We’re drawn, all of us are drawn, to weddings. Why? The most obvious reason is that we love a love story. Another reason, though, is that we’re drawn to a picture of completion. Of a union that is complete and not temporary like what we experience here and now. We come to witness a new creation.
Let’s draw a distinction between two kinds of love, or two ways of looking at love. One is a feeling of overwhelming magic. It’s wonderful and exciting and good, but the truth is, that it fades. Two is a deeper and richer and better love, which replaces the temporary insanity. You will grow together, seeing — so to speak — through the same set of eyes; a relationship built on mutual respect and easy companionship. Disagreements come and go, but not perpetual warring, because you’re on the same team.
Because there are two ways of looking at a love like yours, there’s a potential for confusion, and I caution you to guard against it. There’s this prevalent idea in the culture, a misguided idea that there is this one and only soul mate out there somewhere for me; there’s love at first sight; and the worst idea, I think, that we “fall in love.”
Let me borrow from a writer I admire, I’ll tell you who it is in a minute. About this swept-away feeling of being at one with your soul-mate, he wrote:
“In such great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world.”
The catch is that we don’t live in an unfallen world. We live in an upside-down world, a pale reflection of the world meant for us. And on some level we’re aware of that. It’s why we are drawn to the symbol of unity that is marriage. We have a hope, that the day will come when our unfulfilled passion becomes fulfilled. There will be a great wedding feast. There will be communion, when we are reconciled to God Himself. Today is not that day, but today we can have a glimpse, a precursor, an inkling of an idea of that grand fulfillment. This is why we’re drawn to weddings. Especially the wedding of a couple we love and care for and pray for.
But in this present age, we should be cautious about misunderstanding what real love is. Think about that idea of falling in love. It’s passive. As if it were something that just happens to us; we have no say in it. Oops, I fell into a mud puddle. Oops, I fell in love. The problem is that if falling in love just happens to you, then falling out of love can just happen to you, too. But that doesn’t describe real love, does it? That idea — of “falling in love” — is useful shorthand, but it’s misleading. Love is what you do, it’s not something that just happens to you.
Likewise with this idea that the person I marry will be my “soul mate.” Well, yes, you can become soul mates, but only after you earn it. You earn it through long years of caring for one another. But that’s not how people usually mean it. Think about it. What happens when you have an argument? Do you say “oh no, he or she isn’t my soul mate after all. My soul mate is still out there!” This “soul mate” idea is false, too.
This author I mentioned went on say that it’s a mistake to be carried away with the limited, magical idea of romantic love. Writing to his son he said that this idea of romantic love:
“began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake . . . It takes . . the young man’s eye off women as they are – companions in shipwreck, not guiding stars.”
“Companions in shipwreck” is what each of you are to the other. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote this. He knew something of real love. He and his wife were together from their teens until her death at age 82. He ws the author of Lord of the Rings, among many other things. So he also knows something of this sense that marriage is a small picture of something much greater beyond. Nothing less than Christ joining His church. The ultimate fulfillment of our yearning.
Remember that you, too, are companions in shipwreck, and not each other’s guiding stars. Go easy on one another. Be kind. Understanding. When that ecstatic feeling of yearning wears down, you see that you’re joined to someone who is just another human being, with his own and her own failings and tremblings and desires and aspirations and disappointments and triumphs. Just like you. So bear with one another. Forbear. “Forbearance” is a legal word. It means that you have certain rights, but you lay them aside for reasons more important than their legal vindication. You should keep no record of wrongs, as the Bible says. That just means you don’t store up ammo to use against each other. When you lay your rights aside, you lay them aside forever.
Let me say one more thing about this feeling of yearning that I have referred to. Even in marriage, all your yearnings will not be fully answered. Remember that marriage is also a model for something else – not just union with another person, but communion with God.
So today we celebrate. We celebrate that feeling of oneness. But we do so with a sober knowledge that the ultimate oneness is found in God alone. God is the author of that yearning we all feel; that synapse across which our emotions seek connection. He authors it to drive us to Him.