July 13, 2013

The Rev. Patricia M. Grace: Making the most of the wedding season

— It’s wedding season again and I love to see those wonderful anniversary pictures in the newspaper. You know, the ones which feature the happy couple after 30 or 40 or even 50 years of marriage, placed alongside the snap of them on their wedding day. We chuckle at the hairstyles and clothing that have gone the way of the dinosaurs and remark at how young and how happy the newlyweds looked. “Of course they look ecstatic,” my mother would say with a laugh. “They are blissfully unaware of what’s ahead of them!”

Marriage is a good thing. As the Episcopal prayer book says, Jesus believed in this way of life so much he “adorned this way of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.” Which is not to say that marriage is for everyone, but it is a gift from God that is given to enrich life and provide the support and love that help us live a happy one.  

When I do premarital counseling, I tell the couple that their marriage is an act of faith: faith in themselves, in each other, and in their God. To make a promise that you will be faithful for the rest of your lives, not knowing what problems, challenges and calamities will befall you, well, that’s something quite hopeful and optimistic.

Although I’m not married, my experience as a person and a pastor has taught me that the only way you can keep those promises is through God’s grace and a lot of hard work. We all know that, at times, the vows of marriage can become too difficult to keep. The strain and struggle of life can change people, can destroy love, overwhelm and prevent us from doing what we honestly did intend to do on that special day.

Jesus understood this, saying one time that even Moses permitted divorce because he knew how hard it was to keep our hearts softened enough to bear the disappointments and difficulties of life. He knew how hard it was to remain in a loving place in the face of troubles, trials, disillusionment and temptation.

Married people today face the same hardships that folks have always had to handle. We lose our jobs and our tempers, we worry about our wayward children, we miss our parents who die too soon and with too much pain. We get sick — in body, mind and sometimes spirit, and we don’t know what to do about it. We get lost among the dizzying options that are before us.  

But today, I think married people have it harder, because our culture no longer seems to value lifelong commitment, stability and sacrifice, essential practices necessary for a long and happy marriage. Our culture advises that we take care of own needs, first and last, rather than place ourselves in the service of others. Our culture suggests that the grass is always greener in the next backyard and “Love the one you’re with” has replaced “O promise me.”

So we need to support people in their marriages, way beyond that bliss-filled wedding day when all seems possible and positive. Many churches offer programs for couples to strengthen those ties that bind. Older, seasoned couples might offer themselves as seasoned companions to younger folks as they begin their lives together.

Maybe the “wedding season” is the time when we might think about how we can build up our married friends and relatives. Maybe it’s the season when we might invest some time in our own marriages and recover the hope and promise of that first wedding day.

The Rev. Patricia Grace is the rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Dalton. Her column runs on the second Saturday of the month.