I may be the only guy you will ever know who has been married to the same woman three times without ever being divorced or separated.
The first time I was 22. Mary Catherine and I escaped from society, secretly eloped, and found ourselves joined as man and wife before a Justice of the Peace. The second time was not long afterwards when we were married before friends and family at a church wedding. The third time was on an island at the end of the world. The last was possibly the most special to us.
Fifteen years after marriage vow number two, Mary Catherine and I took our children to a little island nation called Nevis. We invited the same people who stood with us for our family wedding years before to join us as witnesses for the renewal of our vows. There, by an ancient stone church building in a beautiful floral grove, we recommitted our vows before God to each other.
If you think of marriage as a house – the walls are the love that holds us together; the inside of the house is the heart and the soul of life which we share. But underneath the home is the foundation. Our vows are this bedrock which undergirds the home. They are the commitments which bind us together. Vows are the reflection of our aspirations of life and love and our highest ideals. They are the concrete manifestation of our commitments as a couple.
Of course, there is something even deeper than the foundation stones. Faith. Our faith is the ground underneath the stones which gives meaning to the vows themselves. And our faith tells us something else — broken vows can be restored.
The truth is that most, if not all of us, break our vows. We do it in word and deed. In little ways and sometimes in big ways. Our lives and our love are far from perfect. We forget. We slip. We fail. Sometimes vows are broken violently. But failures can be redeemed and vows renewed.
Failure and forgetfulness are such a part of our lives that I am persuaded we must renew our vows. Daily. Weekly. Monthly. On special occasions. On no occasion. The vows which undergird our love are not just for Valentine’s Day, they must become a ritual of life.
We must look to our vows and recommit our love. Here are some simple steps to begin this process of renewing vows.
1. Find them. Do you remember the words you spoke on your wedding day? It was the first time you spoke the words of your covenant before witnesses. Find those words. Respect them. Repeat them. Read them to each other. They are sacred, beautiful words. There is life in those words.
2. Experience them: Be intentional about noting those experiences in your daily life which serve as concrete manifestations of your vows. Think of them as mini-ceremonies. In one sense, intimacy between husband and wife can be a form of vow renewal. It is the physical manifestation of a commitment to oneness. Feel it. Talk about it. Daily prayers as a couple can be a form of vow renewal. But so can time as a family reading, working, eating.
3. Discuss them: Love is not merely for Valentine’s Day, and vows are not meant to be left behind at your wedding. The words and experiences of love are for our daily life. If you are like me, you may discover that there is something almost sacred about repeating the words of a vow. Talking about them. Thinking about them. They serve to both inspire us and
4. Renew them: Renewal can be formal or informal. It can be as simple as looking into the eyes of your loved one and telling them — “today I purpose to be the man of my vows.” It could take the form of a prayer — “God, help me to live by my vows.” Renewal can even come in the form of a formal ritual — your own vow renewal ceremony.
But the most important thing is this… Take care of the foundation of your marriage. Check for cracks. Repair where needed. Remember and renew your vows.