I’ve performed a lot of weddings. Most of them included a unity candle ceremony.
The two candles up here represent the lives of______ and . As a symbol of the commitments that they have just made, they will each take a candle and light the center one.
Then they extinguish their own candles, allowing the center one to represent the union of their lives as one flesh.
“To bring joy and happiness to their home there must be the merging of these two lights into one. This is what our Lord meant when He said, ‘On this account a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and the two shall be one flesh.’: ‘Consequently,’ Jesus said, ‘they are no longer two but one.’”
“As this one light cannot be divided, neither shall their lives be divided, but be a testimony to their unity in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a recent wedding, the couple replaced the unity candle with unity sand. Since I had never guided (nor witnessed) this before, I had to give some thought to what it symbolized and what I would say.
Like the two candles, the two containers of sand with their different colors represent the lives of the bride and groom. When they each take their sand and take turns pouring their different colored sand into the center vase, the flowing sand and blending colors symbolize the uniting of two lives into one.
The remaining container of sand is a beautiful picture of the blending of two lives. The couple can carry this with them and display it as a reminder of the uniqueness each one brings to the marriage.
I’ve been thinking about that ceremony for a while and I believe it offers a better and needed vision of marriage — particularly among Christians. It reflects the original plan in better ways than the candle ceremony.
Revisit the original plan for marriage
When God created the first man, He recognized something incomplete, and said,
- “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18, NIV).
- “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (NLT).
God created the first woman and brought her to the man as a divine gift and a completion of what was lacking. At this point in the narrative, the human author of Genesis pens words that Jesus later attributed to God himself.
“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6).
- Since the first man was incomplete without the woman, she evidently brought special qualities to their relationship that must not disappear into his dominance.
- If a husband behaves toward his wife in a way that causes her to disappear into himself, he threatens the complimentary intention of the Creator. He hurts himself and his wife.
Back to the sand ceremony
Perhaps when a husband observes the sand that represents his wife’s life blended with the sand representing his life, he will be visually reminded of how much she brings to their relationship. He can also notice how much better it looks when her life is an evident part of the blended beauty of their marriage.
Some men use Christian teachings about male headship and submission of wives to diminish the uniqueness and contributions of their wives to the marriage. When they insist that life conforms to their dominant identity so they can get what they want, they dishonor God’s gift and cause harm to their marriages.
But I’ve also observed women who suppress their identity under more dominant men – who frankly need the gifts and strengths of their wives. These women follow misguided understandings of headship and submission. Trying to be “the submissive Christian wife,” these women violate the original design by not being the complementary completion to men who badly need the unique blended beauty of their wives.
The original plan assumes the necessity of individuality and uniqueness in husband and wife for the completion of oneness. The unity sand offers a nice picture of two becoming one — without one disappearing in the other.
I fully realize that as sinners we all must resist the temptation of selfishly demanding our own way in relationships — especially one with the closeness of marriage. After 32 years of marriage, I also understand the tensions of give and take and how two people must be willing to honor to each other above themselves. But whatever else oneness is meant to be, it’s not the disappearance of either part into the other but the merging of the uniqueness of each into one.
This truth has another side to it. Marriages rarely fail without some pattern of neglect involved. If each person is important to the strength of a marriage, each one must be diligent to bring the beauty of their uniqueness and gifts to the relationship. I realize that it takes two for marriage to be what it is meant to be, but when one is trying and the other is not, a breakdown is inevitable.
Challenge to leaders and others
- Discuss this perspective on marriage with married couples to discover illustrations of how it works in life.
- Explore ways in which our approaches to communication and conflict resolution honor or dishonor this original plan.
- Call husbands and wives to understand and practice the Creator’s design for marriage.
- Consider using unity sand as a visual aid for discussing the original design for marriage.