Lots of people told us so. Neither of us had really experienced life: Byron at 27 had at least lived out of home for three years. On the other hand, Francine at 21 was still studying, had never had her own bedroom let alone lived independently. From university professors, mentors and friends, she was repeatedly told – “you’re too young”.
And they were right.
We both were too young and really had no idea what it truly meant to commit to loving the other for the rest of our life.
Thirty-three years, five children and two grandchildren later, we’re still too young! Although we have a lot more life experience than when we first made those wedding vows, even now we have no real idea what lies ahead of us or how well we will fulfil the vows we made.
But that’s kind of the point. None of us can ever know what a vow to ‘love until death’ will entail, for every life will unfold differently. We make our wedding vows with the certainty of uncertainty.
In good times and bad
Wedding vows are like that. They are not a vow to only love in ‘good times’ and ‘in health’, but to love in all circumstances. They are a vow that requires each of us to step out in faith into an unknown future.
And contrary to popular belief, it’s not a conditional promise that is based on the other’s vow. It’s not “I promise to love you as long as you love me” but simply “I promise to love you.” Full stop.
“I will love you when things are great between us, and I will love you when you drive me nuts. Should you betray me or hurt me, I will love you… even if I can’t live with you, I will still love and honour you.”
Matrimony is not fairy-tale love – it’s a deliberate, determined and at times gritty love. It’s also an imprecise but wonderful human witness to God’s immense love of each of us.
Once and done?
It’s tempting to think of the wedding day as the peak point in our life of commitment. After all, it carries a certain unrepeatable gravity in the sense of the sacramental reality that is established on that day.
However, it’s not meant to be a ‘once and done’ Sacrament. Matrimony calls us to a daily recommitment to love. It calls us to consciously choose this man or woman, to love this day.
Again and again.
On good days and bad days.
Our wedding vows are meant to be recited – through our words and deeds – every day of our life.
Moreover, our commitment to love the other is not dependent on our feelings, nor the other’s performance in the relationship. For the love to which we vow is not the love of passion and attraction, but rather of other-centred service and self-donation.
Sound impossible? Well yes… if we rely solely on our own ability. Such love is too humanly demanding no matter our age.
Thankfully, God stands ready with the graces we need to sustain our union. We don’t have to do marriage on our own. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
In truth, every couple who stands at the altar to pledge their love is ‘too young’ to marry. The thing is, it’s not really about age, but about our understanding of the love to which we are called and our willingness to rely on God’s grace to sustain it.
And it’s God’s grace, rather than the intensity of our romantic affection, that makes marriage a truly beautiful thing.
Francine & Byron Pirola are the cofounders of SmartLoving. www.smartloving.org