With two weddings in my family over the span of six weeks this summer, I have had many opportunities to enjoy and reflect upon the beautiful rituals associated with marriage ceremonies. Central to those traditions is the bride wearing white. A bride is the focus of the day; the beauty of the hour. She is the desired, chosen princess presented to an adoring, longing prince.
Both my daughter Sara and my daughter-in-law Hannah fit the bill in their stunning gowns, surrounded by their equally-beautiful and supportive maidens.
What I’ve realized recently is that this beautiful imagery of a woman worthy and desired has never been a part of my identity as a daughter of God. I have not retained the joyful radiance of a princess because I never focus on how much God adores me.
I am a bride who wears black. Are you?
Imagine a congregation waiting for the glorious bride to walk the aisle. The maidens precede her, glowing with joy. The groom and his friends anticipate the triumphant entrance of the chosen woman. Everybody in the sanctuary wonders if her dress is a ball gown or something more form fitting. Will it be sparkly or covered in lace?
Imagine their surprise when the doors open only to reveal a bride dressed in a black sack and covered in ashes. Imagine a dirge being played on the organ as she drags herself down the aisle with head bowed and tears filling her veil-covered eyes. The atmosphere has changed completely, from celebration to confusion and sorrow.
Why? Because the bride can’t believe she is worthy.
That has been me most of my life. And like many women, I have always been performance driven. We’re wired this way throughout our growing up years, constantly being graded in school or measured by success in athletics or competing for a spot in the popular crowd. Our entire lives are spent defining ourselves by how well we achieve or by who accepts us.
On top of that, I was raised by a hyper-critical dad who in a weird way was equally affirming and discouraging; both commending and ranting in a manner that deflated my brothers and me. They chose to resent him. I strove to please him.
Add to that, my early spiritual life was spent in a legalistic church setting where a heavy emphasis on the perils of sin stirred my tender conscience in destructive ways. I was unable to distinguish between sin and mistakes. I never focused on God’s love for me or truly believed he accepted me in spite of my failings. Back then, Christianity was a like a job and I was constantly afraid of getting fired.
Then of course, having a husband, kids, siblings, colleagues, and in-laws all contribute uniquely to my constant sense of shame and unworthiness. No one purposely fills my head with lies about my identity, but if I am treated well by those I love, I feel worthy. When I don’t feel appreciated or valued or heard or welcomed, I dress in black and try to improve my behavior so everyone will treat me better.
It’s a cycle I’m determined to end as I consider this truth:
Jesus was a King but he was not treated like one.
Isn’t that why his Father in heaven affirmed him at the start of his ministry?: This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Matthew 3.17
God is saying similar things to each of us as his beloved daughters, but we have to choose to believe them even if no human loves us like God does. This requires spiritual brain surgery. We have to be rewired if we have lived dependent upon the affirmation of people. This doesn’t discount the very real hurts inflicted upon us by those we love and long to please.
And it doesn’t mean affirming one another is negotiable. In the black and white photo included in this post, Sara is crying as the bridesmaids prayed for her prior to the ceremony. What if we moms affirmed each other this way, with prayers and reassurance that we are ready for whatever moment we are facing and whatever aisle we must walk along the journey of raising a family? How much stronger we would all feel, rather than feeling judged and inadequate.
Ultimately however, we will have the most joy if we see ourselves as God does and spend our quiet time focusing more on that and less on whether we have checked our spiritual performance boxes.
God sees us dressed in white.
He says we are forgiven and loved.
Jesus died for us, proof that we are worthy and accepted.
As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.