I am half Filipina. Embracing my Filipino culture has always been very selective for me. I enjoy drinking out of coconuts, eating mango, having rice with many of my meals (and sometimes eating it with my hands), raising my eyebrows to say “yes” or “hi”, and resting in the comfortable Asian squat position. And any temperature below 75 degrees Fahrenheit is absolutely too cold for me.
However, there are bigger things I have chosen to avoid since I am also American. I desire to be tan (as opposed to whitening my skin), I have consistently rejected eating balut, and the process of dating and marrying my husband was more westernized. Bobby “courting” me did not require much involvement of our family’s permission. And when we were preparing for the wedding, he wasn’t expected to pay for the whole shebang (even though my American dad thought that would have been a great Filipino tradition to uphold).
A year ago, today, we got married. And just like how I’ve always done life, we were selective about which Filipino traditions we would implement into our wedding.
As we were in the midst of wedding planning, I remember sitting with my parents and rolling my eyes–a lot. Because that is what a good, young-adult American daughter does, right? My parents were adamant about Bobby and I selecting ninongs and ninangs (godparents) for our marriage.
This Filipino tradition involves selecting several couples that are admired and respected by the bride and groom to be a source of wisdom for their future marriage. Honestly, the only reason I was rolling my eyes and not super excited about this was because it was extra space on the (already 5-page) brochure of our ceremony program. (Along with the explanation of communion, the veil and cord ceremony, lyrics to a hymn, and descriptions of the wedding party and family)—petty, I know.
However, the process of inviting these people into our marriage with this specific role was probably some of the most humbling moments during the wedding preparation. I did not expect tears of honor when we asked these people. I did not expect the amount of enthusiasm we recieved to play such a part in our marriage. And I definitely did not expect the immense blessing that came from this special tradition.
Our culture (western culture) is very individualistic. The idea of vulnerably inviting people into our mess and doing life with us is absolutely unnatural.
Social media encourages us to cast an image of our lives that communicate “contentment,” “perfection,” and “We have it all together” (I’m guilty of this, too). When you scroll through Facebook and Instagram and that is all you see, then you start to question, “Well, gee, what’s wrong with me?” So when things do get messy, the absolute last option is to expose that mess to other people. We avoid asking for help and advice. We isolate ourselves and think and hope we can figure it out on our own.
This is one of the best tactics the enemy uses to break marriages: Become “one flesh,” “cleave to one another,” but separate from community.
In a previous post, I referred to our first year of marriage and why I believe marriage is hard, but good (read post here). What I didn’t mention in that post, was how circumstances weighed in on our first year. I was a full-time student drowning in papers, nannying almost every day, balancing my part-time ministry job and friendships, and learning how to cook and live with a boy. Bobby was working 40 hours a week and taking online classes for his masters. When my schedule lightened up, I was wrestling with the heavy weight of the brokenness of our society (as I was interning with an anti-sex trafficking organization) and the emotional turmoil and chaos of my family moving across the country. Add in Bobby’s and my sinful nature, and we got one big mess.
But you know what’s sweet? People knew our mess, came into our mess, accepted us despite our mess, and loved us out of our mess. And this is the gospel.
Often, it is traditional that godparents are selected when one gets baptized. One of the functions of baptism is for there to be a symbolic representation of a new life in Christ. Baptismal godparents are called to pray, guide, and walk with this individual through their spiritual journey.
Similar to baptism, when a couple gets married, a new being is “created.” Two individuals joining together into “one flesh.” This “one flesh” requires godparent figures as a new life is born. People who will nourish the marriage with wisdom. Protect the marriage with prayer. Graciously support the marriage with guidance. And assist in growing the marriage with accountability. Just like a baby needs milk, marriage needs community.
Several of our godparents were a means of grace that the Lord used to bring us through this first year. These significant relationships gave us a special form of discipleship. And while our first-year anniversary has arrived, the learning will never end.
If marriage is supposed to be a picture of the gospel to the world, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to protect it and nourish it?—not only to survive it, but to thrive in it?
What if, in our Christian culture, it was the norm that as soon as you get married you enter counseling? Or intense discipleship? That it would be so normal that when you hear the words “marriage counseling” or “couples counseling,” people do not automatically think you are on the verge of divorce, but are just being students in how to love each other better? What if that was the milk to build a strong foundation, instead of waiting for a crises to occur? What if reaching out to people around you when marriage gets hard wasn’t embarrassing or shameful, but encouraged and the obvious intervention?
I want it to be normal for young married women to come together to share their joys and burdens, and say to one another, “Me too,” instead of acting like it’s all good. For it to be routine for young married men to get together for accountability in leading their wives. How would marriages in the Church look different if it was default for older couples to initiate relationships with younger couples to model meaningful marriage? Would divorce rates in the Church look different?
Looking back now, imagining me rolling my eyes at the concept of godparents is absolutely ridiculous and naive of me. (Yes, Mom, you always end up being right.) Inviting these people at the beginning of our marriage freed us from the guilt and shame of the trials of marriage. Because 1) we knew we were not alone, 2) there has always been someone to point us to Jesus and walk us through our trials, and 3) there was always someone to celebrate our joys with, as well.
Older couples, initiate with the young married/dating couples in the Church. Younger couples, humbly seek out those who have walked ahead of you in marriage for several years.
I don’t want ninangs and ninongs to remain as just another Filipino tradition. I want this to become a part of the Church’s culture. Because as a young married woman, I don’t have it together, and I don’t have it all figured out.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes the Church to raise a newly-wed couple.
Thank you to our parents for loving us and giving us wisdom through our first year. Thank you to our ninangs and ninongs for praying, supporting, and encouraging us. It is truly a means of grace in our marriage. And this–a picture of this kind of community glorifies God.
And some scripture to back me up, because I can’t say it any better than this:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:2-6)
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:9-12)
“That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27)