Two Words and a Wedding


 breaking glass

Tonight I will officiate at my second wedding in a week. I like weddings, but I always struggle with what to say. At baptisms, the parents in the front pews listen even though they’re often tussling with older siblings of the one in white. At funerals, people listen intently. Their stare—both skeptical and desperate—says: Is there anything you can say, Mister, that will push back the dread of death? Anything?

Weddings are another story. Maybe people in the back rows can listen, but the front pews are reserved for exhausted people light headed with adrenaline. I know. I’ve been in the front pew twice.

And even if people had ears, the real message almost isn’t appropriate for the occasion (in all its glory). The best and only word for brides and grooms is, hold on. Hold on, because conflict is coming. The classic vows—“for better, for worse”—are so ritualized we can’t really hear what they’re saying. Which is: worse is coming. But here is the stunner: what that means is not, “worse is coming but if you’re tough enough you can get back to better,” but, “worse is coming and then you will know what love really is.” Someone once asked Scott Peck what was the purpose of marriage. Peck replied, “to experience conflict.”

Our natural response to conflict is binary. Either we win or we skedaddle. This can only produce immature people, people with huge egos and shallow souls, people incapable of forgiveness, mercy and compassion. And that, says Peck, is why our ancestors practically in caves invented marriage. They knew it was, for most human beings, the only circle that could force us to endure conflict without winning or running.

You can’t exactly say that at a wedding. So we make the bride and groom say those words, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” and if we’re Jews we make them break a glass. One day their illusions will be taken away and they may just remember. One day, when conflict comes and they can’t escape—or won’t—they will know how good it feels to embrace simply what is and who is, in all its beauty and brokenness, and they will weep to be loved so in return.

The key to this incredibly deep human and spiritual triumph is embarrassingly simple. All you must do is hold on.

10 Responses to Two Words and a Wedding
  1. Elizabeth Ohlson
    August 16, 2014 | 12:09 pm

    Yes. I experienced that in my 50 year marriage til death did part us. But currently I’m supporting a friend who has endured so much emotional abuse, I’m not so sure how much longer she can endure it. She has said thru heaving sobs, I can’t go on this way–but I made a vow.

    • David Anderson
      August 19, 2014 | 10:01 am

      yes, Elizabeth–you make a good and so necessary point. You can’t say it all in a little blog, but I’m glad you added that important caveat: that the union we speak of in this way assumes a mutuality, and once that is violated, then no one can say what the response should be. Some people need to forgive and stay in there and hold on until their spouse can be the person they know she or he can really be, and some need to get out–some, literally, to safety. But even this is redeemable. Even this can be an occasion of growth and even thanksgiving–that one has suffered and found a deeper touchpoint with what is real and true, though it was the hardest of the hard ways.

      But–as I say–some need to stay and some need to go, and only that person can say which. No one else is allowed to ‘weigh in.’

  2. John
    August 17, 2014 | 8:13 am

    I was fortunate to be the father of the bride at one of those two weddings and your message to my daughter and son-in-law was simple and elegant: the best way to “hold on” is to find the center of the wheel of life/fortune and together place your heart at that hub. I think even the bleary eyed front row will not forget those words.

  3. Dickie Ann Boal Johnson
    August 17, 2014 | 8:34 am

    David, please email this to me. My son Gil Johnson and his fiance Michaela wil be enlightened by this as we all are. Congratulations as you await your 1st grandchild. And thank you. Love to you Both. Dickie Ann

  4. Michael Anderson
    August 17, 2014 | 9:02 am

    You are right, David. Those two words and one broken glass–that’s all the warning the starry-eyed need and all the warning we can possibly take in. I’m so glad I was too young to know better, too young to think clearly, when I took the plunge with my dear Kay, 42 years ago today. And we were engaged on May Day! That should’ve told us something. Holding to Kay, loving and being loved by her, is the single best decision I’ve ever made. And I almost feel it was made for me. Have we had conflict? Of course. But as you quoted Auden in the wedding homily, I took the hand of the one sitting right next to me: my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest, my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song…Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.

  5. Sam Schreiner
    August 17, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Great words David. I concur with it all but I’m not sure Peck is right that marriage came into being in the caves. It was birthed by the triune God who knew that in sacred relationships we find the fullness of God even in the crucible of suffering. I love those two words “hold on.” I was guessing by the title it was “I do.”

  6. Matt
    August 18, 2014 | 6:08 am

    “One day, when conflict came and you couldn’t escape – or wouldn’t – you found out how good it felt to embrace simply what was and who was, in all its beauty and brokenness, and you wept to be loved so in return. You held on.” If I ever renew my vows those 2 sentences would be the most uplifting words anyone could say to me (and I’d like to think us) because it is the gospel.

  7. Johnna
    August 19, 2014 | 9:42 am

    Hold on – two words that work in most situations, good and bad. The line I remember most from my wedding – “Love is patient, but you’re not.” I think of it often, almost twenty years after the big white dress/tuxedo day…

    • David Anderson
      August 19, 2014 | 9:48 am

      love that line you recall from your wedding–and that you recall it!

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