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The Used Wedding Dress

June 2, 2013

The following advertisement appeared in the classified section of a small town newspaper:

FOR SALE: Wedding dress, size 6, used once, by mistake.

            The personal heartache behind the ad can only be a matter of conjecture.  Apparently the owner of the dress considered the marriage ill-fated from the beginning.  We can only imagine her discomfort on her wedding day, hoping against hope that flaws in her new relationship would somehow be erased by love.  The one-line advertisement reveals a tragic story, too often repeated.

June is the traditional month for weddings. Several years ago I officiated at nine weddings during the month of June.

Preparing for a typical wedding can create a whirlwind of activity: invitations to order and address; churches to reserve months ahead of time;  china, crystal, and silver patterns to register; wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses to select and sometimes alter; groomsmen to fit for rental tuxedoes; flowers, wedding cakes, and reception food to plan; clergy, musicians, and wedding directors to secure for the ceremony; and finally celebrations that precede the event, like bridal showers, to schedule. All of this preparation is made for a wedding ceremony that will last less than an hour.

Planning a wedding requires an inordinate amount of time.  The expenditure of time, however, pales in comparison to the financial requirements for even a moderate-size wedding.  Weddings are expensive.  Several years ago, at a wedding reception, the father of the bride passed out to his friends small cards that read,

Hello.  I am the father of the Bride.

You probably haven’t noticed me since

Early in the wedding service.

But I can assure you that

Three bankers, a florist, and a caterer

Are watching me very closely.

            The parents of brides have made financial sacrifices for daughters and their special day. If so much time and money are spent on a single wedding day, doesn’t it stand to reason that the couple should devote some time and energy to planning their lifetime together?

            A college student wrote, “How can I know that I am really in love?” Based on the wisdom of the Bible, we must make distinctions between falling in love and being in love, between experiencing love as a feeling and understanding love as a decision, between being infatuated by immature love and knowing the joy of mature love.

            At least eight areas of the marital relationship might be called the common crisis points of marriage.

            The issues of time and money call for the establishment of priorities. The sexual relationship in marriage can be a source of affirmation and joy or an experience of hurt and sorrow. Marriage brings new people into our lives, especially children and in-laws. Expectations regarding religion, roles, and space require adjustments and compromise.

            My experience is that three essentials in a healthy marriage enable a couple to cope with almost any difficulty that arises. While these are principles, they must also become practices.

Communication is the cardio-vascular system of marriage. Commitment is the muscular-skeletal system. Communion is the respiratory system. Marital health requires that these systems function properly and in concert with each other.

Marriages where these become standard operating procedure will fare far better than those in which these practices are not adopted.

In forty-seven years of pastoral ministry, I have offered premarital counseling to hundreds of couples. As a pastoral counselor, I have also met with hundreds of weeping, heartbroken men and women whose marriages were falling apart from neglect or abuse. I am convinced that couples should spend more time and effort in preparing for the marriage relationship, which is the building block of the family and of civilization.

As you are busily preparing for your wedding, please do not neglect to prepare for your marriage.

Early in my ministry, I was asked to conduct a wedding for a young couple.  The bride, Jill, was a member of the church I served at the time.  She had met her fiancé during her senior year in college.  The engagement was announced at Christmastime.  The wedding was to take place in late June.

I have always required that couples meet with me for premarital counseling. Yet I could not get this particular couple to schedule and keep an appointment.  Finally, three weeks before the wedding they came to my office.

I immediately sensed that something was wrong.  I talked with them together for a few moments and then asked for a few moments alone with Jill.

Privately, I asked the bride-to-be, “Jill, you’re not ready to get married, are you?”

She began to weep softly, “Thank you for saying that.”

“Why are you planning a wedding?”

“My parents have already done so much.  Our dining room is filled with wedding gifts.”

I suggested it was time to have a heart-to-heart talk with her parents and her fiancé.

His response surprised her. “I knew something was wrong.  You just haven’t been excited.”

Jill’s parents were stunned but agreed that she had seemingly lost interest in her own wedding.  They hastily sent out a retraction of the wedding invitation.  The couple returned all of the wedding gifts, many of them in person.  Time after time friends and family affirmed their decision with words like, “Better to break it off before the wedding than after.”

            A month or two after the original wedding date had passed, the engagement was broken, and the two parted ways.  Within a year he was married to another woman.  Two years later Jill came to me again.  She asked me a second time to conduct her wedding; this time the groom was the love of her life.  He was to have been the best man in the wedding that she had canceled two years earlier.

I asked Jill if she would wear the same dress made for her previously scheduled wedding.

            “No way!” she said.  “I have a new dress.  I sold the other one.  It was as good as new for somebody else.  I would have felt like I was getting married in a used wedding dress.”

Maybe used, but not by mistake.

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