By Candice Watters
To an engaged woman, the wedding is the biggest, most expectation-laden event of her life. It holds the promise of unrivaled delights, as well as more peril than she’s ever feared. OK, maybe I’m overstating it a bit. Maybe.
A wedding can seem that all-consuming, all-important to someone anticipating it. But in hindsight, it’s more easily recognized for what it really is: a wonderful celebration, but certainly not the pinnacle of the relationship. It’s just the beginning.
This is a great opportunity for self-sacrifice, servanthood and demonstrating the fruit of the Holy Spirit. At the risk of sounding trite, I’ll say what you’ve likely heard before: The more you keep your wedding in perspective, the better prepared you’ll be for what comes after that grand event: the marriage.
Planning the wedding is a good test of your willingness and ability to become one. Will you work together to meet challenges of parents who are pressing you to invite 200 guests instead of your closest 50 friends and relatives? Are you capable of working as a team, even when relatives are expecting a traditional sit-down dinner at your expense? Should you extend your engagement in order to save up more money? What if you’re committed to moral purity and avoiding debt? How will you follow your fiancée’s lead when he says you should trust in God for provision? Are you willing to respectfully leave your parents and their expectations and demands, in order to cleave to one another?
There’s a lot at stake. Now for some practical, on-the-ground help. Good news: honoring your parents while following your fiancé’s lead and sticking to a budget are not mutually exclusive. There are some things you can change, as well as some things you shouldn’t.
If you say you don’t want to delay the wedding in order to save more money because you’re committed to purity, Bravo! I’m cheering! Short engagements are an excellent aid to the morality of bride and groom. I believe that in most cases, this is one non-negotiable. The other is the desire to avoid taking on debt. Given that money troubles, disagreements, and stress over debt are among the top reasons couples divorce, everything you do up front to be financially one, and fiscally sound, will go toward the health of your relationship.
If you don’t change the date and you don’t enlarge your budget, can you still honor your parents and meet everyone’s expectations? Honor, yes. Expectations, no.
Consider what it means to honor your parents. In a column on his Moore to the Point blog, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote about what the Bible requires:
The command to honor father and mother never ends. It is part of the holy will of God, and is applicable to every person, regardless of age. When you’re ninety, you’ll still have an obligation to honor your parents, even if only in memory and in speech. The way one honors one’s parents changes, though, throughout the span of life. Jesus lived this life before you. His honoring of his father Joseph and his blessed mother Mary was of obedience in all things in childhood (Luke 2:51), of listening to pleas for help in adulthood (John 2:1-5), and of caring for weakness at the end of life (John 19:26-27). All of this was an honoring of father and mother.
He talks about the difference between Ephesians 6 obedience required of children, and Exodus 20 honor that finds us being responsible for making our own decisions. Now that you’re at a place where you’re moving from your father’s home into your husband’s and where, presumably, you’ll be economically independent of your parents, it’s time for you to embrace adulthood.
Moore writes that “in Scripture, maturity is less a chronological or biological matter than an economic one.” He equates that maturity with your ability “to establish a household, a household for which you are responsible. The creation pattern is that a man is equipped to provide for his household (Gen. 2:15). He then ‘leaves father and mother’ as he cleaves to his wife and forms (within the larger tribe) a new household (Gen. 2:24).”
This, of course, is the point of your wedding. The challenge is honorably helping your parents see the transition for what it is — your move from their child who obeys them, to their daughter who is married, and allied with another. You might appeal to their faith, reminding them that you’re preparing to take vows to that end.
This brings us to your need to act with your fiancé. The two of you need to be of one mind.
Here are some ideas you might talk through:
Have a big celebration and a small one.
When we went to our friends Brad and Kelli’s wedding, the church ceremony and cake reception immediately following in the church basement was very large. Everyone they knew and loved was invited. But it was a much smaller group that received invitations to the sit-down dinner later that day. The after-after party was more expensive, and necessarily, smaller.
Don’t ask to borrow money. And if people offer to give it, accept without strings.
When my sister got married, my dad said he’d pay for the wedding. After a few months of arguing over details of what things cost—and competing ideas about what things were worth—he knew something needed to change for the sake of their relationship.
He figured out how much he was willing to spend, the total dollar amount, told my sister and her fiancé that that was their budget, made the deposit into her bank account, and said that was as much as he could give. They were free to make all the decisions, just the two of them. And they knew if they went over, they’d have to fund the difference. And he knew he’d done his part and could just enjoy the celebration.
Change the menu.
In her witty, funny and eminently practical guide, Miss Manners on Weddings, Judith Martin talks about all the many perils and politics of trying to please so many people, including yourself, at such an important event. It’s a huge challenge. She says, though, that the emphasis should be the celebration, not the menu. Number three on her opening checklist for brides reads,
Do not worry about how many guests you can invite and still afford to serve your dream menu. The proper formula is to count up the relatives and friends first, and then figure out what you can afford to serve to that number of people.
If you need to invite more people but can’t afford to feed them all a sit down dinner, then scale back and serve only crudités and/or just cake. It’s better to exclude courses than people.
In short, my advice is to decide with your fiancé what you can manage and how you will proceed and then follow his lead. Some of your decisions may make your parents unhappy. But thankfully, their happiness is not your responsibility. You are called to honor them, and you should do this — it will make any unhappiness more bearable. But you are not called to meet all of their (or anyone else’s) expectations.
Remember, the most important thing about your wedding—the vows you and your fiancé will take before God, and your community of family, friends and believers—is the part that costs nothing at all.
Candice Watters created Boundless.org with her husband Steve Watters in 1998. She is the author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen and co-author with Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. They blog at FamilyMaking.com about the link between getting married, having babies and growing in Christlikeness—drawing on 16 years of marriage and their experiences as they raise their four children.
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