Charlie Shedd once said he found a note on the fridge after a particularly contentious argument with his wife. The note read, “Dear Charlie, I hate you. Love Martha.”
Covenant love forms in us something inexplicably beautiful and paradoxically difficult. I saw something like that recently at a wedding, where some of the guests and wedding party had experienced faithful marriages while others had lives marked by broken marriage covenants. What I witnessed at this wedding was incredibly powerful and healing for those experiencing either or both sides of covenant, the faithfulness and the brokenness.
As a Christian minister, I enjoy officiating weddings, but the part I do not enjoy is writing the weekend into my calendar months in advance, blocking off a weekend that may conflict with something else I want or need to do. When the day comes, however, weddings are always fun or at least interesting in some way. Mothers and fathers of the bride and groom often look like they’ve seen an apparition. The groom is smiling just enough to show he’s happy, but not too much so everyone knows exactly what he’s thinking. But everyone comes to see the bride. As Tim Hawkins says, “The bride could get this done without the groom if need be. No one attends a wedding to see the groom.”
My nephew recently got married. The wedding was to be outside, but another nephew of mine—who just graduated from college and is working as a meteorologist—said flatly, “It’s going to rain.” So one hour before the wedding, chairs were moved inside to the Plan B spot, and as the wedding began, rain poured and continued through the evening as my nephew and his new bride spoke their vows and braided a knot representing each of them and God.
That sets the scene for why I’m writing about my nephew’s wedding. After the traditional father-bride and mother-groom dances, the anniversary dance began. Here’s how it works: everyone who’s married starts dancing. The emcee gradually asks people to exit the floor couple by couple. “If you’ve been married five years or more, keep dancing.” The emcee waits a few measures of the song then says, “If you’ve been married 10 years or more, keep dancing.” This is repeated for 15, 20, 30 years and so on. The couple married longest is last to leave the floor.
At this wedding, the last two couples still dancing were both sets of my nephew’s grandparents. Together, they had more than 100 years of marriage experience. Everyone clapped and laughed as the couples hammed it up, beamed with pride, took bows, and showed the young ones how it’s done. Some teared up to see such sweet tenderness toward spouses in their 70s and 80s. For my nephew and his wife, the most nourishing thing happening in the room was for the souls of that young couple to see 100 years of faithfulness dancing before them.
I wonder how many moments in those 100 years of marriage the two remaining couples did as Emmet Fox said, and “fought out their problems through prayer.” I wonder if those two final couples on the dance floor had ever written or received a note like Charlie Shedd received from his wife. Note or no note, I bet they all experienced the same kind of paradoxical covenant love that occasionally feels like hatred, yet remains faithful and stays on the dance floor.