By Sara Knutson
The response to last week’s blog post about weddings in the era of Pope Francis indicated a widespread desire to celebrate weddings in simpler, more God- and community-oriented ways.
Today’s wedding culture may be riddled with excesses, but wedding celebrations themselves remain fundamentally good, offering a way to recognize a public sacrament in joyous fashion. As Brian noted, Jesus’ own first miracle was keeping the wine flowing at a wedding reception so that the party could carry on.
So how do we have the party and avoid the excesses? The answer will vary for each couple, but my recently-married friend Erin’s approach to her wedding offers a model that I think will prove helpful to other couples. Here’s the idea:
1. At the beginning of wedding planning, sit down as a couple, brainstorm your key values for the day, and write them down.
Erin and her fiancé Peter prayed, brainstormed, and came up with seven, including holy, hospitable, simple, and fun. These values provided the direction they needed to wade through the hundreds of big and small wedding decisions in the months that followed.
2. Consider each wedding decision according to those values, taking into account your individual situation.
Erin and Peter, for example, had family who were largely supportive when they made non-traditional decisions; if their families had been very tradition-minded, they may have decided that being hospitable meant doing some things according to their family’s preferences. The key is that either outcome would have been ultimately dictated by their values and not by external pressures.
3. Clearly and kindly communicate your values and resulting wedding choices to friends and family.
This step is made far easier by the fact that those values are written down and therefore can be coherently articulated. The key is to do so in a tactful and understanding fashion. For many people, wedding norms are so deeply ingrained that seeing a loved one modify or break one of those norms is interpreted as judgment on their own choices or desires. Explaining your values and expressing your hope that guests will still feel comfortable and welcomed goes a long way.
An old boss once told me that 90% of the time people get upset, it’s because something didn’t match their prior expectations. So prepare your guests ahead of time. Erin and Peter created a page on their website explaining their plans; you could also include an insert into invitations or the wedding program. Focus on those closest to you: if your immediate family and friends understand the values behind your decisions, they will be your best evangelists when others inquire about any non-traditional wedding choices.
Planning a wedding is complex. Fighting the wedding industry is exhausting. But it is possible to have a wedding day that does justice to one of the most profoundly sacramental days of a couple’s life. We shouldn’t settle for anything less.