I went to a wedding recently.
The last wedding I attended was two years ago, in June. I flew to North Carolina for the big day, but wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to affect me. I wasn’t divorced yet. In fact, I had only just filed the first round of paperwork, two months prior. The fact that it was the second wedding for the groom, however, made it a bit more tolerable.
Happy, hopeful, Christianese-naïve and virginal couples made me sick.
The wedding was small and lovely, and I was excited to be there. I thought a happy wedding would take my mind off my failed marriage. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself. I quietly sobbed as the couple recited their vows to one another. It was hard to hear them promise that they would “forsake all others”, and remain true as long as they both lived.
X and I recited those same, exact words to each other on our wedding day. I remember how good it felt to hear his vows. I was safe. My husband would love me and stay by my side, until death parted us.
Not even ten years later, he chose to break his promise. That choice sent a pulsating wave of destruction that pervaded our souls.
I brushed away my tears (and sweat, for it was a bloody hot and humid Southern day), and perked up a bit. I knew how much pain the groom had endured when his first wife selfishly left him, and it was truly a blessing to see him marry the amazing woman God brought into his life a few short years later. Their love story was evidence of God’s grace, and true redemption. The couple’s relationship and subsequent union was nothing but encouraging to me, and I was filled with hope, once again.
Yet, as I sat down in my designated seat at the reception, I violently tore my place card in half. How dare they display my married name?
“I AM LESLIE SPENCER!” — I remember screaming, then marched up to the band and demanded to sing a song.
I sang several, then sneaked off with the only single groomsman and downed a couple shots of Sweet Tea Vodka. But Sweet Tea Vodka was gross, and it didn’t fill the vacuous hole that I felt in my tattered heart.
I missed my husband. I wished that he hadn’t turned out to be such a fucking disaster. I hated him and I loved him, all at the same time. In a way, I was furious that he wasn’t at the wedding. After all, if it weren’t for his friendship with the groom, I would have never met him.
I took a walk, alone, around the lake on that warm, sticky Southern evening. Bullfrogs and cicadas sang lovely duets that echoed across the water. Mosquitoes fed upon happy, unsuspecting party guests. Fireflies danced and flickered their brilliance in the moonlight. Joy, laughter, love and hope truly filled the beautiful backyard wedding and reception, and I was grateful that I could experience it all as a fresh divorceé, even if I were caught up in my own misery and pain.
Enter last weekend’s wedding.
It was the largest I’ve ever attended — 550 guests! — and the first with Korean translation. It also might have been the fastest engagement, ever. Everyone was thrilled for the couple, whose love story is a heartwarming, romantic fairytale. Two friends, who had been single and known each other for a long time, finally decided to go on a date, and that was that. Less than six months later, they were married.
I happily sat in the large, Methodist church on Wilshire Boulevard and scanned the crowd for attractive men. Much to my chagrin, those whom I had singled out were attached to equally attractive women.
I decided to give it a rest. After all, I wasn’t attending the wedding to meet someone. I was there to support my friends; to uphold them in their commitment to one another. And, for a moment, I marveled at how content I was — and have been — being single.
Eventually, the lovely bride floated down the aisle to be united with her groom. I smiled, took pictures and cheered for them in my heart. I cheered for myself a little bit, too, because (a) I wasn’t crying stupid tears over X, and (b) it felt so good to not feel sorry for myself anymore. Ugh. Self-pity is tiresome, and certainly not attractive, especially at weddings.
I felt like I had passed Level 1-2 of the Super Mario Brothers Game of Life. (Hello, Level 1-3. I am very much looking forward to your secret underwater adventure.)
Weddings — for me — are happy again. They are…easy. Wow.
My friend and pastor, Joseph, officiated the beautiful ceremony. From my perspective, the fifteen (or eighteen?) flower children behaved themselves perfectly. The bridesmaids looked happy and comfortable in their own dresses (seriously, people, this is a huge plus!). People laughed; nodded in agreement; dabbed away tears when the groom got choked up, and breathed in the beauty of the couple standing before them.
Two people were pledging their lives to one another. That’s a huge commitment.
As the ceremony progressed, I took a deep breath in, and let it out. I knew that I’d have to prepare myself for any sort of emotional reaction that might sneak up on me. Frankly, I dreaded hearing the couple recite their vows.
Suddenly, to my surprise, Joseph predicated the next part of the ceremony with what seemed to be a disclaimer.
He spoke to the groom first.
“I want you to say your vows, and then close your ears,” he said.
I leaned forward, on the edge of the hard, wooden pew. My ears were definitely open.
“You see,” Joseph continued, “You are making a promise, but it is not based upon what the other person promises you. “
That is the most amazing thing I have ever heard.
Maybe it is a simple concept – but I finally got it.
Love — and commitment/marriage — is a choice. Love isn’t based upon what the other person does, or doesn’t do. We choose to love; we choose to keep our promises, even when the other person fails us. And people will always fail us.
X failed me — as he said — “spectacularly”. But I failed him, too. Maybe my failures weren’t as tangible, but we both broke promises along the way. Why? Because we’re human.
And the amazing epiphany I had in that pew, at 11:36-ish a.m. on a hot, July morning, is that nothing is guaranteed. Life is messy. It is not a linear product of good, or even bad, choices. Relationships are hard. Choosing to love opens ourselves up to a whirlwind adventure of life lived to its fullest.
Choosing to love is worth the risk, even when the outcome isn’t guaranteed.
I am grateful for my marriage to X, because it was a learning experience. I loved him, almost desperately. I still love him, in some sort of way. And, deep down, I know he loves me. At the same time, I am beyond grateful that I am not married to him. X goes down in history as a faint glimmer of my past.
It was — and is — all worth it.
Henri Nouwen said it best:
Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving.
And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair.
We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.
May we choose to keep our promises.
May we choose to forgive.
May we choose to love.
Because the risk of loving is always worth taking.