I want to be your friend
forever and ever.
When the hills are all flat
and the rivers are all dry.
When the trees blossom in winter
and the snow falls in summer.
When the heaven and earth mix—not till then will I part from you.
Ben (names changed) called me the day before his wedding in a panic: “how do I write my vows?” I was surprised because Ben had struck me as an organized guy. Besides, he’s a violinist and often plays at weddings, so he’s heard many, many vows. In that moment, though, he sounded like a drowning man!
I told him to just speak from his heart, but this only confused him more, “how do I do that? What else should I do?” “Nothing,” I told him, “just speak from your heart.” I reminded him that a vow is not a pre-nup. It’s a pledge of the heart and, as such, is not a detailed listing of everything that he’s going to do and not do in his marriage. His vow is but an echo of what is deep within his heart.
Ben and his fiancée, Marissa, had been high school sweethearts and dated throughout college. She, too, was a musician. At their ceremony, Ben made his vow first (as is tradition). Marissa’s eyes were glistening as he spoke movingly “from his heart.” When Marissa went to speak, she was so overwhelmed with the intensity of the moment that she reached out for my hand. I thought she was just giving my hand a squeeze so as to steady her nerves. But, she held my hand tightly throughout her vows––and they were not short!
I’ll always remember that moment, not just because it was the first and only time that a bride held my hand while offering her vows. And not just because I felt self-conscious; but, rather, because it was achingly tender.
Over the last twenty years, I’ve officiated many ceremonies and so I can forget just how difficult it is to find the words to let someone you love know that there are no words to describe your love.
Ben was not the last groom to call me sounding desperate. There have been many grooms, including Jason, a groom who had still not written his vows by the time he arrived at the ceremony site. I calmed him down by reminding him that his fiancée would kill him if he didn’t have thoughtful words to offer her! We found a quiet place away from his groomsmen. I scrounged around for some paper on which he could write his vows and then left him by himself. Well, Jason thought he’d be debonair and write his vows on his tux jacket’s pocket-handkerchief. Only problem, he started to sweat during the ceremony and he wiped his forehead with the handkerchief and, yes, wiped away his vows!
And while Marissa is still the only bride to hold my hand, she’s not the last bride to cry while saying her vows. There have been many, including Cheryl who sobbed so hard that she couldn’t get through her vows. I patiently waited, but when she seemed unable to say anything more, I gently moved on to the exchange of rings. After the ceremony, annoyed with me, she wanted to know why I hadn’t done something to calm her down. Short of throwing a glass of cold water in her face, I didn’t know what I could have done.
Ben and Marissa did have an advantage of sorts in writing their vows. Since they’d heard scores of couples exchange vows, at the very least, they knew what not to write. However, if they were unsure of how to write their vows, then how much more so are couples that aren’t as familiar with weddings?
I don’t think anyone can “teach” someone how to compose a vow. A toast or a speech? Sure. A vow, though, is such an intimate expression of devotion that it defies instruction.
I still believe that writing your vows is as simple as “speaking from your heart.”
Writing your vows is an opportunity to:
· slow down
· create time to retreat into your heart
· consider why you’re promising what you’re promising to whom you’re promising in this crazy world of ours.
In terms of the practical side of writing your vows, I urge you to NOT:
· worry about the word count
· worry about how long it will take to say the vows
· worry if they’re corny or cheesy (they’re not – I’ve never heard vows that made me roll my eyes!)
· compare / share your vows with each other ahead of time
In terms of giving structure, order and flow to your vows, what I’ve noticed works most elegantly is. . .
· Begin with a memory, an anecdote, a story of a moment in time when you suddenly realized that your partner was “the one.”
· Grounded in and flowing from that memory, tell your partner what you appreciate about them, what you treasure and value about them.
· Grateful for the memories and gifts, state what you vow to do and be for your partner.
· And somewhere in the midst of all this, be sure to say, “I take you as my husband / wife” because that little phrase turns your words of love into a vow.
It really is that simple!
I’m always honored when a couple invites me to bear witness as they give their word to each other—as they enter into the mystery of life and love. It is such an intimate moment. I’m in awe of the generosity and courage, the hope and faith people show in that moment of giving––of giving their word, which is their life to each other.
And so I salute you and cheer you on!!