Advising college students allows glimpses into their romances. Elaborate marriage proposals are trending. One Howard Payne University student placed his grandmother’s engagement ring on his fiancée’s finger in the same location on campus where his grandfather sought his grandmother’s hand. Eddie popped Cassidy’s question in an empty McLane Stadium.John chose a hot air balloon ride for Carly. Jeff arranged a school bus, since he first asked Joanna out as the band headed toward a football game. Our son Michael enlisted Jennifer’s pre-K class to help. Those “Yes” answers move families into planning mode finding the perfect venue, caterer and photographer.
At a recent shower, someone asked, “Do you prefer the wedding or the reception?” My response, “The ceremony.” The Bible says, “A man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife” (Genesis 2:24). The handsome groom stands stiffly beside the minister. At last, all eyes turn where his already gaze. The radiant bride smiles only at him. They have chosen each other. The two sign a legal contract and create a new family. For Christians, marriage involves much, much more—a covenant. The bride and groom believe God has chosen each for the other. Thus, they solemnly pledge before the heavenly Father and supportive witnesses to steadfast, unconditional love and faithfulness.
Over the last several months, John and I attended four weddings as God created four new families in four Texas churches. At each, the minister asked those already married to renew their vows as Katy and Blake, Hayley and Cameron, Emily and Hunter, and Ashley and Derek made their promises. John and I clasped hands as we did December 22, 1973, in Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library. We also remembered our three children’s weddings—Jennifer’s and Michael’s vows spoken beneath beautiful stained glass, Evie’s and Marshall’s with her pastor-father officiating, and Holly’s and Kevin’s at camp in view of a cross.
Instead of asking “Who gives this bride?” Ashley’s long-time pastor indicated her father represented both families and requested they bless the marriage. Their parents responded. At the ceremony’s close, the pastor didn’t tell Derek to kiss his bride. He invited the two to seal their vows with a kiss. I have little doubt these covenant-sealed marriages will last.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, many couples put more thought into the proposal and that one day than into the years to follow. Finances, job pressures, busyness, family stress and a new phenomenon called phubbing (snubbing by choosing the phone instead of paying attention to the other person) create situations that undermine families.
Not only do we face these issues, but the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriages adds new challenges. What should we do? Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission offers help for churches and ministers at http://texasbaptists.org/ministries/clc/ethics-justice/christianity-same-sex-marriage. We can expand some recommendations to strengthen marriages and families.
- Adopt or update the church’s constitution and bylaws to include marriage.
- Establish facilities use policies for weddings.
- Require substantive premarital counseling or marriage preparation courses in the wedding policy.
- Ensure that members, including youth, understand biblical beliefs about marriage and its importance.
But living happily ever after extends beyond the wedding. A friend recently described watching a mom, dad and two young children at a sit-down restaurant. Phone to one ear, the mother stopped only to correct the children.Dad never looked up. My friend gave him “a free pass” for work-related texting until she realized he was playing a game. In describing the profile of mass shooters, a psychologist interviewed on a news program after the Oregon murders cited lack of connection. He specifically discussed not eating together and not providing attention while in the same room.
As one pastor-father said at his daughter’s wedding, “God is all about family. He sent his Son so we could become part of his family.” Christians and churches can encourage behavior that strengthens families.
- Ask volunteers not to use cell phones while teaching preschoolers, children and youth.
- Request that individuals put phones away during fellowship suppers. Some make a game with fun penalties for retrieving a phone.
- Encouragefamilies to enjoy regular meals together, even fast food, without electronics. Provide starter questions to spark conversation.
- Offer ideas for family togetherness including everything from mission opportunities to shooting hoops or playing baseball to enjoying a sunrise picnic to choosing and singing a family hymn.
Every marriage and every family won’t “live happily ever after” every day. But we can wrap them in the arms of the church and strengthen them as they prepare for the hereafter.
Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.