It's the standard joke among fathers of the bride: For your daughter's wedding you have two roles - first, when asked "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?," you respond, "Her mother and I." Second, open your wallet and surrender all your cash and credit cards. In the run up to my daughter Hannah's wedding, I heard a hundred variations of this joke.
I even joined in the joking. I told people God gave a man two kidneys so he could sell one on the black market to pay for his daughter's wedding. If he had more than one daughter, there was always dialysis. I approached dads with 2-year-old girls and asked them how much they had saved for their daughter's wedding. It was my way of sharing the panic.
Weddings today can get out of hand. The old standard was a reception in the church social hall with wedding cake, mixed nuts, mints and lime sherbet punch. According to a survey done by The Knot, the average wedding in the United States now runs around $36,000. One wedding venue we contacted told us they had not done a wedding in the last 10 years for less than $50,000 (not including dresses, flowers and lodging). While most of my life I've tried to be above average, this was one time I wanted to be below average - way below.
Gina and I were nervous about the money, I'll admit. We had set aside some funds, but nowhere near enough for even a basic wedding. We scrimped and saved, robbed Peter to pay Paul (which is not actually in the Bible). More than once we had the tough conversation: How much can we afford? When a friend told us "A wedding is like buying a new Mercedes and then driving it over a cliff," we had to ask ourselves, "Is this worth it?"
The weekend for Hannah's wedding finally came. In a word, it was "amazing." During the rehearsal dinner, there were wonderful speeches affirming her and her husband to be. When she made her speech about me and her mother, I cried. The wedding itself was like something out of Disney: the sky was robin's egg blue, a gentle breeze was blowing, the birds were singing (literally), and Hannah was beautiful in her wedding dress. Her groom cleaned up pretty good, too. During the minister's prayer, I keep my eyes open (Don't judge, I know you keep your eyes open too) just drinking it all in. Psalm 118:24 kept running through my mind: "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!" The reception was magical, with good food, family, friends and dancing. When the night was over, I knew my daughter knew she was loved and treasured. It was a weekend of amazing grace.
The next day, as Gina and I bathed in the afterglow, God put two powerful thoughts in my soul. First, it was worth it. All my anxiety about the cost of the wedding was totally useless. It was worth every penny to see her happy, joyful and loved. She is my precious child; why wouldn't I want her to have a moment like this? I know enough of life to know there will be moments that drain her. There will be other times she must fight uphill battles. There will be days when life floods her. To provide her with a gift of a special time of love and joy - of course I want that for her. I decided I would not be one of those dads that complains in perpetuity about the cost of my daughter's wedding. Instead, I will claim it as a graceful day of joy.
The second thought God put in my soul was the simple truth of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life."
God loves you, God treasures you. So God paid an absurd price for you. He gave his only son Jesus for you. Your sins, the ugliness of your life and past, are wiped away by the beauty of Jesus' perfect life, sacrifice and resurrection. God never complains about the price he paid for you.
No wonder Paul and John refer to the collection of Jesus followers as "the bride of Christ." The Book of Revelation describes a scene where the bride of Christ comes down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. The pivotal moment in the history of heaven is a wedding.
I don't know if this will happen exactly this way, but I can imagine in that moment, in the new heaven and the new earth, when Christ and his bride come together, that our heavenly Father is keeping his eyes open on the beauty the moment. And in that moment, our heavenly Father looks at us and says, "No regrets. You are totally worth the price."
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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