During our first year of marriage, Michael turned to me. I don't remember the context or the occasion for his words, but I remember what he said. "Marriage isn't celebrated nearly enough," Michael said. "How about, every five years, we either throw a big party or go on a trip?"
I agreed and smiled, tucking away what he said in the back of my mind.
Last spring, as our five-year anniversary was approaching, I reminded Michael of those words.
"How about a vow-renewal party to celebrate five years?" I asked him. My little sister was getting married within the year, and I had been looking at wedding blogs and magazines with her. Vow renewals were becoming more popular, and as a romantic, I was smitten with the idea.
He raised his eyebrows quizzically. "What would that involve?"
"It would basically be a party where we have a short ceremony and say our marriage vows again. I think it would be a great chance to celebrate God's faithfulness to us over these last five years."
A week later, after thinking and praying together, we decided to nail down a date. "I love the idea," Michael told me. "We can recommit to one another in front of our community and celebrate the gift of marriage together!"
A Community-Focused Celebration
Michael and I love our marriage, and although our marriage has not (yet) been long in years, we act as a source of counsel, encouragement, and challenge to many other couples in our church, where Michael is a pastor. We are strong proponents of marriage and love helping others catch the vision of biblically centered and peace-filled unions.
Together, we started brainstorming about the deeper purpose of our vow renewal.
"You know, we didn't know any of the people in our church when we got married five years ago," I mentioned to him.
Michael was nodding. "It's crazy, isn't it? Because we moved to a different church, our entire community has changed since the wedding. So many times, I've thought about how strange it is that none of our current friends were there when we got married."
"Right! And I know that they know we're committed to our marriage vows, but there is something really meaningful about speaking vows in front of people who see you week in and week out."
Michael was tapping his pen on the kitchen table. "That's a big part of the reason I'm really getting excited about this party. Saying our vows again—with our friends there—gives us and them a higher level of accountability in our marriage." He stopped tapping his pen and looked at me, then at the list of people we were going to invite. "This will be so fun."
I worked on planning the simple party—reserving the space at a local park, asking family to help bake desserts, purchasing some burlap at the fabric store, and sending out the invitations (free printables I had discovered online).
The day of the party, we got to work setting up folding chairs at the park. I laid the burlap runners on tables borrowed from the church, and a few friends helped set up the cupcakes, fruit, and sodas. Framed photographs from our wedding and other special moments during the last five years were scattered on the tables, and we placed a guest book near the front for everyone to sign. I had stopped by the farmer's market that morning to purchase a bouquet of white and green flowers to carry. Michael chose his grey suit and I wore a knee-length white sundress.
After welcoming our guests to the park and mingling for a little while, we began the ceremony. A few close friends and family members offered prayers and read Scripture verses. Michael had crafted a short speech for our guests about marriage and why we were choosing to renew our vows. He focused on three main reasons.
We stood in front of our friends together and he spoke. "First, we are here today because we know we need a community to help us continue to build our marriage on the foundation of Christ. We cannot do it alone. We have asked you to this party because we want to celebrate together what we committed to one another five years ago—and to ask for your help as we continue in our marriage.
Second, God speaks very clearly about marriage in the Scriptures as a testimony of the deeper, stronger reality of his intimate relationship with the church. God is passionate about marriage because he awaits his own wedding feast at the end of this age. Jesus is coming back for his bride, the church. We renew our vows as a testimony to this greater reality in the Kingdom of God.
Finally, we hope that God can use our renewed commitment to marriage to help reignite vision and passion for the marriages in our church community and city. We want our marriage and the marriages in our church to be highly valued in the same way that God values them."
Repeating our Vows
We then turned to one another and repeated the original vows from our wedding day, beautiful and simple words in which we promised all of our lives and faithfulness to each other—again. To recognize the five years we had shared, Michael and I had each written five new vows for one another and kept them secret until that evening. As we stood and spoke our new vows, I found myself laughing and crying. We knew one another so much more than we had five years ago.
The original promises we made at the altar had been heartfelt but mostly uninformed. In many ways, that is the beauty of a promise—that it goes into new territory without changing. However, after five years of marriage, I knew more about who Michael was and what daily promises kept our marriage healthy and flourishing. He knew the same about me. I made sure to include the promise to speak well of him in every circumstance. He promised to be a gentle haven of grace for me in a harsh world. I promised to make dinner. He promised to tell me how beautiful he thought I was. As I stood there, speaking my vows to my husband and hearing his vows to me, I experienced again the power that God has set in marriage.
The Power of a Promise
To make a promise is to determine to set your heart in a direction that will never change. It is risky to promise love and partnership to someone you ultimately cannot control. But to make a marriage vow is an imitation of God's character in its steadfastness and sacrifice.
I knew that together, with God's help, Michael and I had been able to live out our marriage vows of love, faithfulness, and—as the original words said—"sharing all that is to come." With God's grace, we would be able to live out these new promises with joy and with help from our church community.
We finished the ceremony with a prayer from one of our good friends. The rest of the night was spent celebrating with our friends over cupcakes.
We now display two shadowboxes in our home. One includes a photo from our wedding, along with the original vows we made to one another on the day we became husband and wife. The second includes a photo from our vow renewal and the new promises we made to each other. My hope is that we will fill that wall with many more shadowboxes full of promises made and kept—over the next 60 years.
Ann Swindell teaches college classes and writes about life, ministry, and marriage on her blog at www.annswindell.com. Follow her on Twitter @annswindell.