The wedding ceremony is an ancient rite, predating western civilization. The coming together of a new family has been recognized, in every culture from the Sumerian to the ancient Chinese, as a time for celebration. In my own Christian culture, it is a time for asking God’s blessing on a new family; it’s kind of like a birth, really.
And the thing that’s being born is a marriage. A wedding is to a marriage what a birth is to a life. Both weddings and births are anticipated with joy and anxiety. They both bring happiness and pain. They are both beginnings, and (it’s important to remember this) even if things go wrong, wedding-wise, they can still be right, marriage-wise.
In a few minutes, I have to pack up a car-full of stuff and roll out of here to discharge my first real wedding obligations – 23 centerpieces for the tables at Ben and Mallory’s reception tomorrow night. I’m excited about this, about giving Ben and Mal something beautiful for their special day, but it’s got me to thinking, and I want to give all eight of you something more lasting than flowers.
No, it’s not advice. It’s just a statement. The most important thing in marriage is not love, not even respect, and certainly not changelessness – it’s forgiveness. You will not always love each other. Sometimes your respect for each other will slip. You will all change.
But forgiveness? You cannot forgive too much, and there will be things to forgive. Some of them will be small – a forgotten anniversary, a disagreement over the capital of Peru – but others will be huge – grieving the death of a child differently, infidelity. The last has been called a “deal-breaker,” even by God, but we know people who made it through even that.
Forgiveness is not the natural human state. We like being right and having rights. Forgiveness seems to diminish our right to be angry, hurt, and disappointed. Forgiving each other seems like playing doormat, rolling over and accepting ill-treatment, being weak. But think about it this way – the real strength comes in being honest about what you feel with each other, working it out, moving on. Repeat as necessary. Feelings like anger and disappointment are not bad in themselves. We all feel them, and they don’t do damage in the long run. What does do damage is resentment. Resentment is the inability to forgive, dressed up for Halloween.
I haven’t got any sage wisdom for you on the “how to avoid resentment” front, but I will tell you that Alexander Pope got it right when he said, “To err is human, to forgive, Divine.” Forgiveness is as close as you can get to God while you’re on the earth, and it’s as close as God can get to you. The desire to forgive and the ability to do so both come from God and lead back to God.
In my own marriage, I’ve forgiven some things. These are minor compared to the things I have been forgiven for, which have been huge. When I am tempted to hold onto something that my Beloved has done, I remember how he doesn’t ever hold onto my failures and crimes. Mutual forgiveness is stronger than anything.
At your weddings, you look beautiful, and you are beautiful. You are surrounded by people who love you and wish you well. Even if minor things go wrong, it is Your Day. Your family is being born. My prayer for you – for all of you – is that this joy lasts the rest of your lives. Forgive each other early and often. Laugh. It will be all right.
P.S. Greg and Christine, if you all would join the 21st Century and get on Facebook, your faces would be here, too. Sheesh.