Years ago I started a meaningful ceremony that I conduct at every rehearsal before each wedding I perform. I gather everyone in the wedding party—family and friends—in a circle and ask them to join hands. I talk about how special this event is for the couple in the circle and explain that having the approval and support of family and friends is more important than thousands of dollars of wedding presents.
Then I ask everyone in the circle to give the couple a priceless gift—to share a word of blessing from the heart. I turn to the person on my right and ask him to begin. By the fifth person in the circle, the entire group is bawling. I’m not talking about polite crying; I’m talking about snot-dripping-down-the-shirt bawling. Everyone’s bawling—the cocky best man who isn’t a Christian and wants to get drunk that night, divorced parents who haven’t spoken in years, and especially the bride and groom themselves. It is a powerful experience.
At one wedding I performed years ago, the last person to speak was the bride’s father. What a perfect way to end this evening, I thought. He will give his daughter words she will remember the rest of her life. Instead, he threw up his hands, laughed, and said, “Ditto.” Then he flipped his head around and looked at me with a sheepish grin.
My heart broke for the bride. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to say. I awkwardly ended with prayer, but what I wanted to do was lean over and say, “Do you have any idea what this weekend means to your daughter? Do you have any idea what your approval means to her? All you can muster at this moment is ‘Ditto’? Let’s try this again.”
I’m guessing the father soothed his conscience by reminding himself that he was sending his daughter and future son-in-law on an all-expense-paid honeymoon to Cancun. I knew the bride, however. I knew about the estrangement she felt toward her father because of his neglect over the years. I guarantee she would have traded the trip, the luxurious reception, and the tables stacked with expensive gifts, every last one of them, for just one word from his heart.
Contrast this with the time Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment. Without hesitation he answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
I think that if Jesus had been standing in that circle with that father, he wouldn’t have hesitated, as I did, to say something. I think he would have stopped, shared that Scripture, and then graciously asked the man to speak again, this time from his heart.
Why? Jesus understood that the two most important things we do in life are to love God and love people. That’s it. When we stray from these commands, he sometimes allows us to experience trials. Trials take his place and refocus our attention on what’s important. They remind us how quickly we can lose people. They remind us that each person in our life is a gift.
When I think of people who really understand this, I always think of my friends who can’t have children. Right now it takes both hands to count the number of couples I know who can’t have children. I’ve talked with them, I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve prayed with them. For some reason God hasn’t answered our prayers. I can’t understand it. All of these couples are the kind of people you want to have kids, but for some reason it hasn’t happened for them.
If I were to take these friends into the circle at that wedding rehearsal and ask the emotionally stunted father to step out of the way, what do you think my friends would say? I know what would happen: My friends would clear their throats, reach into their pockets, and gently put on a special pair of glasses—lenses and frames shaped by years of frustration, endless cycles of infertility treatments and miscarriages. These glasses firmly in place, they would look the bride squarely in the eyes, smile, and then share an unending stream of blessings that would have made that young woman’s heart dance.
Trials have a way of doing that. Trials have a way of allowing us to see what’s really important in life.
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