I was browsing through some old files of materials I’ve used in wedding ceremonies over the years, and I came across a handwritten note from a bride-to-be asking me to use this prayer in their ceremony:

“Keep us, O Lord from pettiness. Let us be thoughtful in word and deed. Help us to put away pretense and face each other in deep trust without fear or self-pity. Help us to guard against  fault-finding and be quick to discover the best in each other and in every situation. Guard us from ill temper and hasty judgment; encourage us to take time for all things, grow calm, serene and gentle. Help us to be generous with kind words and compliments. Teach us never to ignore, never to hurt, never to take each other for granted. Engrave charity and compassion on our hearts.”

I was impressed that this particular person had written such meaningful words, so I did an on-line search using some key word combinations.  This prayer popped up all over the place, in wedding preparation sites, on ads for companies selling wall-hangings and marriage keepsakes, even on a Marriage Encounter blogsite.  Each of these postings implied that the prayer was original with them, except for one which said “Author Unknown.”  I’ve had this handwritten copy for over thirty years, so some of these on-line sites are less than honest about the source of their citations.

There are two things that occurred to me as I thought about that couple’s request:

(1)  They meant this sincerely.  They really wanted their new marriage to be based on the principles in that prayer. This was the second marriage for both of them; they had analyzed their earlier failures and were determined that this marriage would be different.

(2)  It wasn’t.  Oh, they stayed together for the rest of their lives, but it was far from a bed of roses. Their relationship showed plenty of “pettiness” and “pretense” and “fault-finding” and “hasty judgment.”  I didn’t see a whole lot of evidence that they were “calm, serene and gentle” with each other, or that “charity and compassion” were engraved on their hearts.

They had prayed this prayer on their wedding day.  Did they not mean it?  Did God fail to answer?  I think they did mean it, and I think God did answer.  But this business of living together in a covenant relationship is a lot more complex and difficult than a prayer on an embroidered wall-hanging can express in words, no matter how inspired or beautiful.  There are thousands of ways we can hurt each other every day, and in spite of our most noble intentions, we’re bound to say or do something insensitive when our guard is down.  Then our partner feels betrayed and can’t resist the temptation to even the score.  But the score never seems even, so we exchange hurts back and forth in a pattern that can easily escalate out of control.

This is true of every marriage.  It takes the highest aspirations to even have a chance.  God will provide the resources, but using his gifts of compassion and forgiveness and love is a moment-by-moment challenge for a fragile, insecure, self-protective person — which describes all of us.

That couple years ago had the right idea, and they expressed it in that beautiful prayer.  But they had a hard time recognizing the fact that marriage is so daily, and that this prayer has to be the atmosphere around their every conversation and interaction if they are to avoid the curse of being two lonely wounded  souls who live under the same roof.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

— Pastor George Van Alstine