Clear-Eyed Optimism

Today’s post from Mary Via encapsulates what for me, are the most important parts of the wedding tradition. Weddings give our relationships the context of community— they are about standing up in front of our loved ones (literally, or figuratively, in the context of elopements), declaring our intentions, and asking for help. Weddings acknowledge that no partnership is simple and that our marriages require support to thrive. In turn, weddings give our community hope, and that hope helps see us all through. Mary Via’s post is about more than religious traditions: it’s about the ties that bind.


With just over a month to go until my wedding day, I want to say that I am actually very optimistic about my marriage. I really do think we’re going to make it. I also suspect that we’re going to be happy together. Very happy even. This might seem like a funny thing to say, but you should know that there are several reasons why I might reasonably have come to a gloomier conclusion. Not because there is anything glaringly wrong with my relationship, but because it’s been, shall we say, an “off-year” for marriage in our families.

My fiancé and I are all too aware of the ways in which marriage can both atrophy and erupt. This year in particular we’ve watched our families cope to greater or lesser extents with the darker side of marriage. We’ve witnessed a sibling’s explosive break-up and impending divorce after only a few months of marriage. We’ve also watched a thirty-year marriage strain under the weight of deep emotional pain, frustration and co-dependency. None of this has been reassuring for us as we prepare to get married ourselves.

What I’m saying is that I feel as though I’m going into marriage pretty clear-eyed. I’ve seen and considered the bad and the ugly. But there is also something to be said for the good.

Which brings me to, of all things, our marriage ceremony and the traditional Episcopal liturgy we’ll be using from the Book of Common Prayer. My favorite part of the service is the prayers that follow the marriage vows. The congregation makes these prayers on behalf of the couple, as if to say, “We just watched these foolish young people make some crazy promises to one another, and although we are tickled pink by how much they love one another, we know they are going to need our prayers.”

And so on our wedding day, someone will pray that my husband and I will be for one other “a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.” And I will think of my grandparents who have been married, dare I say happily, for over sixty-five years, who survived the tragic death of their son, who still make one another laugh.

Someone will pray that our life together as husband and wife might be “a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.” And I will think how grateful I am to have a true partner, someone I trust will always stand up for me and for our relationship. I will quietly acknowledge and give thanks for the deep peace I feel when I hear him breathing beside me at night. There are so many precious moments like these when I feel much less alone in the world. I will remember all the times he has forgiven me, in small and large ways, and I will celebrate the joy that multiplies just because it is shared with the one I love most.

And finally, someone will pray, “Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.” And I will be grateful that the prayer reads when, not if, they hurt one another. Because I know all too well the ways in which we are capable of hurt and spite. But like I say, I’m optimistic about my marriage. We’ll hurt one another, but we’ll also be kinder than we ever imagined. We’ll be more generous and more patient than we thought we could be. We’ll do so with God’s help and, as the song goes, with a little help from our friends.

And when the music starts to play and my newly minted husband and I turn to face the congregation, we will see the faces of our family and friends. There’s a lot of good in this, they’ll seem to say. So go forth and for goodness sake, love one another.

Photo: Emily Takes Photos

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  • Laurel

    This almost makes me re-consider having a completely secular wedding. What lovely prayers. Though I suspect you can get to this perfect place without them (fingers crossed):
    “And when the music starts to play and my newly minted husband and I turn to face the congregation, we will see the faces of our family and friends. There’s a lot of good in this, they’ll seem to say. So go forth and for goodness sake, love one another.”

    • jess

      While I would never be comfortable with anything other than a secular wedding, I may or may not have to steal some of these thoughts and phrases. :)

    • Absolutely LOVE this phrase. So perfect.

  • Tess

    This is so beautiful. Anyone know of a secular version of this sort of community involvement? I’d love to incorporate something like this into my (very) secular ceremony. In my mind, the ceremony is as much about the community surrounding us as anything else.

    • We are having a unitarian service which incorporates a lot of those prayers without specifically mentioning God. If you google Unitarian marriage ceremonies you should be able to find some example wording. xoxo

    • I was brainstorming that as I read, too, considering my partner isn’t religious. I wonder if you could simply replace “pray” with “setting intention”? It reads a little more hippie-trippy, but I think sending good thoughts into the universe might be a secular way to achieve the same feel. I considered replacing “pray” with “hope,” but that sounds a little more passive.

      Or maybe do something with a symbolic action, like lighting a candle, tying a ribbon, passing the rings, collecting flowers, whatever works for you- with a stated intention behind the action (the officiant can say it, or it can be printed in the program), like “we, the loved ones of [couple’s name] light these candles with intention of supporting [couples’ names] to become each other’s strength in time of need. . . .”

      Instead of “give them grace”–> “may they have grace.” And you can be a “symbol of love to this broken world” regardless of whether it’s Christ’s love or not. Hopefully my brainstorming can set off some other ideas, too, because I agree- they are lovely intentions to include, religious or otherwise.

    • Brenda

      You could ask some important people to you to share their hopes and wishes for you as part of the ceremony – either by asking them to write something on their own or by using the sentiments in the prayers above. Quaker weddings open the floor to anyone who wants to share – while this is a Christian tradition there’s nothing that has to be specifically Christian about it if you want to use a version in your ceremony (though if people aren’t familiar with this maybe give some people advance notice so you don’t end up with no one saying anything!)

      We’re having the communal “will you support this couple etc etc” with everyone answering “we will”, as part of our secular/jewish ceremony.

      • Moe

        We did this too, our offciate called it a community charge and asked everyone to stand when they responded “we will” or in our case some said “Si se puede” (yes we can)

    • Suzzie

      We found a really good officiant for our wedding who understood that we weren’t religious and offered wonderful insight in how in incorporate the type of feeling some of the religious wording/tradition gives but in a secular way (neither of us is religious). I also did a bit of research about Hindu weddings as well and came up with a few ways to incorporate the tradition without the religious aspect and even included some of those close to us in some of the elements (we did a combo seven step/hand binding ceremony and parents and close friends each put a thread about our hands as each blessing was read).

      We also had our parents speak and give us words of advice/blessings/etc. While we couldn’t stop them from mentioning God as both of our families are religious (Christian one side, Hindu the other), it was touching because it was special to them and was their heart felt words to us.

      Our officiant also asked those present if they would support us as a couple and had them vocalise that support along with passing around our rings.

      There’s so many things you can do at a wedding and you aren’t tied to what has ever been done. With ours, I found you can take some elements already out there and twist them how you want with a secular ceremony since they aren’t tied to a set script typically. We didn’t want to be fully the centre of attention so we found ways to involve our guests through the ceremony and it ended up being a very special ceremony for all there.

      • Tess

        Thanks for all the great suggestions everybody!

  • I loved this:

    “Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours.”

    My husband and I have also seen the “darker” side of marriage, and I think it definitely helped us go into our marriage (and our relationship before our marriage) with clearer heads. Thanks for your lovely post!

    • This was my favorite quote too. Now I’m trying to figure out if I can use it in our ceremony. Which hopefully would be easy since we haven’t decided any details yet?

    • Kelly

      This is also my favorite quote. The whole thing is absolutely beautiful, but this really speaks to me. One of the best insights I have ever received from APW is that there are going to be challenging times- I believe one post or comment even spoke about bad YEARS within a marriage. Though we did not use these specific words in our ceremony, the intention was certainly there, and for me it is of the most important characteristics of a strong marriage. It gives me comfort to know that challenges are inevitable, and that even when things are tough we can count on our marriage, God, and our community to support us and lead us to forgiveness.

  • Hannah

    This could have been written about my fiance and I. Pretty much exactly, even down to the grandparents having tragically lost their son. It seems like everyone we know had a tragic first marriage…but I do have hope, and I don’t think it’s blind. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts.”

  • Amy

    THIS! This is why my partner and I are having a ceremony…a full (non-Roman) Catholic Mass… Yes, by the time our September date arrives DOMA may be repealed and our state may have passed the appropriate legislation – but we made the decision to do it in front of God and our family and friends long before these possibilities were on the radar.

    Thank you for putting these emotions into words!

    • Caroline

      Do you mind me asking, what is a non-Roman Catholic mass and how does it differ from a Roman Catholic mass?

      edited to add: I hope that doesn’t come across as rude. I’m just curious. I’m a not-very-knowledgeable-about-any-sort-of-Christianity Jewish lady, and I’ve never heard of there being separate Roman Catholicism and non-Roman Catholicism, and I’m very curious.

      • Amy

        Hi Caroline – I wondered if this question would come up – of course I don’t mind! The mass itself is similar, with a few exceptions. We do not use the updated translation that the Roman church uses, the congregation is a more active participant and at our parish – all are welcome to Communion.

        The best way I’ve found to describe our parish is that embraces the ritual that I grew up and love with a social construct that fits the 21st centure and who I am today. We have women clergy and are open and accepting of anyone who wants to participate.

        Here’s a Wiki page with a bit of explanation:

        • Caroline

          Thank you for sharing. I learned so much from you and the wikipedia article!

  • Elizabeth

    Just a few of the reasons why the BCP service will always be my favorite!

  • Suzzie

    “We’ll hurt one another, but we’ll also be kinder than we ever imagined. We’ll be more generous and more patient than we thought we could be.”

    So true! Before meeting my husband, I could have never imagined this. And could never have imagined how just the little everyday things could have endeared him so much to me (even the fights).

  • Yeah!

  • ItsyBitsy


  • Such an inspiring post, congrats on your wedding! Always been a fan and I’m very happy for your bid day and beyond :D

  • Ericka

    My major idea of why we’re even having a wedding is summed up in this post — “putting your relationship in the context of community.”

    As for the religious/secular bit, we’re having a religious ceremony but we’re working very, very hard to make all the bits the congregation participates in be religion-neutral — we’ll have atheists and agnostics and pagans and at least four different varieties of Christian in attendance. So after we declare our intent to be married (the “I dos,” or, in a Lutheran ceremony, the “I wills”), the pastor will say this as a slight variation on the traditional congregational religious pledge:

    And will you, the gathered friends and families of Groom and Bride, give your love and blessing to this new family? If so, answer “We will.”

    I really wanted to keep that piece in there, so it was one of the places we just replaced a few words from to make it faith-neutral. The prayers section will include a note that while we’ll be praying, guests can feel free to substitute blessings instead.

  • Elsie

    Love this post and the acknowledgement that we can’t do it all by ourselves out of sheer willpower and good intentions.

  • LoLauren

    I’ve been an Episcopalian my whole life and have always, always loved the vows. Even casually opening the prayer book and glancing through them results in tears. When we were first engaged my fiance mentioned writing our own vows and it was one thing I couldn’t compromise on. These vows are perfect and reading your story made me cry (again) as it said everything I’ve always loved about these vows. It’s made me even more excited to stand before everyone and say them to my love.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for this. I have just recently secured an officiant (a family friend who is a JP and also did my sister’s wedding), so this is just perfect timing.

    I agree that witnessing the difficulties that married people close to us can really open our eyes to marriage in new ways. My fiance and I both have parents that divorced when we were in our early teens (they divorced the same year but we were different ages), and this really shaped how we see love and marriage. Watching one’s parents get divorced SUCKS. Nothing can really change that. But being around for their next love story can be AMAZING. Both M and I got to watch our parents meet new people, fall in love, deal with new problems, and make the choice to get married again.

  • Gina

    I keep returning to this article. I want to copy it word-for-word into our wedding. (Don’t worry, I won’t!) Thank you for inspiring me to incorporate a request for prayers into our ceremony. What a beautiful way to involve your faith and your friends, and to recognize that your marriage is about so much more than just the two of you.

    • Lauren

      agreed Gina. it brings tears to my eyes in my first month of marriage. already, each of these prayers rings true and I am so grateful for this APW community.