I wrote out the speech that I gave at Adam and Julie’s wedding.
It is partly addressed to them and partly addressed to the congregation.
Julie and Adam’s Wedding Address
I think I got to know Julie first. She was in one of my wife, Kelli’s, plays. She played a murderous old lady who poisoned men in a sweet and benevolent way. She has always appeared sweet and benevolent to me in real life, though I am not aware of any poisonings as yet. I think Julie laughs easily and seems playful and creative. Adam is ruggedly handsome and very athletic – very fast. I saw him playing flag football once. He also thinks deep thoughts. He searches for truth and sets a sure course when he is certain of the right path. Surely love is just what happens when athletic and handsome meets sweet and cheerful.
A long time ago someone handed me a note which read, “Love is sacrifice. If you are not willing to sacrifice, it is not love.” Love as sacrifice is worth thinking about. We know that Jesus died for us, but I sometimes think of his love as an exception, not the rule. I can think of romantic love as something separate from the love that Jesus showed on the cross.
Sometimes we think of God’s love for us as giving us the best because we deserve it. Even if you go to China, media will continue to tell you that you deserve the best. We sometimes think we are to make a checklist of all the things that a person who wants to know us should be. We make them jump through hoops. We set our high expectations based on some false notion that our list of demands is just. I often see young couples who demand someone be just like them, as if they themselves embody all of God’s infinite qualities and we must measure up. I see older couples who have learned to give themselves up and become more like the person they married. God’s love is so much more than a demand that all my expectations are met.
The media reinforces an incomplete view of love. If we watch movies, read books, or download music, our love is based on a rush of emotion. We love because of the positive feelings in another person’s presence. Love is a meteor that strikes you from heaven and you must follow its leading. If you watch too many romantic comedies you learn that love is a feeling that makes you feel wonderful, valued, and complete. Then the love story and the movie end with marriage. E.M. Forster pointed out that most romantic novels end with a marriage. There is so much more to love than a giddy feeling, a palpitating heart, or a sweaty palm. Love does not end at marriage. God’s love is more than this.
What is God’s love? Some say that Kierkegaard thought of love and loneliness as one in the same. Does God ache to be with us to save himself from being alone? In Nick Hornsby’s book High Fidelity Laura finally resigns herself to life with Rob Fleming because life alone is too exhausting. I know couples who resign themselves to inertia. They keep doing life together because life apart would be too dull or even horrific to imagine. Love for some is endurance. However, God is Trinity. He always has himself. God did not create people to give himself someone to snuggle up with and share a cocoa on a long winter night. Although moments like that can be beautiful in their familiar warmth, God’s love is more than this.
Some marriages revolve around fear. The hand that protects is also the hand that bruises. In A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini the family holds together because of fear. The husband, Rashid, does not have things the way that he wants so he complains about dinner, he degrades his wife, he beats her. God’s way is different. There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out all fear. Fear has to do with punishment. There is no fear of punishment for God’s children. God’s love is more than this.
In 1 John 4 we know that God the Father loves His Son. However, God the Father gave up that Son so that he could rescue us. When we think of Jesus’ death we sometimes focus on God’s anger against sin. Jesus bore in his body the just punishment that we deserve. Sometimes we imagine God smiling with approval as his Son endures such agony. However, I believe God the Father endured the death of his Son because it was just. But God the Father suffered. God the father sacrificed. This is the love of 1 John 4.9. God is love.
It would not be love if God did not give up something that he cared about. It would not be love if God had given something trivial for us. For the greatest of rescues God made the greatest of sacrifices. God gave His Son; His Son whom he loves, with whom he is well pleased.
1 John 4:7-16 turns to us and asks us to have the same attitude. Verse eleven says, “Dear friends, since God first loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We need to always remember that the love of a faithful Christian husband and wife always reflects the love of God. If we see clearly how the father agonized in handing his Son over to satisfy justice for us, we will endure pain for our spouse. It is not hard to endure the easy times where the heart pounds at a touch. It is not hard to endure the easy times when the blood boils with passion and a desire to be close. At some point, though, God will give us opportunity to suffer. If we see suffering as having a purpose, suffering can be a fertile soil. In times of suffering we can grow closer to each other and closer to God.
Going to China straight after you are married will compound the changes in your life. There will be culture shock and spouse shock all wrapped into one experience. Little habits that seemed so cute when you could leave them at the end of the day are going to seem a little less cute sometimes. The tensions that come from living in difficult circumstances under constant scrutiny can be opportunity for growth. We grow closer to God when marriage is difficult because we realize that he has resources we do not have. There is wisdom that God possesses that we do not possess. I do not say this lightly.
God’s love is an active thing. You will need strength to keep going on some days when all of your resources are spent. God has more resources than we give him credit for. However, sometimes we have to be patient to find them. Our character develops and we become wiser. Marriage can do that for you.
God’s love is active in us through his Spirit. Even though you will be far from your family; Even though most of your friends will be home here in the USA; we have the Holy Spirit and he has given us Skype. Seriously, though, the Holy Spirit connects all the people of God in a special way. The same Spirit will be at work in you in China and at work in us in the USA. That connection of spiritual family can not be broken. You will find others in China who understand God’s love because God’s Spirit works in them.
God’s love sacrifices. As we reflect God’s love we also sacrifice for each other. One example would be learning each other’s love languages and using them to communicate. Gary Chapman (?) says that there are five. Each person is communicated to through their own way. My wife likes me to try all five. You may have to communicate your love in ways that don’t come naturally to you, but your love is for the other person. As you learn to communicate you will both grow.
Men tend to think big about sacrificing. We like to think heroic thoughts about someone trying to kill our family and we leap out and take the imagined bullet and save the day. However, husbands get testy about helping around the house during Monday Night Football. Men get frustrated at shopping for new furnishings or clothes. Dave, a friend of mine once said, that it was amazing how he could walk for miles without needing a break if it was in the wilderness backpacking. However, it never ceased to amaze him how his energy left him so quickly walking around a mall. My dad used to just turn to my mother after the second shop and say, “There has been a bomb scare, everyone has to leave the mall.” You may get to make the big sacrifice for Julie some day. However, practice with the small sacrifices and do the dishes.
Sometimes women care so much that they can sacrifice without feeling appreciated or noticed. An awareness of God reminds us who we are serving. If Adam loses the power of speech or for some other reason ceases to show gratitude, remember whom you serve. Acts of selfless sacrifice can melt the coldest heart, it is true. However, as acts of service to God sacrifice always builds into our lives.
I think that you have thought long and hard about the focus of your lives together. I have had the privilege of hearing you both talk. You both seek God hard and want to know his truth. However, your choice of Hab. 3:17-18 was very revealing. Circumstances do not affect Habakkuk and his spiritual life. Habakkuk saw Israel’s destruction. The lack of produce and livestock in Israel, however, did not take away his own sense of responsibility. He knew that in spite of his circumstances he could still choose to praise God.
You do not know what China will bring for you. I hope and I pray that it will be a happy time of wonderful conversations, fascinating adventures in the cities, and breathtaking journeys through the countryside. However, we know that life is what happens to us when we are busy making other plans. You can not control your circumstances. You can not control your spouse. However, you can decide your own focus. The keys to a successful marriage would be to embrace sacrifice and love unconditionally as John teaches us; and also to rejoice in the LORD and be joyful in the circumstances no matter what they are.
May God grant you both the wisdom to discern what his will for you both is. May God grant you the strength to pursue his will. May God give you the faithful love to endure and finish the race as you begin to run it today: together.