Thursday, May 31, 2012

Weddings and Funerals

I have officiated many weddings and conducted many funerals and wakes. This is a responsibility and also a privilege that I have as a pastor. While these events are poles apart in terms of the emotions involved, both can have positive e­ffects on our lives. Sometimes we can be attending them simply out of obligation or concern, but pause for a while and consider their implications. My life is enriched as I am always reminded of my own mortality and the importance of my marriage and family.

Consider the day one gets married. Life is full of excitement and possibilities. Yet the moment we step into it, we realize how different we are from our spouse. The very thing that attracted us to each other can be the very thing that tries to split us apart later. Before marriage, a man wants a wife who can converse with him intelligently. After marriage, why does she always have an opinion about things? Before marriage, a woman wants a man who is financially stable to provide for her and the family. After marriage, why is he never home? The honeymoon period dissolves quickly and reality hits when they stay together. At a recent Fathers Club meeting, a newly married young man humorously exclaimed, “We wanted to kill each other in the first three months of our marriage!”

In the grandeur of a wedding day, I am reminded that it is not how well the couple starts but how well they will finish someday.  A significant milestone for a marriage will be the wedding day of the couple’s children. Each wedding is also in some sense a graduation ceremony for the parents. A beautiful part of a DUMC wedding is the time given for the newly wedded couple to express their gratitude and love to their parents. Whether the sharing is one minute or three minutes, you can almost get an idea what their family relationships is like.

There will always be tears. The fathers will inevitably try very hard not to be emotional, faces contorting to keep their tears back, while mothers of course will let their tears run freely. The same can be said about wedding dinner speeches. I often wonder what it would be like as a father on the big day watching his son or daughter now leaving home for good to forge a different life with his or her new partner. We can never go back to where we were before with them. We cannot wind back the clock. These are powerful and tearful moments. I have often read in-between the lines of their speeches, of regrets or joy.

It reminds us as parents to have strong marriages for the sake of our children because that’s the only consistent model of marriage they will see in their growing years. The best commendation I have heard was when a groom said in his wedding speech that the reason why he wanted to get married early was because he longed for what he saw in his parent’s marriage. He did not want to miss out any longer when he met the girl of his dream. What a powerful testament and model of marriage and parenting the groom’s parents have been for the young couple! I left that wedding feeling inspired knowing that my strong marriage with my wife matters to our three sons. We must therefore work hard at staying joyfully married! We have just celebrated our 24 years of marriage!

In the sorrow of a funeral, one will also see the strength of the family relationships or the lack of it. The regrets or joys in the words of a dying person can be haunting or inspiring. I have held the hands of people in their last moments. I consider my presence with them a privilege because their last words, with life ebbing away from their earthly existence, are worth taking note of. Family relationships are at the top of their mind. The fear or confidence in facing their deaths reminds me about my own confidence in God. When I take my final breath, all that matters will be my relationship with God. My confidence in meeting my Maker will be a reflection of my journey with Him on earth.

I long to have what Apostle Paul has: Desiring to go, but willing to stay. "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:23-24) He longs for a far better place to go to where his Heavenly Father is, than to cling on here. But he is willing to stay because he knows of a higher purpose than himself so that many more can be brought from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Light. That is why he can say, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).

Do yourself a favor. The next time you attend a wedding or a funeral, pause for a moment to reflect about your life. What is God saying?

Have a great life!

1. Has your parents’ marriage been inspiring? In what ways?
2. What would you want to have in your own marriage from what you saw in them?
3. What would you avoid?
4. If you are married, how would you rate your marriage from 1 to 10?
5. Would you consider your marriage an inspiration to your children and others in your community?
6. What would your children say if they were asked questions 1 to 3? (Try asking them.)
7. What do you think your thoughts will be during your dying moments? What would you say to me if I am by your side at that moment?
8. Are you confident in meeting your Maker? Describe the reasons why in your own words.
9. How would you apply the attitude of Paul in your own life: “Desiring to go, but willing to stay?” (2 Corinthians 5:8)
10. What new attitudes would you adopt from now on when you attend a funeral, wake or wedding?

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