What Did You Mean When You Said, “I Do”?

Weddings are some of the most stress filled experiences in life. Everybody is uptight. The mothers who want everything to be perfect. The bride who is so nervous that things may not go perfectly. The people who may be kinfolk or just observers who wonder why is she marrying him or why is he marrying her or why are they getting married. The photographer who is trying to corral all the various groups in order to get the perfect picture so that he might have a perfect payday. The musicians who are concerned about their part in the program. The minister, who if he’s never done a wedding before is scared to death that the wheels will come off. Or the minister, if he is very experienced about weddings knows more than likely some of the wheels are going to come off. He just doesn’t know which ones. Everybody’s a little tense but after all the planning and preparations and all the cake being delivered and the pictures taken, the wedding will take place and move toward that moment when the heart of the event is before us. Somewhere in the wedding ceremony a man and a woman are confronted with the incredible commitment in love of one life to another to share the journey through the rest of their days.

Sometimes the commitments are repeated after the minister gives them phrases and at other times the minister might make a long promissory statement followed by, “Do you so promise?” The answer given is, “I do.” There are times when a minister may do both of those things and even more. But if you, before God and those witnesses present, say “I do,” what did you mean? If truth be known, very few people even remember the whirlwind experience of that day, much less thinking very deeply about saying I do and what the meaning of it is. If you are in the process of preparing to say I do, let me make some suggestions of what you are about to say and what it means. Or, for those of you who have already said it and maybe didn’t think about it or have forgotten, may I remind you.

For one thing you are declaring that your love is unalterable. The stability of a relationship and the strength of a society are built on the fact that there are some things and some people who are trustworthy and when they tell you something they will do it. Saying “I do love you” does not have a long string of caveats and disclaimers. I love you until you do something that I don’t agree with, or I love you until you don’t appear to be as beautiful as you were on your wedding day, or I love you until I discover that you are not as smart, gifted, and funny as I thought you were. No. I love you until death do us part and my love will not change with the seasons of the year or the seasons of life.

Secondly, when you say “I do” it is a commitment to another person that is unwavering. In sickness and in health, in poverty as in wealth, whatever is happening, mark it down; I will be there with you. What an amazing thing it is to see a couple that loves each other and makes that kind of commitment, and regardless of what they face – the ravages of war, a debilitating illness, an accident that changed the personality, or a heartbreak that altered both persons – they reach out and sustain one another in the lowest valleys and smile with each other on the highest mountaintops. Does that ever take place these days? Absolutely.

Years ago during the Vietnam conflict a chaplain who happened to be serving at a hospital at the time here in the States, a place where men were being brought all the way from Southeast Asia to try to rehab and for their bodies to be at least partially put back together, told of two different accounts. One, a man whose war wounds were obviously never going to be fully restored to health, but early one morning, before all the hospital activity actually got underway, a young woman made her way into the bay where a number of hospital beds were, and quietly she walked over to the one where her husband was asleep, probably under slight sedation for his problems. Quietly, she slipped off her wedding ring and laid it beside his pillow and she left. Now the future for him was to be alone. The restoration that he sought would be helped along by hospital personnel but not by an encouraging companion. When he would awake, any dreams that remained in his life would be shattered.

By contrast, that same chaplain told of a man who had been brought there from the battlefields wounded and hurting. And though she lived many miles away, his companion came and found a way to stay near the hospital day after day. Each morning she would arrive to see what small thing she might be able to do to help with breakfast or preparing him to go for rehab or surgery and day after day incremental progress was made. Sure, there were days that there were setbacks but even those days were turned into hopeful views of tomorrow and the day came when, though not fully restored, she helped him walk out of the hospital and together they walked back into the journey of life.

One last thing that is implied when you say I do, though seldom talked about, is that your love and commitment is unconditional. We live in a world that people are constantly confronted with everything about them is conditional. You can keep your job if you do this. I understand. You can get a good grade in school if you do this. I understand that. You can succeed in athletics if you do this. Gotcha. But somewhere in life there are a few places where there is a commitment that is so deep, so meaningful, so strong, that it overcomes any of the conditions that might be placed on it. You may say to me, “That’s unrealistic.” And I would say you may be right in that, the only place that you can find that kind of standard and expression that would even be a standard for you to look at is in a relationship with the living God who loves you. He loves you in spite of the fact that He knows every thought that you ever had, every wrongdoing that you ever did, every thing you ever said, every place you’ve ever been, every sin in your life, and He says to you and me, I love you. He provided for our sins to be forgiven. Nailed them to the cross on His Son, Jesus, and He says I love you. Now when a child of God comes into a marriage relationship with another child of God and they say to each other I love you, not I love you because or I love you when you or if you are, I just love you and my love will be unconditional.

That example set by Jesus to us is the example that we are to set to each other. When that is lived out even on the days when there are setbacks and even on the days when you fail your partner or fail yourself. On the days when you see the highest standard as the finest thing in life you will find that this actually works and makes a difference in you and in the person with whom you share life. What did you mean when you said, “I do”? There are even more realities to it but just to come to an understanding of a few of them and a re-freshening of our relationship with the Lord and each other can make a difference that will change the landscape of life every day.

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer