It’s always a joy to share in the celebration of a wedding. The starry-eyed bride, blooming, and radiant, standing beside her dashing groom is a scene I will never grow tired of witnessing. There’s something magical about the day a person commits to marriage, and it’s hard to imagine any other celebration in one’s lifetime dethroning it as queen of all events. Plus, there’s the amount of effort, thoughtful planning, and spending that goes into it that elevates it to a different level of stress and glory.
Last night, however, I got to be a part of a renewal of vows ceremony that represented a much more beautiful truth about God’s design for marriage. Ruth 1:16-17 declares, “…Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Even if the passage was directed towards Ruth’s mother-in-law, it powerfully epitomizes what it means when a couple pledges to one another, “I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”
It’s easy and romantic to profess this at the beginning. But when you’ve been through hell on earth with your spouse (to put it as bluntly as possible), the more intuitive choice seems to be the renouncement of that vow in favor of self-preservation.
Yet there are couples who stay on the harder path, the one that requires them to walk together when feelings of love have withered and hurt has deeply rooted itself within their hearts. Although animosity has killed whatever hope for love they might have clung to, and they can no longer stomach a reason to honor a commitment that has drained and wearied them to utter exhaustion, they do the counterintuitive thing. They keep going even without being able to see, with human eyes, the restoration and redemption they seek. This is the power of faith in God to do the impossible, what the book of Hebrews calls, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Edric and I first met Tye and Elaine (the couple who renewed their vows) at a juncture in their marriage when quitting was the humanly sensible recourse. Theirs was a relationship broken by infidelity and continuing deceit. They sat before us, as part of the breakout group we were accidentally assigned to facilitate during a couples’ retreat, and the despair of disappointment and hurt visibly darkened their countenances. I thought to myself, there’s only one person who can save this relationship and resuscitate it back to life, and that person is Jesus Christ.
I didn’t know how Christ would work His miracle in them. But they came to the conclusion, after the retreat, that He presented an alternative to leaving one another. This was the genesis of a long, arduous two-year climb to rebuild a marriage that onlookers might have regarded as a hopeless case.
It takes one prayerful and relentless person in a marriage who believes that Jesus transforms to turn on the light of hope back on in a marriage. A committed husband or wife who is willing to change, to humble himself or herself for the Lord becomes a channel of God’s forgiveness, love, peace, and joy to awaken the unbelieving spouse from the point of resignation to the point of recognition. Edric and I saw this in Elaine, and eventually we also saw it in Tye.
When a wife or husband consistently manifests Christ-like behavior amidst the turbulence of a troubled marriage, the other begins to wonder whether the person they once fell in love with might still be there…the wife who used to honor, submit to, and prioritize him…the husband who used to patiently understand, care for, and cherish her.
Surely it is as 1 Peter 3:1-2, and 7-9 have iterated it: Wives who are submissive to husbands who don’t deserve such submission (because they are themselves disobedient to the Lord) win their husbands over to Christ by actions that display chaste and respect. Husbands who seek to understand their wives and their weaknesses, as well as honor their wives, receive God’s favor by means of answers to their heartfelt prayers. And if both wives and husbands seek to be harmonious, sympathetic, humble, loving, kind, and refrain from vengeful actions in words or deeds, then they place themselves in a position to inherit blessing from the Lord.
It’s very hard to ignore the grace of Christ in a person’s life, especially in a spouse whom you encounter daily. “Why is my spouse responding so differently? Why is my spouse still here? Why is my spouse choosing to love me and forgive even when I have hurt him or her and continue to do so? How is this possible?!” Questions such as these will naturally pique a spouse’s curiosity and fertilize his or her heart with seeds of the gospel.
The one beautiful truth that Tye and Elaine’s renewal of vow ceremony taught me was that a dead marriage cannot kill the resurrected Christ! He is at work and alive in each person who loves and follows Him, and in each marriage that He is welcomed into.
Our focus on and trust in a limitless God invites His power into our problem and His solution into the impossible circumstances of our lives. This includes our marriages.
Tye and Elaine are now enjoying a grace-filled marriage, where Christ reigns at its center, and their testimony beckons those in broken relationships to hope against hope that theirs can be restored, too. They openly share what they have been through to encourage others.
It has been a privilege for Edric and I to be a part of Tye and Elaine’s journey, to be first-hand witnesses to how God changes people. First, He changes us as individuals, healing us and making us complete in Him, and then He changes the people and circumstances around us in accordance with His will. He specializes in 360 degree healing, not bandaid fixes to the wounds in our lives.
Elaine, in her impromptu renewal of vows speech, made a remark that brought many of us women to tears. “I would not change anything we went through.” For her to pronounce this when two years ago she battled anger and bitterness is a testament to God’s healing!
A wedding day will always be special, but a renewal of vows can be even more meaningful when you say I DO AGAIN to a person whose wretchedness and flaws you have lived with, and vice versa. This is what Tye and Elaine demonstrated last night. This is what we should all do as married couples.
A renewal of vows is coming to that point of understanding what saying yes to marriage really means, what love really means — a commitment to an imperfect person for their highest good, which often requires sacrifice. It is to understand that two imperfect people can return to the honeymoon stage of their marriage and keep rebuilding it daily because of Jesus Christ.
The unique thing about Tye and Elaine’s renewal of vows was that Tye connived with our discipleship group to plan a surprise ceremony for Elaine. I can’t go into how elaborate the plan was and the maneuvering that was involved to hide this secret from Elaine. But the process was priceless for all of the ladies in our couples’ group who banded together to produce a DIY event for Tye and Elaine. Our husbands were pretty game to wear the outfits we asked them to as well.
Dapitan, Dangwa, Kamuning, each other’s household items, time, talents, and lots of prayer…this is what it took to make the event happen.
I was so blessed by the ladies (and the kids) in our discipleship group who tirelessly decorated, baked, coordinated, offered their expertise, and labored to make the evening memorable. God gave us the capacity to function like a professional team of event planners! Everyone was willing to do this for free and to sacrifice because we have supported one another and been there for each other during the highs and lows of our lives. We know what it means to fight for and fight together (with the Lord’s help) for our marriages.
Ambassador Gregory Slayton once said, “You need to surround yourself with battle buddies in life.”
Edric and I are so thankful to the Lord to have several groups of battle buddies whom we meet with for accountability, fellowship, prayer, spiritual feeding, and encouragement.
Last night was a celebration of Christ’ love and goodness in all of our lives, a time to remember that God can revive dead marriages and resurrect them to something even more beautiful than they once were! Our part is to cling to Him and embrace the Ruth 1:16 by saying to our spouses, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay.”