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Love can’t do it all in marriage
This summer past was the first one since I became a clergyman that I neither attended, nor participated, in a wedding. I did watch several weddings held outside at The Beach Club at Parksville though. Speaking to folks afterwards, we noted how formal these events still are for young people — white-dressed brides, matching outfits for groomsmen and bridesmaids — and how much the wedding obviously means to the couple.
We also remarked on how rare it is for young people these days to formally celebrate their relationship.
“Most of my friends who want a committed relationship just live together, they don’t want to get married,” one said, her friends agreeing.
“What do you think holds relationships together?” I asked. “Love! People love each other, and they want to share that, long-term. That’s what holds them together,” was the unanimous opinion.
Nearly every couple I’ve prepared for marriage has told me much the same thing.
“Love will keep us together,” they tell me, echoing the Captain & Tennille song from 1975. It’s a wonderful idea, surely a kind of anthem from those days. But it just isn’t nearly the whole truth.
Love won’t keep a committed relationship together nearly so much as commitment keeps a loving relationship together. Our post-modern world has, typically, got things totally backwards.
When two people get married in a Christian wedding ceremony — the one I know best is the Anglican version, but nearly all marriage services are like it — they stand side by side in front of a group of family and friends and make some immensely-significant and long-term promises.
“Until death us do part” kind of promises. “Will you do these things?” the minister asks. “I will,” is the anticipated answer.
At no point are they asked: “Do you love this person you are marrying?” That is assumed, it’s what has propelled the couple to be standing there. The point of marriage is not the hallowing of a couple’s love for each other, it is the hallowing of their promises, “for better, for worse, in sickness or in health,” for as long as they draw breath. Promises keep love, not the other way round.
Marriage was once often referred to as ‘a covenant’, which simply means it’s a reflection of the heart God.
It is a symbol for an ultimate commitment: our Father in heaven has committed Himself to us, ‘for better or worse’ through the most loving gifts He could offer — and supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down your life for another.”
Rev’d Guy Bellerby is the Rector of Christ’s Church Oceanside, a parish of the Anglican Network in Canada