Keep it Cheap, Simple
In an excellent post advocating cheap weddings, Mollie Hemingway makes an observation about her own wedding, “I wish I would have pushed more for my initial wedding plan, which was to just get married at the end of our normal Sunday morning worship service and then invite everyone over for tacos, margs and a mariachi band at a nearby park. Admit it, that sounds awesome, right? Totally should have done that.”
We’ve posted quite a lot about marriage on Think, but I don’t think we’ve ever addressed the actual process of a wedding day. When Grace and I do marriage prep with young couples we try to address these practical issues. Truth is, it often feels that the cultural expectations of what a wedding should look like are so overwhelmingly strong that we are swimming against an irresistible tide. So, inspired by Hemingway, but without much expectation of this making the slightest difference to anyone’s wedding plans (!), I thought I’d write a letter of advice to an imaginary couple, just engaged, and planning for the big day.
Dear Him and Her
I’m so excited for you both in this great decision you’ve made to get married. You know I’m an advocate of marriage! What all Christians eagerly await is marriage – a marriage that will catch us all up in Christ, regardless of whether in this life we ever marry or not. As those who will marry in this life, my prayer for you is that your marriage may in some way mirror the love Christ has for his church. In fact, that is the chief reason why I am an advocate for marriage – because of what it is meant to prophetically demonstrate about what will one day be the experience of all God’s people: a covenant relationship that is faithful, fruitful and sacrificial.
I’d love to talk the theology of marriage more with you sometime, but you asked me for practical advice about the wedding day itself, so here goes.
Firstly, it is of course the theology of marriage that is more important than the events of the wedding day! Your entering a covenant together, with all the concomitant impact of that on the wider community, and the children you will hopefully one day have, is the really significant thing that will be represented when you make your promises and exchange your rings. And this is why it is that moment of exchanging promises and rings that is the single most important part of a wedding day. Get that right and everything else is just icing on the cake!
The trouble is, at so many weddings it can feel as though it is the vows that are an optional extra, rather than all the other stuff. So my advice would be to keep the main thing the main thing, and try to keep all the other stuff in perspective.
Weddings tend to be incredibly expensive – and one of the reasons I’ve often heard couples give as to why they are not married is because they cannot afford it. This is both a very worldly way of thinking and demonstrates a terrible lack of imagination.
Let me tell you a secret – it’s the kind of secret that if spoken out loud tends to cause great offence, but I think I can trust you with my secrets! Here it is: Weddings can be quite boring. Now, of course, every wedding is a celebration, and I like celebrating them, but once you get to my age you have been to a lot of weddings, and the routine of the celebrations tends to get predictable.
I’d like to challenge you to take the risk of daring to think differently about how you do your wedding. Why stick to all the social conventions? Why follow the standard playbook? Why spend thousands of pounds?
Some of the best weddings I have been to have been those run on the tightest budget, and this is because doing it on a shoestring tends to require the involvement of community and the exercise of creativity. If you spend thousands you will most likely end up doing what everyone else does at their wedding: you’ll have a fairly predictable (and very expensive!) white dress, that will never be worn again; you’ll keep your guests standing around for hours while you go for the big photo shoot, when – at most – you’ll only look through your wedding pictures once a year for the rest of your married life; you’ll have the same kind of outside caterers serving the same kind of wedding food as everyone else has; and so on. All that can be very lovely, but to be honest, I’m not sure I need any more loveliness like that!
You know what, we could do your wedding virtually for free. The actual legal bit doesn’t cost you anything anyway, and the use of our church building is free – and I don’t charge a fee! Once I went to this fantastic wedding for a couple who didn’t have any money and the reception consisted of lots of cakes that their friends brought along. Honestly, that was one of the best receptions I’ve been to – it felt like community, it was creative – it was fun! Another wedding I really enjoyed took place in a marquee on a campsite with a cash bar run by a local brewery – that was a lot more fun than the typical reception, cost much less, and being able to buy a decent beer was a welcome alternative to the normal-wedding-New-Zealand-sauvignon-blanc!
I’d also like to encourage you to think about the timing of your wedding. I know you’re talking about a date that is really quite a long way off, but I’d urge you to move quicker! The decision to marry is made and your ‘trusted advisors’ – your parents, me, other older couples – have all given you our blessing. Why hang around? One of the reasons people go for long engagements nowadays is because they put so much effort into making the wedding day ‘perfect’. The reality is though, you’d probably be wiser speeding things up, simplifying your plans, and enjoying legitimate sex six months earlier than would otherwise be the case! Good vows, heartily affirmed, and good sex, righteously enjoyed, will stand you in much better long-term stead than taking months ensuring your table napkins perfectly match the flowers carried by your bridesmaids!
I know this is all a lot to take in, and the things I am suggesting very different from what you have imagined for your ‘big day’. Remember, however you decide to do the day I am for you and love you – I just think you’re the kind of couple who could buck some trends, maybe giving others permission to buck trends too, and in so doing demonstrate even more effectively the true meaning of marriage.
Lots of love