Annotated Vows

Annotated Vow

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
Genesis 2:24

Weddings are about vows. The flowers are fragrant, the dresses beautiful, and the tuxes dashing, but the promises take center stage. Yet compared to the high costs of typical weddings, the vows come cheap. The promises a bride and groom exchange cost nothing to say. But they cost everything to keep. They can be said calmly in less than twenty seconds, but they are meant to be lived out for a lifetime.

For this reason, I have asked couples during premarital counseling to join me for one session of attention to the vows. I usually take them to the very place where they will say them to each other and then I explain the plan. Since the wedding is not a setting where we can talk at length about the vows, it is crucial that both partners express what they intend the vows to mean and seek to understand their partner’s meaning. Often this is the first time a couple actually thinks about the content of the vows. Sometimes they’re surprised by the promises.

Then we go through the vows, line by line, and I ask the couple to face each other, hold hands, and explain what they mean by the traditional words. What follows below is an annotated version of the vows with some of the terms couples have employed to expand on their promises.

I take (accept, thoughtfully choose, joyfully receive) you to be my husband/wife (mate, companion, friend, fellow-traveler, lover, delight)

To have (consider part of me, see as mine, take responsibility for as myself) and to hold (hug, caress, treat tenderly, protect, enfold) from this day forward (I am entering a new part of life that begins today)

For better (good times, make-up times, new days, wonderful discoveries), for worse (disappointments, misunderstandings, arguments, difficulties, unforeseen challenges);

For richer (not only material wealth but richer experiences in life that we seek to share together, growing into an abundance of God’s presence in our marriage), for poorer (times when we have to depend on the Lord for provision, times when we have to adjust expectations);

In sickness (times of sickness, fatigue, and the stresses of life, when patience is required) and in health (we take care of each other and encourage healthy living);

To love (long for you in every way, serve you, practice growing into oneness with you) and to cherish (to offer tender touch, patient care, seeking to understand and meet needs)

Until we are parted by death (we recognize that these promises aren’t for heaven but for here, as we help each other to know the Lord and anticipate eternal life in his presence);

As God is my witness (I acknowledge that God is listening to me and expects me to take these vows as seriously as anything I have ever said), I give you my promise (I want these words to be the most precious things I could ever give you, and I will live them out for you every day).

It’s been a delight to watch couples move toward each other as they have struggled, laughed, and cried their way into understanding the depth and meaning of their “leaving vows” that will allow them to join in the full oneness of marriage.

Once in a while, take an evening with your spouse to review your vows.

(C) NLT Marriage & Family Devotional, January 19, 2010.

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