When I was 11 years old I remember looking through an album of my parents Holy Matrimony; this ceremony is where a man and woman become one before God. The album starts with my mother, a young bride being escorted down the aisle by my grandfather who’s face was wet with tears, the details embroidered into my mother’s cream colored wedding dress lined with lace and pearls, and the longest train that wrapped around my father as they knelt at the altar of an incredibly gorgeous cathedral. During the unification ceremony, there was a seasoned married couple that came up behind them with a crystal double necked cord and placed it over each of their heads symbolically uniting them as one, this crystal cord remained hanging on the headboard of my parents bed for the rest of my childhood as a reminder of the commitment they made years ago. Marriage is designed by God to create one flesh and glorify the creator of the universe.
Most people in American culture feel that it is important to get married in the church even if they are not religious. While personal beliefs may not be the motivating factor behind a church wedding, many people feel tremendous pressure from their families or cultural traditions that cause them to decide upon a religious ceremony. In some cultures if you marry in the church, you can assign Godparents to help you pay for your wedding in different ways, which can be quite an incentive for a church wedding. I was raised Catholic and went to church with my family occasionally, was baptized as a baby and had my first communion when I was in grade school. Even after all that religious experience, I didn’t feel like a church wedding was for me. I wasn’t even sure that God really cared or if I really believed in God, solidifying my desire for a non-church wedding. I was married in May of 2003 to my best friend outside a popular haunted mansion in a rose garden; I remember being disappointed to discover that the priest would not marry us unless we were married in the “house of God”. We decided to find a Christian pastor who would be willing to marry us outside a church building, just to appease our parents who were both married in the church. When I got married to my husband; asking God to bless my marriage was not important to me. It was also not important to have Godparents help cover the costs. My husband and I took great pride in paying for the wedding ourselves, with minimal help from our parents. Most married couples have no idea why they get married outside of being enamored with each other. In the TIME article written by Steven Pinker, titled, Crazy Love, he writes that “Romantic infatuation is different from both raw lust and the enduring commitment that keeps lovers together long after their besottedness has faded.” People are driven by infatuation, despair, insomnia, anorexia and testosterone, all of which can mimic a drug addiction… In retrospect, I believe I married my husband for many of these same reasons but also because we had a lot of fun together, anytime I thought about letting him go, I felt as if it would be the biggest regret of my life. I loved him that was it… not because of money or status; in fact we were barely making the rent.
Life experiences can change everything in a moment. In the fall of 2008 I had a near death experience where I was overwhelmingly aware of my soul existing outside of my natural body, causing me to accept that there was more to life than living and dying. It is during this time that I really wanted to understand my marriage vows and if I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with the man I had married. In an article written by Susan Gadoua of the Huffington Post in 2011, titled, What Marriage Really Needs Is for Us to Get “Whys”, she writes, “I think one of the main reasons (divorce) is so common is that people have not asked themselves why, other than for love, they want to marry. And marriage, if it is to thrive, sorely needs an overhaul.” I needed an overhaul before my marriage could make sense. As I searched, trying to simply figure out who I was for several difficult years, in the spring of 2011, during one of the lowest times in my life, I had another unexpected spiritual experience where I was no longer able to deny the incredible existence and love of God. I realized that it was never about the church, the priest or the pastor; It was always about God and what He did to save me. I grabbed a bible and asked God to help me understand; I didn’t want religion or rules or perfection, I just wanted the God who met me when my soul was hovering over my body years before. As I journeyed scripture, I began to understand who I was and where marriage came from and how beautiful it was really meant to be. This experience made me desire a do-over wedding where we both were sincerely making this commitment before God, even if we skipped the party.
The Holy Bible teaches that marriage was God’s design. The bible is compiled from books, letters and songs equaling a total of 66 that were published in its completion. The very first book, Genesis, details the story of creation, first the universe and then man. In Genesis 2 V.18 (summarized) “God said, “it’s not good for man to be alone; I’ll make him a helper, a companion.” So God formed from dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them. But he did not find a suitable companion.” MSG version. Then later in Genesis 2 v. 21-23 (summarized) “God put the man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh…., then the man said finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. This has been the foundation of my life since I was a child.
Having a father and a mother in a home is essential for a balanced upbringing. As a child this gave me a sense of security and safety. I admired my parent’s relationship when I’d catch them having fun together and I would be reminded that someday I too would have a partner that could enjoy life with. I was also shown that even during the difficult times, when my parents would struggle financially or fight about something; they worked through it and forgave each other. I learned that being married doesn’t mean your relationship is always going to be easy or perfect and you don’t have to run away when things get difficult. In the article titled, Nostalgia as Ideology, written by Stephanie Coontz, she writes, “According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who live in two-parent households are less likely, on average, to abuse drugs and alcohol than teens in one parent families; but teens in two-parent families who have a fair to poor relationship with their father are more likely to do so than teens who live with a single mother.” Because I was fortunate enough to have both a mother and a father; I was able to go to each of them for different things. From my mother I learned to never give up, to take care of my body with good feminine hygiene, how to make a holiday wonderful with decorations and food, how to be a hostess for company and as much as my teenager self-took it for granted, she poured wisdom into me that I wasn’t able to glean from until I had a family of my own. From my father I learned how to work extremely hard at anything i set my mind to, I learned how to garden and use different types of tools, he taught me how to drive, and to appreciate the small things, he also exemplified for me the kind of hard working man I someday wanted to marry and make a life with. Without this balance and seeing them still together today nearly 39 years later, I may have not been able to work through some of the challenges I’ve have faced in my own marriage.
Marriage also has a much deeper meaning for believers called the new covenant. The new covenant is what took place roughly two thousand years ago when Christ Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, forever changing history. By doing this, Christ was promising that He would send the Holy Spirit, so that the bond between Him and us could never be broken. Being in a relationship with the Lord the last 7 years has been essential to understanding this beautiful covenant, there is no way I could have understood this in my heart with religion and rules, rituals etc. In this I understood what marriage was all about, beyond the dress, the flowers and the church. Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked-or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.” Matthew 19 V. 11-12 MSG version. I am not saying that a non-religious marriage isn’t beautiful or full of love; I am stating that a marriage the way God intended is blessed when Christ is the foundation that it’s built upon. This covenant is intended to be a reflection of Christ’s commitment to the church. I can always look and my marriage and see the attributes of Christ in my husband and it fills me with such a complete joy. The book of Solomon is an incredible example of Jesus’s relentless pursuit for His Bride (you & me). I can liken this Song to my marriage and my walk with the Lord, first you see His desire for a relationship with her ( you & me), the depths of His power in her life, the bride discovering Him, the bride fully accepting Him into her life, the hesitation she experiences when things suddenly become so new, the desperation and loneliness she feels when no one around her can relate to her revelation of Him, Him drawing her back to His heart, The painful dying to self she walks through and finally the surrendered devoted life she chooses to live for His glory. I had to read the book of Solomon for two years over and over again to soak in all of its meaning, meanwhile being able to align it all with my own experience has been wonderful.
Many couples today are not getting married as tradition because of the disincentives from government programs. One of my best friends has wanted to get married in the church for several years, her and her fiance now have several children together, both of them have felt torn for years now because according to their faith they should be married when living together and having children, but they feel that if they marry each other legally, they will no longer qualify for the welfare services that they need. If they were to get married they would lose all the assistance they receive necessary to survive. In the article, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT by Stephanie Coontz, written March 20th, 2002, Stephanie suggests that, “(we) should remove marriage disincentives from government programs”. According to the article written in 2002, 16 states still discriminate against married couples in the welfare policy. This same article states that “ There is no way to reverse this trend short of repressiveness that would not long be tolerated even in today’s patriotic climate (and that would soon wipe out many of the benefits people now gain from marriage).” Because of this people feel that they can’t afford to be married.
What about the rest of the couples who are not bound by this sacred covenant? Couples who live together many years choose not to marry, Gay & Lesbian couples who have been married through the court. Heterosexual couples get married by the court also. People can also marry themselves, called Sologamy. While walking this journey in Christ I have learned so much about His heart. The bible teaches that He is not impressed with all your doings and religious activities; He only sees your heart. When you come to Him with a repentant heart, bearing it all before him in a raw honest way, he will do a work in your lives according to His will. Many couples come to faith many years after being married by the courts and they commit their lives and marriages to God. Some renew their vows and some simply pray and ask God to bless their marriage. Some people who are in same sex marriages/relationships, once experiencing who they are in God, make the choice to leave their same sex partner lifestyle and devote their lives to God. There are churches existing today that support gay marriage, for example the United Church of Christ, The Metropolitan Community Church, The Eucharistic Church and some Catholic churches.
Marriage has different meanings and rankings today, but I truly believe that a marriage that is founded in Christ blesses the whole family. In my personal experience, having Christ as the Rock of our marriage has taught us how to truly love one another as the Word teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:4 NLT Version, 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. I now look at my marriage with the perspective of God’s design and our marriage is stronger because of it, our children are happier and people have commented that there is something special about our family. I can’t help but to feel like what they are seeing is the glory of God in our lives. One of the best pieces of advice my pastor gave to us as a congregation is that, “People have to be led by their own convictions.” This statement couldn’t be truer, because at the end of our lives, we will each stand before God and He is the only one who can judge us.