Monday, September 1, 2014

Happily Ever After

This weekend, after just about a month of life out east, my husband and I packed our bags and flew BACK to Texas for a few days. As expected, the heat was scalding and the tacos were delicious; this is what we remember about our former home. But what made this time out west unique was that we gathered for a family wedding. 

I say this with youthful exaggeration but also thoughtful sincerity-- it was the most beautiful wedding I've ever seen. Now before you start thinking things like, "wow, must have been a gorgeous couple" or "I wonder what kind of crazy budget they had!" let me clarify: it was so beautiful because it was so obviously not all about them. The couple was gorgeous, and the ceremony and reception were very elegantly done, but what so moved me was that I didn't once get the impression that they were saying, "Look at us!" Aren't we awesome and pretty? Don't we have fancy and impressive stuff at our wedding? Aren't you jealous of how perfect our lives are now?" 

In our world of Facebook, Pinterest, and $15 'Bride' Magazines, weddings so often devolve into little more than a competition. If you've ever attempted to plan a wedding on a budget (ie. everyone who's ever planned a wedding!), or if you've ever felt left out because your life up to this point hasn't involved a wedding (or a ring on your hand to symbolize your having 'arrived' in this world), you know what I mean. In our world, 'weddings' often feel like cold (and expensive!) events that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots"-- either you have what it takes to throw the best party, be the best looking bride, have the most enviable photo-shoot, or you don't; either you have someone who wants to marry you and therefore 'happily ever after,' or you don't. In some ways, it's a competition that nobody can win, and in which everyone asks, in one way or another, "Will I be good enough?" 

But this wedding was structured in such a way that the focus was almost entirely off of them in order to highlight something much greater: the God whose Love theirs merely images. And what's so revolutionary about this emphasis in a contemporary wedding is that it sends exactly the opposite message we've become trained to receive: it tells us, "This is something that everyone can have; you are good enough; there are no have-nots." 

See, the Christian story is the story of a wedding: one to which we are all invited-- and not as bystanders or outside observers-- but as the Bride. It is the story of the wedding of Heaven and Earth, of God and Humanity, of Christ and the Church. It's the story of a Creator who so values and loves His creation that He invites us into His very life, His very family. It's the story of a Man who "leaves His Father to become one flesh with His wife" (Gen. 2:24); of Jesus, who left the comfort and safety of Heaven to unite Himself to you and me. 

So according to the Christian story, human marriages are just pictures illustrating this greater marriage; they are little unions that illustrate the greater union we are all invited to enjoy with God. A historical word for this is icon: a picture that functions like a window into a deeper, realer world. That is why even the best marriages can never ultimately provide the 'happily ever after' we all long for, because their very nature is to point to the only One with whom happily ever after is truly possible. 

But when we forget this, we focus only on what we can see here and now. We believe the lie that human marriage is all there is, and "this wedding" is what it's all about. When we do this, the icon becomes an idol. And suddenly human marriage no longer a gift for everyone, pointing us-- married and single-- to the 'happily ever after' we're all invited to enjoy with God, and it becomes a competition: who has it and who doesn't. Whose dress is the best, ring is the biggest, photo-shoot is the sexiest, reception is the most impressive.   

I'm thankful for the wedding I attended this weekend, because it lifted me upward. It inspired me not just to celebrate the bride and groom in front of me, but to see beyond them to the Heavenly reality their marriage signifies. I can say this without worry of offending them because this, I believe, is exactly what they hoped for as they planned their wedding. 

This focus on the beyond also comforted me that I shouldn't be disappointed because my own wedding hairdo and dress are already so 5 years ago and no longer impressive to people. It challenged me to remember that even my husband sitting next to me is not the one who can ultimately fulfill me. I'm thankful for the wedding I attended this weekend because it reminded me that all human marriage isn't ultimately even about 'me and my happiness,' but a tiny-- albeit imperfect and broken-- picture of God and His spousal love for all of us. 

It reminded me of Happily Ever After.  

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