Sometime during college, my cousin Rachel was planning her wedding. She and her mom were rifling through magazines thinking about ways to be artistic. I can remember the excited rush to the back closet where her wedding dress was tucked secretly away, ready and preserved for a few months later. Rachel turned to me in the middle of all this and said, "Pamela, if anyone ever says to you: I'll give you $10,000 to elope instead of spending all this money on the wedding, you should take it." My friend Kat, who got married last summer, told me over skype when I told her I was engaged, "If I were doing it again, I would elope. Seriously." It seems that anyone planning a wedding starts thinking about eloping very quickly.
I can see why. The level of cultural expectation around weddings is paralyzing and insane. Anywhere you look for help in planning them, you can feel the pressure to be perfect, beautiful, and extravagant oozing off the page and into you. What is perhaps most stressful about it is that, while everyone admits the process is ridiculous, everyone has different ideas about what you can actually cut out of it. So, whereas it would be easy to buck the whole system if it were me by myself, a wedding by definition is a community affair. It's a relational thing. And so, while my inner value system is groaning in agony about materialism, fake showiness, and religion that is more about traditions than God, another part of me must say, "These showy aspects of weddings are important to people who are important to me...therefore I have to consider them."
But this feels so much to me like Christmas in America. We've stolen something beautiful and turned it into a duty-laden, stuff-focused, shallow game. So much so that we don't recognize the real thing when we see it. We don't expect Jesus to show up in a manger any more today than we did 2000 years ago.
I don't want to elope. But this is what I do wish I could do: I wish I could go out and find a simple white dress, not even necessarily floor length, and have Joel wear the kind of blue shirt that makes his eyes look vibrant and stunning. :) I would gather my immediate family, Joel's immediate family, and our closest friends and get married in my church in St. Paul. We'd lose track of the time praising our hearts out together, and be more focused on God than on Joel and me...I'd put the two of us in front just long enough to make our promises to God and each other. My brother and my dad would take pictures throughout the day, because they have nice cameras and rock at it. We'd all go out afterwards and eat Indian food (and get to order all the fun things that are normally too expensive to order) and go swing dancing and then come back home and eat pie and talk until midnight and laugh lots and lots. And then Joel and I would run away and find a little cabin or bed and breakfast or somewhere to be hidden away from the world for a week or so before reluctantly rejoining society. ;)
What is ironic is that it feels like that version of reality, which would cost probably a quarter of what a "normal" wedding will cost, would push more people's buttons than spending $8000-10,000 on a glamorous, busy, stressful day. But I write the paragraph above with tears of setsunai ~ longing for something that cannot be, because my reality has nothing to do with that paragraph. My reality right now is about choosing between $1000 and $2300 photography packages; it's about debating the fine line between using pale green, lavender, or light yellow as the backdrop for orange and yellow flowers; it's trying to figure out how to choose bridesmaids without feeling like I'm ranking the people I love most, or leaving someone out; it's about trying to choose an expensive dress that will be worn for all of six hours; it's about gathering addresses for a 150 person guest list.
I feel like a bird used to flying free who is being stuffed in a cage. And, lest you get me wrong, the cage isn't marriage. I can't wait to be married, and have no fears whatsoever about being with Joel for the rest of my life. Some days the nine-month countdown feels as eternal as three life sentences. But I want my wedding, as the rest of my life, to radiate the kind of freedom, life, joy, and love that are what the Kingdom of God is about. And that kind of life has nothing to do with money, the kind of beauty that fades, or even keeping as many people "happy" as possible. It's lived for an audience of One. It's lived in real relationship with God and people. It's a joyful declaration of the greatest news there has ever been. Sigh...I want to stay free.