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Waiting for Your Wedding: Reflections on Advent

'waiting at the door' photo (c) 2006, Joe Flood - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

This post is dedicated to my husband’s cousin, James, and his precious fiancee, Malia. They are quickly approaching their wedding date of December 21st, and as I thought about their final preparations, I was inspired to spend some time meditating on the similarities of advent and engagement.

Dear Jimmy and Malia,

There are seventeen days left in your engagement. As my children count down the days until Christmas morning, you are counting down the days until you are “man and wife.” As I thought about the excitement and anticipation of the final days of my engagement, I realized I was just a bit envious of you both. This is a special time, unlike any other we experience in human relationships. And yet, as with so many things, it’s just a shadow of something so much greater.

It’s hard to explain to young children what it might have been like for God’s people to wait hundreds of years between prophecy and fulfillment. It’s hard even for me to understand. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and talk about the anticipation of Christmas day and how that’s just a tiny bit like what the people awaiting Christ felt as they waited and waited. But we don’t fully understand it. We’re not a culture that waits well. We demand instant gratification, determining worth by an object’s immediate availability, rather than its inherent value.

But you two–you’re getting a glimpse now of what it means to wait. You’ve awaited this day for so long already. And yet you continue to wait–just a few weeks more. You are blessed to know the day and the time, but that only eases the waiting slightly. I remember wanting to just hurry and get married already! There is a yearning–a longing for oneness–that only the arrival of the wedding day can satisfy. For millions of people, December 21st is just another day. But for you, it’s the day. The day it all changes. The day of joy and celebration, the culmination of years of prayers and tears and laughter.

On this day, friends and family will rejoice with you. They will witness something remarkable–the union of two people becoming one. But you two will experience something more.

Jimmy, you’ll know a piece of the joy of our Bridegroom, Christ. You’ll know what it is He sees as He looks on us. As your bride walks toward you, your heart will swell with happiness. You chose this bride and you love her dearly. And this is just the tiniest shadow of the love Christ has for the bride He redeemed with His own blood.

Malia, you’ll know in a new way what it means to be the bride of Christ. You will be clothed in white, walking toward your groom. You will be united with him, finally his bride. As he watches you coming toward him, you’ll know how dearly you’re loved. You’ll see it on his face and as you take his hand, you’ll feel it there too. And this is just the tiniest shadow of what it means to be the bride of Christ.

During Advent we rehearse waiting–remembering the anticipation of the Messiah’s first coming, readying our hearts for His second. We feel longing and yearning for oneness. We linger in the “already, but not yet,” just as you two are promised to one another, but not yet one. Even so, we know the joy of being found in Him, but not yet with Him. So we wait, and we invite others to join in the waiting along with us.

I’m jealous of you two as you wait during these next seventeen days. You are living out a beautiful metaphor. I pray you wait well, that in His grace your Father will give you joy and peace in the waiting. I pray for joy and peace on the wedding day as well. And I pray that all present on that day will know your love not just for one another, but for your Savior–your true Bridegroom.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God

the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult

and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure”

Revelation 19:6-8

An Open Letter to My Engaged Friends

'Engagement Ring' photo (c) 2009, Tela Chhe - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Back in the winter of 2004 I thought Christmas or New Year’s Eve would be the perfect time for a proposal. However, my now husband, then boyfriend, did not pick up on all my not-subtle-at-all hints, or, more likely, did not care about them because he had another plan. He did, obviously, propose eventually and completely surprised me. But in my mind the holidays seemed so right for it. It would seem I’m not alone because my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few weeks have been full of engagement announcements.

So lately I’ve been thinking, “What do I wish someone had told me the morning after I became engaged?” What is it I really needed to hear, but didn’t? Many things could be said here, but I will just write a few in the hopes that they will encourage and aid those currently planning a wedding. Note: I’ve talked before and will continue to stress the importance of planning for marriage over planning your wedding. There is no substitute for good pre-marital counseling with a local pastor who loves Christ and will ask you the tough questions to help you prepare for life together. This blog post does not delve into the subject, but rather addresses wedding-planning specifically.

1. Pinterest and wedding websites are your Frenemies

I am so thankful Pinterest wasn’t around when I was planning my wedding. Don’t get me wrong–there are lots of benefits to the site and I use it frequently. Yet the amount of pressure that brides put on themselves (and on others) to have the most creative, DIY-infused, original wedding due to what they see on this and other sites is just crushing. Ironically, all that work for originality ends up looking like another “Pinteresting” (one of my hubby’s favorite terms) wedding. In the end it’s very hard to live up to the expectations brides create based on what they see on Pinterest and other sites, so many either fight disappointment or just increase the budget to try to achieve perfection. In reality, many of the things seen on Pinterest are actually “style shoots”–images taken from fake weddings designed to inspire brides to incorporate aspects of the shoot into their weddings. But what we actually see is a kind of perfection we hope to recreate.

So you just got engaged. Take a Pinterest hiatus for a few days or weeks. Sit down with your fiance and pray about your wedding. Ask what he wants, and how much involvement he wants. Talk about the purpose of your wedding. Is it your chance to try for perfection? Is it a day to show off? Is it about you? Or is there more? Do you want big or small, day or night, indoor or outdoor, ring bearer dog or flower cat (please no. never.)?  Pray you will be able to filter out what is not helpful or realistic in the planning process. And pray for the right motives and focus during the process.

2. Whose wedding is it anyway?

Conventional wisdom is that the wedding is for the bride and groom (let’s be honest…the bride) and thus decisions should be made around what they want. It doesn’t take too many wedding planning reality show viewings to realize weddings are a hotbed of familial strife. They truly bring out the worst in just about everyone involved. I have seen typically calm, mild-mannered women turn into something scary over dresses or arguments about who will be the maid of honor. How many times do we hear, “Well it’s my wedding–this only happens once so I want it to be perfect,” or “It’s all about you”? In fact, this is the marketing message of the wedding industry.

People, do not believe this lie. I Corinthians 6:19,20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” While this passage is mainly talking about sexual immorality, the principle applies pretty much everywhere. “You are not your own.” If you have trusted Christ, you have been bought with a price. Yes, your wedding is a day for you and your fiance. But just as every day is a chance to glorify God, how much more is your wedding day?

May your wedding be a chance to proclaim His glory–to one another, to friends and family, believers and nonbelievers. Your wedding can be just about you, or it can be about God’s amazing grace in your lives–the grace that will sustain you throughout your marriage. It can be an opportunity for friends and family to worship you and your awesome DIY centerpieces, or a chance to lead others to the cross, where true worship happens.

3. In light of eternity…

Now don’t think I’m saying you shouldn’t spend time and money on your wedding. Every couple will have a different budget, so I’m not even touching that subject, but there is a certain filter to which we can subject some of these decisions. A friend told me someone had given her a great perspective on wedding planning. Our tendency is to go to extremes–either tons of money and time spent on planning, or we think this is wrong so we should therefore do very little. Yet this friend said it’s an opportunity to plan a worship service–a time to celebrate God for His grace, provision and amazing love. This kind of celebration deserves some time and money, and it’s right to spend what we can budget. This is a good thing.Yet all things come back to the motives of our hearts. I wish I could go back and ask myself, “Am I doing this in humble worship of God, or so others will THINK I’m doing it in humble worship?” Sadly many of my decisions came down to the latter.

So how do you decide how much is too much, or what to spend money and time on? I think the answer is the same no matter what stage of life you’re in. In light of eternity, does this matter? An eternal mindset changes everything. And don’t mistake this for some super-serious, no-fun kind of event. Christians should be having the most fun as we have the most to rejoice in. But if it comes down to deciding between hand-rolling 500 paper flowers or hand-writing letters of encouragement to your attendants, in light of eternity the decision seems much simpler.

4. Don’t force people to make excuses for you

Many times when people close to us get engaged, they go through this weird transformation. Maybe they aren’t exactly Bridezilla, but they are no longer the people we thought we knew. Girls previously devoted to building friendships and making disciples and growing in their faith are now consumed by wedding planning and can talk of nothing else. We quickly say, “Well after the wedding she’ll be back to normal,” or, “Well this is a very stressful time for her.” Because of the increase in commitments and responsibility, other things take a back seat–church involvement, friendships, service opportunities.

I love what my friend Janaye had to say about this: “Doesn’t it seem like when one is preparing for the most mysterious and fantastic picture God has given of our relationship with Him, we should spend more time with Christ, more time with the Church, more time in the Word?” Let this time be characterized by a deepening of relationships, rather than a focus on self. Ask those closest to you to hold you accountable and gently confront you if you start going wedding-crazy, and pray together for the right focus. May God be glorified in and through you!

These are just a few tips–things I wish someone would have told me, (although in truth I’m not sure at the the time that I would have listened). What would you add to this list?