One of the fondest memories of my wedding reception comes from near its conclusion, as my new husband left the room to smoke a cigar with our male relatives. While the men gathered outside, my mother's close friend pulled me onto the dance floor, where I was immediately encircled by all of the girls and women present. We danced together, celebrating the joy of my marriage and the friendship that had brought each of us there. Twirling on the dance floor with these ladies wasn't in my plans that day, but like so many of the beautiful moments from my wedding, it happened because I had made room for grace.
I like to be in control of things. My wedding was no exception. One of the first things I did after getting engaged was put together a wedding binder that I proceeded to carry around with me everywhere for the next eight months. Every spare moment was given to thinking about the big day, since I had bought into the idea that a girl's wedding day should be the most perfect day of her life.
My fiancé Stephen and I concentrated on planning our wedding Mass, and my mother spent weeks perfecting reception matters with me. I thought I had every detail covered for both the Mass and the party, including a contingency plan in case our violinist--who was eight months pregnant--went into labor and needed a substitute. My plan was to master this wedding game and plan a flawless wedding our friends would talk about for years to come.
Early on, Stephen and I decided we wanted needed to make our confessions right before the festivities began, allowing us to enter our married life in a state of total grace. We asked our celebrant, a family friend, to come to the rehearsal early for confessions, and I ended up being so grateful that we took time to receive the sacrament. Because our priest knew me (and my control freak tendencies) so well, he gave me what should have been one of the hardest penances of my life:
"Once you leave the confessional in a few moments, I want you to be Mary for the rest of your wedding weekend."
What did "being Mary" mean? He elaborated, saying I needed to stop focusing on doing so much, like Martha in Luke's Gospel and instead be like her sister Mary, sitting and receiving graces from Jesus. There would be abundant graces flowing during our wedding Mass, he reminded me, but if I was going to receive them, and take them into my married life, I had to be open to doing that. If I tried too hard to do things on my own, I’d miss the chance to receive. I had no idea if I would be able to let go of this event I’d worked on for so many months. But I decided to try.
By the time the next morning arrived, gray with misty rain, I had forgotten all about trying to make things happen the way I had planned. I got so caught up in enjoying the small moments that I forgot to control things. Because of that, our wedding surpassed my greatest expectations.
That is not to say that the day was perfect, but that its beauty came from the unexpected things. Any stress I might have felt from the rainy morning or the photographer's early arrival disappeared when Stephen came across the lawn to take our first look pictures, gazing at me with more love and joy than I had ever seen.
Walking down the aisle with my father, I wasn't nervous or distracted by a few unfamiliar people who had stayed for Mass, because I was radiating happiness in anticipation of the sacrament about to take place. Later, at the reception, I clapped and cheered through an epic dance competition between one of my brothers and Stephen's housemate, forgetting all about the photography shot list I’d left at home and the timeline I hadn't made. And my plans hadn't included the lovely tunnel of friends, cheering, as we left the reception and walked out to our car.
When I got out of the way and stopped trying to control every facet of the day, other people could get involved in the celebration spontaneously, making it memorable in beautiful ways I couldn't have foreseen.
So when I was pulled onto the floor to dance with all of the important women in my life, I could accept that gift without reservation. Instead of worrying about being the perfect hostess. I could see what mattered most: that I celebrate with my guests and be present to receive their love. What I thought would be a difficult penance turned out to be a great source of beauty throughout the entire day, and I'm grateful I was given the openness to receiving that counsel in the confessional.
Wedding planning is notoriously stressful, especially in the wedding industry when the focus is on the party and not, as in the Church, on the sacrament. The graces of the sacrament of matrimony are abundant; we just have to be open to receiving them. As you are wedding planning, allow yourself that openness.
It's alright to be Martha while you're planning--there are, after all, lots of details that require planning, but don't forget to focus on the sacrament. Once your wedding day arrives, fully be Mary. Sit at the feet of our Lord and soak up all the graces he offers you as you enter married life, letting the Holy Spirit work through the people around you.
Married readers, is there any great advice you received before your wedding day that you'd like to pass on to others?
About the Author: Maggie Strickland has loved reading and writing stories since her earliest memory. An English teacher by training and an avid reader by avocation, she now spends her days reading, writing, and volunteering in her community, trying to make her part of the world a little more beautiful. She and her husband are originally from the Carolinas, but now make their home in central Pennsylvania.