I will admit it, I love bridal shows. Not the reality type shows like “Bridezilla,” which I watched once and had to turn off after a few minutes in shame for the lady in front of the camera, but the ones that show more of the work behind the scenes of the “fuss and feathers.” What disappoints me, however, is that in these shows, brides have binders full of images of floral decorations and swatches for the linens, but they never seem too focused on how to actually convey what covenant they are entering into.
If there is one phrase I wish I never heard again in these shows it is, “It’s my day.” I keep looking back at my own wedding and thinking: “No, it isn’t.” It’s the joining of two families and the creation of a new one, which is much more important, much more beautiful than the feeling of being a princess for a day. As daughters of the King, we are princesses every day. We are princesses when our baby spits up all over us, just as much as we are on our wedding day. We will be princesses when we are 90 years old and wrinkled. And to our husbands, well, we will be the queen of the castle that is their home, with aprons on and dishrags in our hand. Because the work that we do in love and duty does not taint romance, but only enhances it.
After only four years of marriage, I would hesitate to give anyone advice on marriage, but, looking back, I do think my husband and I were blessed by the Lord in preparing well, not just for the day of our wedding, but for the marriage that came afterwards. Preparing for your wedding gives a glimpse into what your marriage will be like.
If you are courting and thinking of marriage, here are some of the tips that I can share.
First of all, choose well and choose wisely. That seems so logical, but quite often women are so focused on romance and dates and roses that they forget to ask about the serious subjects. And while someone might be a perfectly wonderful guy, that does not mean he has the same vision of how a godly family should function. My husband and I actually met online through a faith-based website and had a long-distance courtship. Not being able to date made it rather easy to focus on what this all was about and to find the answer to the question, “Is this someone with whom I can share a God-filled, good life, and raise a family?” We talked and talked, and because we were not distracted by movies and dinners, we could weed through the superficial pretty easily and go for the serious questions. How did we see our walk with God? How did we envision a family life? What were our priorities, but also practical matters like how do you feel about debt and who will do the dishes?
Since it is often hard to raise more difficult subjects when you may be slightly blinded by stars in your eyes when looking at Mr. Wonderful, there is a great place for family involvement here. Whether you choose the path of a formal, guided courtship or you met someone in the library or the local coffehouse, don’t shut out your family and just go your own way. Instead, listen to your parents, your brothers and sisters, and your friends. If nobody likes him but you, there probably is a pretty good reason. If people like him well enough, but just don’t see him as your husband, there also probably is a good enough reason. I am not telling you to slavishly follow everyone else’s advice, but to seriously consider that other people, who have given you their love and support throughout your whole life, will not lightly wish to turn someone away with which they can see you become happy. Romance and the feeling of being “in love” can easily lead you towards a rosy cloud, which will evaporate when hardship strikes within your later years of life, as it inevitably will.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against romance. I have wonderful memories of visiting a museum and walking hand-in-hand with my husband before we were married, of gazing at the masterpieces of Rubens and Van Dyck, of strolling down a garden filled with lavender. When we were further down the path of courting, there were such sweet conversations and tender words of praise and happiness. But it is thanks to the foundation we build first, however, by letting the serious and practical have presedence, we don’t have to worry about disagreeing over fundamental things now that we are married, and in turn we still find the chance for those sweet moments of romance.
Another pit to avoid falling in, once the decision is being made and you and your beloved have committed to get married, is to get so obsessed with planning the perfect wedding that the marriage starts off on a sour note because table linens have become more important than time spend with your fiancee or your families. In preparing for a wedding, it is easy to become absorbed in the myriad of details that need to be arranged. In some cultures this is more true than others. But even if you need to make very elaborate preparations to welcome and feed hundreds of guests, make sure that not all your attention is centered on food and favors. Very few people will remember the four different flowers you selected for the tables five years from now, or that the napkins matched the chair back. But they will remember whether you and the groom stayed close to each other, the way you looked at each other, the way you said your vows, knowingly and willingly committing to one another forever.
To ease some of the work that can fall on a bride, allow family and friends to help you. I often say that my wedding was arranged by committee. My mother, my two best friends, and my husband helped make decisions, and, honestly, many of the decisions just are not as important as people try to make them out. Some girls seem to want the wedding that they envisioned themselves to have when they were six, forgetting that they aren’t six anymore and sometimes even forgetting not to behave as if they were still six. At six I wanted an enormous poofy dress like the one Romy Schneider wore in “Sissi,” a German romantic movie.
Having grown up, I realized it didn’t suit me anymore in either style or in the image of lavish extravagance that it portrayed. Instead, I had a dress made by a local seamstress with a pattern of my own choosing. I chose a crown of flowers instead of a tiara, and my veil was a birthday gift from my mother and my mother-in-law. Actually, much of our wedding was a gift, from either our family, or our friends. We didn’t need to impress anyone with these nuptials, but we did wish to share our joy and make sure to express that in the care we took with the wedding. And then…people started pitching in and helping out because they were an important part of this celebration.
We formed our own new family, yes, but in doing so, we united two branches as well. Our children will be part of both families, and therefore both families are connected with each other. This has afterwards been seen in every birthday, baptism, or Christmas celebration. Since we chose this vision for our family, it was important to start it at the wedding. We value the contribution of our elders, their advice and their help in our daily life, so why insist on creating a completely “couple-centered” wedding? Of course, we were the ones entering into a covenant with each other before God, but in doing so, we tread in the footpath of those that have gone before us and tread a road for the children that will follow after. This feeling translated practically in not wanting to have the last word on everything and in sometimes letting people do what they offered and just… trusting them. My aunt did the flowers for our reception as a gift. A church friend of mine, as close as a grandmother, baked our wedding cake; another friend gave us the music; and we made invitations ourselves. These homemade touches made everything more special than any expensive store-bought element or monogram could have done.
But whether the celebration is homespun or paid for, the important thing, and the thing that we focused on most was the ceremony in which we became man and wife. I will admit I am not a big fan of those “build to size” wedding ceremonies in which people change the vows to the point where they lose their meaning. “I want to share happy days with you, and sunshine and be your number one supporter” sounds nice, but it leaves out important little parts like staying together through bad times as well. So consider sticking to the traditional vows, which include faithfulness, support and love till death do us part. And if you really want to write your own vows, look to scripture for the contents.
I know that in the US it is a tradition to make a program in which people who participate in the wedding are announced: the groomsmen, bridesmaids, celebrant, ushers, and so on. I would encourage you to elaborate on that theme. Since our ceremony alternated between two languages, we wrote out the entire contents in a small booklet in both languages. Today it is a joy to look back in it and reflect on the wise rejoinders that were given to us by the priest, to reread the scriptures that we chose to have read throughout the ceremony, to consider the blessings upon us and the promises we made. A booklet like that can take the place of a favor, it can be homemade and probably give people something better to remember your wedding by than a matchbook with your names on it.
Last, but not least, I want to encourage everyone to pray together when preparing for marriage. Pray before you step from friendship to courtship, pray before you decide that your courtship is blessed and leads you to marriage. But also pray before you have a conversation with your fiance over where aunt Maggie will sit, before you spend 200 dollars on chair backs without consulting him or before starting to cry an argument over the fact that the name of your brother is misspelled on the booklet. Because the way you start and pray now will set the tone for how you walk further into the rest of your life: with your nose in the wind… or with your eyes fixed on the heavenly example of marriage between Christ and his Church.