Recently, I officiated my friend’s wedding ceremony for a renewal of vows. I was honored to be given this privilege. Here is what I said which I owe heavily to bell hooks in her wonderful book All About Love:
“Good evening. I’d like to start by welcoming you to this ceremony and congratulating Jeff and Eric on this special occasion.
There’s a line towards the end of a wedding. You’ve all heard it many times before: it reads, “by the power invested in me.” If only things were that matter of fact. I wish that my words here today could grant you life long assuredness, a knowledge that the two of you will prosper together and enjoy happiness till the end of your days. While I believe that you can have this, it’s not something I can provide nor is there a religious or legal edict that can make your relationship a prosperous marriage.
When you were dating, you needed to know that you were on your way to being in love. In a marriage though you will seek something much more akin to true love.
We are often shown, and so we imagine, a fairy tale version of love. Real love though is grittier than that. At times it can be a struggle, disagreements are after all allowed and sometimes necessary. If relationships are work, then love will be your career. Love challenges us in ways that can make us want to withdraw rather than pull someone close and open up. It makes us vulnerable by showing us our shortcomings and it will reveal to us our deepest insecurities. To be sure, truly loving another person is one of the most courageous things you will ever do.
This is why the two of you standing here today makes this event all the more special. By being married you have already confirmed your decision to love and tackle your fears. You have learned that while loving each other cannot end the difficulties you will face, it can give you the ability to deal with those obstacles and emerge stronger for it.
And so it is today that you continue your commitment to one another evinced by this gathering of kindred – this confirmation of spirit, this renewal of vows.
I want to say a few things about love before we get to those vows. Earlier I spoke of true love and that sometimes seems to be a perplexing idea, but it is because we often misunderstand the nature of love. True love does exist, but it is not something you stumble onto or happen upon. We often confuse the incidence of meeting someone with finding love. We may find our partners by accident but love takes much more.
Because we often think that we find love we have come to view it as a noun. Love for us becomes a thing to be given and more often, something to be received. While this view can be a good start it does not take us close enough to where we need to be. Regarded this way we miss the fundamental meaning of this deep emotion. For if love is only a thing, then we must ask ourselves where is this thing we exchange created? Where does love come from?
Obviously love has to come from us and that is why love is actually a verb. It is an intentional act, for we do not have to love, rather we choose to.
Love gives us agency. It is a way of living and ordering our lives to maximize the way we commune with those around us. In this way then, love is also much more than just a feeling. Love as a verb demands that we be responsible and accountable. It means we take ownership for our actions and expect our partner to do the same. When we falter it is our obligation to accept our mistakes and make amends. Love demands this so that we continually succeed or fail better for our partners.
In your quest to deepen your bonds remember that love should be honest. Love cannot exist in a world of deception. Speaking your truths to a partner and in turn hearing theirs will strengthen your bonds and help create respect. Your words should be measured and honest to solidify the trust you have in each other. Speaking and listening in this regard is not always easy but it is essential.
In your honesty be sure to see that your love is also kind. The goal of intimacy should be to foster healing and understanding.
For your marriage to be loving it needs to have an ethic of care. When the component of care is lost a relationship becomes distant at best, or hurtful and abusive at worst – in essence dysfunctional. Love cannot grow where there is an absence of care. When you treat love as a verb you are prioritizing your partner’s personal and spiritual growth along with your own.
In addition to these, you should be steadfastly committed to one another. Commitment is often thought of as being physically true to your partner, and while the agreement you reach in this regard is important, it is too shallow a view. You will find that committing to your partner through love becomes something which is better rounded and more complete than just being physically devoted ever could be.
I want to leave you with this caveat so you know that you are in good standing: love does not demand perfection. There may be times when you don’t feel worthy for the task of love. This is normal, it is often the product of dwelling on your self-doubt too much. Done this way you will undervalue your worth. Always remember though that your partner has chosen you. They aren’t inhibited by your self-doubt. If they could feel what you think about yourself they wouldn’t recognize it as you. Your partner is by your side because they see your truth rather than your fiction. This too is what love does.
Ultimately though as I stated at the outset, what you need, and indeed what you have found to make love blossom can only be touched upon by words in a ceremony. The power of love as a verb can only be realized by both of you.
And so it is now that I ask you both to share a confirmation of that strength within by way of vows.
______ Do you promise to love _____ , to act in a way that confers care, trust, understanding, respect, and commitment to him – guarding his heart and his priorities as if they were your own for as long as you shall live?
Then having heard your affirmations, by the power that resides in each of you and by the trust you have placed in each other. I humbly and happily reaffirm you, husbands. You may each kiss the groom.”