love your neighbor as yourself
or said another way, we can only love others as much as we love ourselves
I officiated my first wedding a few weeks ago in Monterey, CA.
My friends May and Pat asked me out of nowhere a few months ago during dinner after I took engagement photos for them. I was taken aback because I’ve been to hundreds of weddings as a photographer and never once thought that was something I wanted to do or frankly could do. Coming from a Christian background, the person who is up in the front with the bride and groom is usually an ordained minister, cleared by God and the state to do the sacred act of marrying two people.
So the first thought that ran through my head when they asked me was, “Am I holy enough to do this?” And knowing I really am not holy if I’m wrestling with these big questions about everything my faith stood for. But the casual certainty May and Pat had that they wanted me to be up there with them, casted away my shameful, unholy, imposter, and I gratefully said yes.
I decided to let go of any pastoral, church-culture expectations about the role and just be myself. I was going to share as honestly as I can what I learned about being in a relationship and also share my love for the bride and groom.
For the few months leading up to the wedding, I read Bell Hooks’, “All About Love” and also wrote down random notes about marriage that I hadn’t really heard during all the wedding ceremonies I’ve witnessed. I was proud of myself for having written most of what I wanted to say the week before, and not rewriting everything the night before.
But 30 minutes before the wedding, I was doing one last read through when I had a flash of inspiration started writing out two brand new paragraphs. I had five minutes left till the wedding started and I had an adrenaline rush of panic realizing the ceremony was starting and I didn’t get to edit or practice what I had just written. My heart pulsed between in my ears, my throat was dry, and I felt like I was talking too fast the entire time, but I made it through and people enjoyed it.
After the ceremony a some people made it a point to come up to me to tell me that they enjoyed what I said. A few even asked if I could share the message with them. So I asked May and Pat if I could share the prayer and message and they said yes, so here it is.
While this isn’t something I’m want to put out there as a service to hire me for, if a friend or friend of a friend asked me, I’d definitely be open to it. I also feel like I’m a one-song act becauseI don’t know if there’s anything more or better I have to say about love and relationships than what I wrote here. What follows is the best I got so far, so I’ll happily sing it for anyone who wants to listen.
Prayer for the Couple
Faithful Father, Immanuel, God who is with us, we thank you for this day and in all the ways you have led May and Pat to be standing here, together. Thank you for safely bringing their friends and family here to celebrate, to witness, and to simply be with the couple on this important day. And for those who aren’t able to be here today, we take a moment to remember them and thank them for how they loved us and what they mean for this couple and everyone here.
Father, because you are here, we can feel everything we need to feel right now. Everything belongs: the exhaustion and frustration of wedding planning, the happiness, excitement and nerves of new beginnings, the hope we share for this couple, the anxiety of what’s ahead, the love we have for each other, and the sadness, pain, and grief that is also here right now, in our lives, and in this world.
Your faithful presence allows us to acknowledge and own it all. We find comfort in the promise that you will not spare us from anything, but sustain us in everything.
So we stand here together, breathing in this moment, and allowing ourselves to settle in and be fully present to this beautiful celebration of marriage between May and Pat.
Thank you for your faithfulness, for your Son, and for your Spirit that lives in and through us. In Jesus' name, Amen.
I’ve probably heard hundreds of these messages as a photographer, and to be honest, I don’t remember most of them.
I think one reason messages like this haven’t been memorable to me is because on such a beautiful day where beautiful people have gathered for a beautiful couple, it’s so easy to fall back on cliches about love that sound great, but don't really mean much more. Or, if you’ve been to a Christian wedding, the message can get so overly theological and preachy that it becomes more of a sermon than a celebration.
Luckily, I’m not a pastor, so you won’t be getting a theological sermon. And May and Pat, you are two of the most real and grounded people I know, so I won’t talk in cliches that will most likely make you vomit in your mouths.
We all know the golden rule: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And at first read, this verse from Matthew chapter 22 verse 29, is saying that loving others is the second most godly thing to do. The first being love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Growing up as a Christian, especially a Korean Christian, I was taught this verse was God commanding us to love others and serve my church with every ounce of energy and time I had.
But loving others is a great thing — it’s why we’re all here today. May and Pat, you both love each other, and you love each other so much you want to be together in marriage. We are all here because we love you, and we want to party with you and celebrate this commitment of love you are making. Our lives are not complete if we don’t have a community of people we can love and serve and be together in celebration and in mourning.
And that’s usually all we hear about this verse, especially on days like this. We love love, and you are now united in love. And you will love each other happily ever after.
And while all of that is true, I think the golden rule is saying something more. If you take a moment to let the verse sink in, it seems loving your neighbor as yourself is as much about self love as it is about loving them.
Brené Brown talks about love in this second way:
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them-we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
This part is not talked about nearly enough, because the idea of loving ourselves feels awkward, doesn’t it? It can get woo woo real quick, or too positive and candy-coated.
For some of us, and this is true for me, loving ourselves can feel selfish. Like we’re taking up too much space, and we are being an inconvenience to other people.
And even if we want to love ourselves, we’re not sure what that looks like because our culture doesn’t know how to do that in a healthy way. And the version of self love we are sold that’s about buying things, experiences, or freedom for ourselves, seems enticing — but leaves us emptier.
I’m still learning how to love myself better, but what I’ve learned is loving myself and loving others isn’t mutually exclusive. And as you are here, ready to be husband and wife, the one thing I want to say is that loving yourselves is a beautiful way you can love each other.
One of my favorite definitions of boundaries is from Prentis Hemphill:
“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me at the same time.”
I love this definition because it brings this idea of self love and loving each other together.
May, I’ve said this to you before, but I’ve never taken for granted the time, presence, and vulnerability you’ve shared with me. I know it’s not the easiest thing to let people in and open yourself up in a real way, but when you do there’s no going back and they are trapped in your friendship forever. I’ve experienced that, and I think every person here, especially those to your right, know what I mean.
And Pat, I’ve loved getting to know you over Korean BBQ, inspiring me to keep lifting weights, and maybe this Christmas we can watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy together.
I say this because I’ve experienced loving boundaries from you both. I’m grateful that in our friendship, we were able to love each other and ourselves at the same time. And my being here and speaking in front of you, even though you know the kind of year I’ve had is yet more proof of your love for me and yourselves.
This, of course, is true to your relationship to each other. May, you don’t have to put yourself, your needs, and your health over the duty you feel to be a good wife, a good daughter, or a good friend. Pat, you don’t have to worry if you aren’t doing enough or if you’re being the most helpful for May or others in your life.
We love each other as much as we love ourselves, and I know for both of you, your deep desire is to grow and help the other person to be their best selves.
So yes, love each other as best as you can, but also communicate with each other the things you need in order to love each other and yourself at the same time. How that gets communicated, how that’s received, and how that is worked out is the day to day frustration and beauty of marriage.
I’ll end here with this quote from Marianne Williamson I come back to, when I need to remind myself why loving myself is a beautiful way to loving others.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
I love you both, all of us here love you, and your friendship in our lives has made our lives better. (And let’s be real, sometimes May, you’ve made our lives worse, but we love you anyway.)
Thank you for letting me share my heart with you today.