By Derick Cranston
Love equals suffering — there is no way around it. When we love we make ourselves vulnerable; vulnerable to the pain of loss, heartache and separation at death. Not a very pleasant way of looking at love, is it? But don’t we acknowledge this in our wedding vows? For richer or poorer, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, until death. These words in our wedding vows contain much wisdom. They acknowledge that love and suffering are intertwined.
A friend passed on a story to me that she uses in wedding preparation. When I counsel young couples who are preparing for marriage, I like to share it with them.
“There was a young couple who decided to have wedding pictures taken every year on their anniversary. He would slip into his tuxedo, and she would put on her dress. The first few years, they enjoyed doing this very much. However it is their fifth wedding anniversary and things have not been going well for them. Their finances are thin and they have a child who has severe medical problems. They don’t feel like taking the pictures this year, but something drives them to do it anyway — for richer or for poorer.
“It is now their 20th wedding anniversary. The kids are healthy and doing quite well in school. Both husband and wife have high-paying jobs and are successful in their careers. But they have grown distant from each other and have thrown acid words at each other. They blame each other for neglecting the family and they often put each other down. It is their anniversary and both of them are unhappy. They are going to skip the wedding pictures this year, but a small voice in the back of their consciences prods them into doing it anyway, through good times and bad.
“It is now their 50th wedding anniversary. He has had a couple of heart attacks and her knuckles are swollen with arthritis. They do not know how many more anniversaries they will share together. Their granddaughter is at the house and will soon be getting married herself. She is young and in love and tells her grandparents that she hopes that she and her fiancé can have a marriage half as happy as her grandparents have had. The grandparents look at each other and let out a slight chuckle.
“The granddaughter’s voice starts to fade into the background as they both look deep into each other’s eyes. Their love has never been stronger for each other. Their love has endured through richer and poorer, good times and bad, and they are now supporting each other through sickness and health. Their love for each other could not have come to this point if it were not for the suffering their love for each other had overcome, suffering which resulted in the greatest love they ever had for each other.”
Christ died on the cross and showed us the ultimate example of love overcoming suffering, and giving it meaning. The last chapter of the last book of the Bible is filled with bridal imagery and a wedding feast. It celebrates the final victory of love over suffering, and cumulates in the holy bond of matrimony of Christ with his people. It is a love which endures suffering, and results in the “greatest love.” Revelation 21:4 states, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain …” At the end of our journey, we will find peace and happiness. A peace and happiness that is born from love and suffering.
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)