Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Wedding is not a Marriage

"We have not really faced up to the many conflicts between belief and experience, precept and practice, in our current, muddled style of marriage. It is not enough to say, 'Yes marriage patterns are changing.' What we have not fully realized is that we do not have to stand by helplessly while change sweeps over us, destroying our hopes for a better life for our children. Instead, we can look steadily at the changes that have brought us where we are. We can ask, 'How can we invest marriage forms with new meaning?'"
   --Margaret Meade

Over two billion people watched as Kate Middleton and Prince William walk down that long aisle is Westminster Abbey last week. You have to hand it to the English—they know how to do ceremony. Everything from beginning to end went off without a hitch. Some even called this the love story of the century. But we must remember this century is not that old.

Yet in the audience the signs of divorce were all over the house. There was Charles and Camilla after divorcing both their spouses. Camilla’s children from her first marriage were in attendance. There was Prince Andrew though Fergie was not invited. But their kids were there. There was Diana’s brother who has just announced he will be married for third time very soon. I wondered in that most distinguished crowd in the Abbey how much brokenness and heartbreak there must have been in that room.

The Bishop of London said in his address at the wedding, “This is, as every wedding should be, a day of hope.” He was right. As Pastor I have never stood at the wedding altar where the couples did not believe their marriage would last forever. Yet about 50% of those that get married today wind up in the divorce courts. The pain and trauma felt by couples and especially their children goes on and on.

We spend so much time, energy and money on weddings and parties and invitations and flowers and dresses and music and sit-down dinners and receptions. The average wedding in the United States costs somewhere between $18,000 and $30,000 dollars. The average wedding cost in Alabama is somewhere between $20,600 and $34,000. These figures do not include engagement rings or honeymoons. I’ve always had a hunch that parents or couples assume that the more we spend on the wedding will certainly secure the marriage. Not so.

Somehow the focus on relationship gets lost in the shuffle of all the wedding details. Yet—if couples would spend some time looking at how they relate and dealing with their differences it might head off trouble at the pass. Couple after couple have assured me: “Oh, we always settle our differences.” Hmmm.

We spend more energy on buying a car or a house than we do this most important relationship we call marriage. David Mace, a marriage counselor once said that every couple is given a plot of land and two deck chairs. After the honeymoon if the couple sits in those chairs and does nothing—that little plot of land will finally become a jungle. But if they decide to work the soil, prepare it well, plant seeds, tend the plants year after year—they can expect a beautiful garden. But he said the problem was that many couples just sit in their chairs and let the plot called marriage go to waste.

J. Grant Howard had some wise words for marriage: “When we think of getting married we have a picture of the perfect partner, But we marry an imperfect person. Then we have one of two choices: 1) Tear up the picture and accept the person or 2) Tear up the person and keep the picture.”

In Wallace Stegner’s great novel, The Spectator Bird he wrote of an old couple that had been married for many years. This is what the old man writes to his wife, Ruth: “It is something—it can be everything—to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch up your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle.”

That’s my hope for Kate and William and for my wife and me and for all of us. A marriage is not a wedding. It is the first step in a very long journey.

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