I married four people this summer. Shocking, isn’t it? That statement often confuses folks who don’t realize that in addition to my work as the executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, I am also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. So when I say that I “married four people” what I really mean is that I performed two weddings this summer.
It is rare these days for me to celebrate a wedding. I don’t pastor a local church and, frankly, my work at the CCWRC means I don’t have much time to work with couples headed toward marriage. But two weddings in a month’s time created the opportunity for some reflection, and I found myself looking forward to participating in each ceremony. As I thought about the services, as I prepared my remarks and the liturgy for each wedding, it occurred to me that in addition to the joy they brought to the bride and groom, these weddings were also an unexpected gift to me.
Although I do not often work directly with clients at the CCWRC, I am always aware of the ways in which those who are supposed to love and cherish their life partners frequently do just the opposite. Living with the reality of domestic violence, violence which sometimes escalates to murder, is part of this work. I am always amazed at the compassion and dedication of the staff who listen day after day to stories of unimaginable violence — and come back to work the next day to do it all again.
Each one of them finds individual ways to cope with the potential for hopelessness and despair. They find strength in the support of their colleagues and courage in the resilience of our clients. And they have their own personal strategies for the self-care so critical to working with victims of violence.
What I realized this summer is that for me, weddings are part of that. For me, weddings are the antidote to despair.
While it is certainly true that people get married for a variety of reasons, sometimes out of desperation or the need to find another to meet every need, all weddings are, by their very nature, hopeful. Weddings focus our attention on the potential of the future, the hope that we can become the people we want to be.
In a wedding, two people not only make promises to each other, but those promises are made in front of witnesses and, in many faith traditions, those witnesses make their own promises to the couple. The very language of a marriage ceremony proclaims what healthy relationships should be — caring, faithful and grounded in mutuality. Most marriage ceremonies include not only the promises of the couple to love each other, but perhaps more importantly, each partner publicly declares his/her intention to live in a way that shows that love concretely — even when the partners don’t feel particularly loving.
Make no mistake; I understand the reality of the world we live in and the potential for disaster in intimate relationships. Nevertheless, I am thankful that I was able to celebrate with two couples this summer who were willing to take the leap of faith into marriage and who allowed me to join them in their hope for the future. It reminds me that healthy relationships are possible.