I've attended a lot of weddings in the past year (and the save the date postcards for this summer are already being tacked up on the fridge) because this is what it looks like to be a twenty-something with an evangelical background and a lot of beautiful friends. I like having the opportunity to see my peers in a fuller context of their life stories, better able to understand them as reflected by their choices in ceremony and traditions and innovations, surrounded by their families and their best friends, the ones who know them most intimately. I also like wedding food. And obviously, I dig commitment. As Rob Bell recently said, the world needs more fidelity.
But here's something I've noticed, as a participant in all these parties celebrating love and commitment: during the toasts, nearly every parent makes a comment along the lines of, "We're so grateful for ______ to be joining our family, because we've been praying for the person our son/daughter would marry since they were born and see this person as an answer to those prayers!" And everyone sighs appreciatively.
Hmmm. Can we chat?
While I do not intend to be a parent for many, many moons, I do plan to pray for my babies if and when I have them. (I expect a control freak like me will have many lessons to learn about prayer and meditation when my every instinct is to shield and protect the precious cargo that is mine).
However, I will not be praying for the person he or she will marry someday. Why, you ask? Because I will not make the assumption that my child(ren), whoever they might be, will get married. Because marriage is not the ultimate goal in life. Because God calls us to different things, and the best prayer I can think for a parent to offer on behalf of their child is that God's kingdom would come as fully as possible in that child's life, in whatever form that might take. (It's an absolutely terrifying thing to pray for anyone, and I usually say the words through gritted teeth).
Here's a little snippet from the sermon at our wedding, as written by our dear friend Bob:
"For most of our lives, we’ve been told a story that goes something like this: the highest goal of our lives is to find the romantic partner who will complete us and satisfy all the longings of our soul. There are even Christian pastors who have told us that this is not just our own desire, but it’s God’s dream for us too. But this message starts to sound strangely counterfeit when you compare it with the teachings of Jesus, or even of Saint Paul – the two primary founders of the Christian faith. Neither of these men were married, and yet we look to them as the model of a right and whole life...When some of the religious leaders asked Jesus a question about the eternal significance of marriage, he responded with a shocking answer. He said 'You are wrong, because you do not understand scripture or the power of God.' He went on to explain that in God’s final plan for humanity, when we are raised from the dead and perfectly healed on that coming day, there will be no more marriage – because we will be transformed and complete.
In the vision of Jesus, marriage was a holy thing, but it wasn’t the highest goal of life. It doesn’t make us complete. But rather, it has the potential to serve us well as we pursue a reality that is even more beautiful.
Now compare this to America in the year 2013, when every teenage love song agrees with every music video on TV and every blockbuster movie, and even some churches join in the chorus, all of them chanting together: find your true love, and you will be satisfied..."
So yes, I squirm a bit when I hear parents make these sort of toasts, revealing their own (likely well-meaning) assumptions that marriage is the inevitable end for all children. I believe, whole-heartedly, that these comments are made with the best of intentions. I admire parents who pray faithfully for their children. I hope to be one, too. But parents should perhaps try and think a little more critically about any false assumptions or expectations placed on their children that don't reflect the radical nature of Jesus' call. We must hold our dreams with loose fingers.
A few months ago, standing in front of our friends and family, Bob told Chris and I, "Your mission in marriage is no different than the mission of all followers of Jesus. Your purpose is to begin to make the future visible right now."
I am grateful for my marriage, yes, and I see it as a way to practice bringing the kingdom of God in my small corner of the world. But I do not see the specifics of my calling as higher than that of my single friends, and I will not presume to know to the specifics of the adventures and endeavors God will intend for my child(ren). I will pray for them to be well-equipped and loved, wise in dealing with whatever their journey involves: school, tests, illness, friends, doubt, fear, friendship, risk, work, marriage, travel, children. Mostly, what I ask for myself, and for my someday-offspring, is that we will be there amongst the people working to bring hope and forgiveness and service to a wounded world.