Getting down on one knee might be the most universal sign of relationship commitment that exists in our American culture. “Will you marry me?” is the question that is being asked with this most decidedly uniform way of displaying our interest in sharing our lives together, forever. But what does it mean to be engaged to be married? Is it an event that passes us by or is it a process that continues long after the event has passed?
Not long ago, I was given the distinct privilege of officiating the wedding of my good friends. It was a beautiful affair, on an unusually warm November afternoon, in a lovely chapel with high archways and ornate wooden doors. All in attendance were so happy to see this lovely couple united in marriage and equally thrilled to witness the event.
The bride wore a lovely ivory gown and was walked slowly down the aisle by her loving father. As she approached the altar I could see the groom tearing up, overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment. The bride’s mother and father kissed her on the cheek and handed her to the groom so that they could solidify their commitment to one another, and he ushered her up to the altar where I began to speak.
Weddings are funny things. We put so much emphasis on these events that there are whole industries built around them. Dresses, decor, photography, videography, music, flowers, food, and location rentals just to name a few. But in the end, weddings are just elaborate parties. Lots of family and friends are invited to celebrate the day that the happy couple decides to proclaim to the world that they are ready to begin the rest of their lives together. The problem is, most couples never think past the wedding and run head-long into enormous trouble after the event has passed. Luckily, my friends were fortunate (or not, depending on who you ask) to have me as their pre-marital coach to prepare them for the journey of marriage, not the event of the wedding.
I chose to address those present at their wedding with a metaphor of what marriage truly is. Here’s a little of what I said: “Marriage is the process of becoming one. Marriage is not merely two people coming together to form a partnership, nor is it an agreement to become permanent roommates. No, marriage is two people serving and sacrificing for one another, completing one another, and continually becoming one.”
I continued, “Marriage is like a precious gem. Marriage develops over time – diamonds don’t form in ten years; they require millennia. It takes only a few minutes to get married, but building a marriage requires a lifetime. A diamond is the final result of a long and intensive process – and so is marriage. Over time and under the intense heat and pressure of life, two people under the covenant of marriage come together and are lost in each other to the point where it becomes impossible to tell where one person ends and the other begins.” I concluded, “A great marriage is no accident. It is the product of intentional actions, shared experiences, and lots of time as two people are in the process of becoming one.”
At the start, every marriage has the opportunity to be an example for others to follow or a warning for others to avoid. What those great marriages teach us is that the secret to having an exemplary relationship is simple – be engaged.