to make them. They call us forward, constantly encouraging us to be more than we think we are. And when we fall short, whether in marriage or in faith, we rely on the gift of grace and forgiveness – our spouse’s and our God’s. Simply put, we are called to be faithful in what we do. We have the rest of our lives to figure out what that means.