Why the Vows Matter Most of All

(Photo courtesy of Tristin Carter)

Why the Vows Matter Most of All

By Jacqueline Napoli

Weddings are a big deal in America, and from wedding gowns to decorations there seems to be no limit for the bride. It is amazing to see a bride, a normal sweet girl, crack under pressure causing her to transform into an impossible “Bridezilla.”  American weddings now average $35,000 and take 250 hours to plan. That’s equivalent to a down payment on a house and 250 premarital counseling sessions! What is it about a perfect wedding that makes us so desperate?  I wonder if all the years of watching Disney created a sense in us that the wedding day is what makes or breaks a marriage.

We stress over gowns and guest lists, as if they’re life or death decisions, but the real heart of the matter barely gets any recognition. How do we learn to truly love each other, stay married for the rest of our lives, and not end up a divorce statistic?  This thought must not generate much profit for the wedding industry because the continual message the bride-to-be hears is that her “Big Day” has to be the most elegant, exquisite (yet cost-effective) experience ever, or else.

We know that the best things in life are free and even a million-dollar Malibu princess wedding cannot buy a happy marriage. What can the Bride and Groom get for free? The vows of course!  If wedding rings symbolize the commitment, the vow is truly the commitment.  Given proper reverence, it is the backbone that lets the marriage thrive and endure.  It’s the Kryptonite to pop culture’s myth that love is only true if it’s overwhelming, red-hot, and relentless. But, crushes and infatuations are merely the first phase of love–those feelings will fluctuate (gasp)! But the vow sees us all the way through, from the flush of gooey early love to the mature, seasoned love we dream of, much like the 90-year-old couple you see reading each other’s’ thoughts. The vows at the wedding ceremony is the first step to lifelong committed love.

A (divorced) surgeon I met said that love wasn’t real in the first place and questioned if he would be able, at any point, to fall in love with another woman.  I wondered how someone could get all that education and still not have a clue. But, that’s the myth of our culture; Love is a feeling–keep the feeling, and you keep the love. The truth is that passion is a feeling and love is a choice. The Bible says that love is patient, kind, not seeking its own gain but rather the benefit of the beloved, incredibly patient, polite, not easily angered, full of hope, believing in its beloved, and unfailing (1 Cor.13).  This is not easy and it doesn’t come without committed effort. The mission of marriage is not to be mythically “fulfilled” or to “have all our needs met” by some Disney prince (although actually Jesus does fit the bill on that).  The mission is to learn to love.

When I spoke my vows, I stood before God and the brilliant, awesome man of my dreams. I solemnly swore that I would honor, cherish, and love him until death took us apart.  I vowed that even if our marriage took a nosedive and I felt like I wanted out (“for better or for worse…”), or if he lost his job and went broke (“for richer and for poorer…”), or if he ended up a paraplegic or got Alzheimer’s (“in sickness or in health…”), I would stick by him, love him, and make it work (“till death do us part”).  Costly, yes, but he made the same vow to me.  We both meant it and it’s a good deal, having this incredible man to have and to hold for the rest of our lives.

Marriage is for life. I picked a faithful, godly, loving man. I took a good, long, hard look at his faults. I made the commitment.  If I struggle, I remember my vow and that every trouble is simply a stepping stone to life’s most important lesson: learning how to love.