Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Some thoughts about the presumption of giving a daughter's hand in marriage

JUST LIKE THAT. Almost everything in the Hay household this summer has revolved around plans for August 2nd. Abby and Alex Butler will marry at our church this Saturday afternoon and, just like that, our oldest daughter will be off to married life in Kansas City. After a honeymoon, she and Alex will move to the KC area to begin graduate school. All I have to do is walk her down the aisle and say “Her mother and I” when asked “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I pray for grace to say that deeply, sincerely.

WHO HAS THE RIGHT? I've been turning over in my mind this whole idea of giving a daughter's hand in marriage. It is ancient and practiced in the Hebrew scriptures, to be sure. But any reference to it is entirely missing from the New Testament. It seems to be something more of culture than of grace. More of pre-Christian and a-Christian tradition than of inspiration and authority. It seems to be based more on a pagan sense of ownership, possession, and contract than a sense of Christ-centering Lordship, stewardship, and blessing. In Christian grace, no man possesses a woman--whether a wife or a daughter. So, it is not in any father's--or mother's--purview to presume to "give away" a daughter to another person.

ALREADY GIVEN. The way I see it, Abby has really never been ours to “give.” She and all our children have been given to us for a while. They’ve come through us. We received them as stewards. Soon after they were born, we presented them in dedication to God--they’ve already been given. They are not our possessions. They are not intended to represent or serve Becky and me. God’s creative work and graceful intention is far greater than that. We are blessed to be stewards of their lives through formative early years. It’s been clear from early on that they’ve got minds, lives and futures uniquely their own. Our role, in large part, has been to recognize that, nurture it, and to try not inhibit it in any way.

ATTENDING TO CHOICES. One of the more critical transitions in the process of parenting as stewards is attending to a child’s choice to marry and the choice of whom to marry. This, too, is beyond us. Parents are in the role of attendants to fledgling romances, break-ups, courtships and, hopefully, emerging mature relationships based on grace and a measure of wisdom. We can guide and occasionally advise, but not choose. But this particular transition is more about prayer than anything else--and as much for myself as for them.

BEYOND ME. So, while “giving” Abby’s hand in marriage to a young man is really beyond me, it is something I’ve committed to God in prayer. I am pleased that they have found each other, that they each have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and that they are choosing to take the journey of life together with Jesus as their Guide. I celebrate their choice and commitment. May Abby and Alex have God’s blessing all their days.

I welcome your comments and/or questions in the spirit of dialog. Share yours by clicking on "comments" just below. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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