I am not a fan of homemade wedding vows. I have been to weddings when, after the vows are exchanged, you look around and say, “Huh? Are they married?” How can you tell sometimes? I know he is her sunshine on a rainy day and she is his spring blossom blooming in the sun, but are they married?
Our wedding vows were pretty traditional.
“I, Terry, take you, Laura, to me my lawfully wedded wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, to have and to hold from this day forward 'til death we do part. I promise to love you and honor you all the days of my life.”
That's it – clear, concise. If taken to heart, it will define my priorities and my choices, my mistakes, and my celebrations every moment of my life. With all of that riding on the clarity of my promise, I am happy that the vow is that brief and that clear.
These promises have saved me from making some really poor decisions – ones that I would regret immediately and ones that could burden me for a long time. They continue to direct me every day. They are there, always influencing, encouraging and nudging me. I cherish them and rely upon them, like a touchstone, throughout my life.
Our marriage is my vocation. It is more than a legal obligation. It is a blessing, a gift from my God. It is not a domestic arrangement or financial bargain. It is a sacred trust. It is not a one-time thing, generated to kick off a great party with food, wine, dancing, tossed bouquets and garters. It is a promise to dig in and work at this one thing for the rest of my life. It is surrendering my singleness for something greater. It is not a sacrifice of my individuality. It is a promise to identify my individuality within the framework of a shared life.
When things aren't going the way you like, you may think, “I didn't sign up for this”. Well, here's the wake up call. Yes, you did. That's exactly what you signed up for. That's why we say “'til death we do part”. The marriage vows are most demanding in tough times. That is when I can most clearly show that I actively love my wife.
Marriage is a contact sport, so, wear your pads. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the meek or the unsure. Our wedding day promises require us to keep working relentlessly at this single relationship above all others. When we make these vows, we are committing our life to a single purpose, a single priority – our marriage. Nothing comes before it but for our relationship with God. Not our children, careers, friends or extended family. This one relationship with this one person is the priorityagainst which all other decisions and relationships are measured.
The truth is, if we get this one right (and note I did not say “perfect”), then the whole world of possibilities in every other dimension of our life opens up for us with endless depth and colour. I guarantee you that if you get the marriage piece of your life firing on all cylinders, the rest of your life will explode with richness.
The marriage vows are actions, not feelings. We promise to love, not to “be in love” for the rest of our lives. It is a verb, not a noun. My vows require me to step up to the plate when in a precise circumstance I may not even like my wife very much. I have to remind myself to love her and act accordingly.
St. Augustine's said, “First, love God and then, do as you please.” (I am paraphrasing.) If we first love God, then the choices for subsequent actions within that priority will direct us in our next step.
So it is with marriage. I promised to love (a verb) my wife all the days of my life. This is my priority. If I truly live this promise every day, the choices available to fill the moments of my life must all fall within the framework of my promise to first love her. I love my wife and then I do as I please – always in that order.
Remember, “love” is a verb!
© Terry Bachynski, May 2009
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