Mum, what are they saying to each other? In good old English, they are pledging their troth to each other. Do they know what they are doing?
They’re exchanging vows and making promises with each other. Here’s to a life-long covenant, broken only at death (of the persons, not of the partnership). But do they really know what they are doing?
I asked a small group of men, who have been married 20 years or more: knowing all that they know now, would they still have made that vow? After a very short silence, they all agreed they would. Yes, that was their finest moment. Never had so much hope, aspiration, goodwill, intention, and heady nonsense climaxed in two lives about to be made one. Never again will they have to rise to such an occasion.
Thornton Wilder, in “The Skin of Our Teeth”, wrote: “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was a promise that made the marriage. And when our children was growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them – it was that promise.”
When you give your word, keep it.
If you don’t, then your word means nothing and whatever you promise doesn’t matter any longer, regardless what number of oaths you swear them by. You stake your entire being, character and personhood behind your word. Your word is your bond. No greater collateral can be given. If you have to, plan to die by it. Is there any amendment to the law, change in the environment, or upset in the world’s economy that can justify one going back on one’s word?
When you give your word, others are eavesdropping.
The vows exchanged at holy matrimony are strictly private, just between the two. But the promises are kept in full view of the public. “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; till death do us part.” You will forsake all others and cleave only to one. Magnificent. What a great undertaking. And the witnesses at the wedding are present to support in every way possible to make good the promises.Whatever the provocation, do not run each other down in public. Let it pass.
When you give your word, your word will be tested.
Problems are not par for the course, they are the course. Joe McKeever further advises us to take heart from the tough and difficult moments in marriage: “The pressures of finances, in-laws, children, relationships and a thousand adjustments all play major roles in developing husbands and wives so that eventually they truly become ‘one flesh’.” Keep your promise by facing trouble together. There is a basic complementariness that brings two such different persons together. Opposites attract and then attach.
When you give your word, God isn’t going to force you to keep it.
You get to choose. It’s free will at work. It is entirely your choice to be true, honourable, humble and excellent. There are moments when you would be justified to retaliate, or say something spiteful, or return tit for tat and make the spiral go hopelessly downward and out of control. But love conquers all. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a World War II cell to a couple about to be married, gave this sterling advice: “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” The vows are the glue. Feelings come and go. People do fall in and out of love (as if they were passive observers!). You promised to be faithful … exclusively.
Finally, vows include many things but they exclude one thing – divorce. Divorce must not remain an option. Or the marriage is never secure.
Go for the truly finest things in life. Promise?
Dr Andrew Goh is the Honorary Editor of IMPACT Magazine