In the past couple of months on Rational Faiths, we’ve been hearing a lot about the temple sealing ceremony and the role it plays as a part of LDS weddings. We’ve heard a lot from members overseas about the benefits of having separate sealings and wedding ceremonies as is required by their countries’ laws. It has been making me feel a little bit sad and a little bit frustrated… but mostly because it has been making me feel a lot of envy.
Let me explain. (No, there is too much. Let me sum up.)
I graduated from BYU single (after living in Provo for seven years) and married at the age of 26. I had been to many, many of my friends’ weddings by the time I had my own. And there was a theme in many of those weddings, that as I was planning my own, I was anxious to avoid. That theme was stress, confusion, and distraction. I can’t tell you how many sealings I’ve sat in where I watched an agitated bride and groom, as they tried to focus on what was happening. And post sealing they are whisked away to continue the festivities, without having the time to stop and consider the eternal nature of what they’ve just done. It has just always felt rushed to me. Anti-climactic somehow, as though the wedding cake were more important than the wedding ceremony.
So when I was planning my own wedding, I switched everything up in an effort to create a certain atmosphere for the sealing ceremony I wanted to experience. I held my reception the night before the sealing ceremony. We had a small brunch the morning of, followed by pictures and all that jazz. The sealing was the last thing on the agenda, and after that we were able to get in the car and drive off to the honeymoon. The idea was that by the time we reached the temple, everything else would be over and there would be nothing to stress and worry about. We could just focus on the matter at hand and then go away together and just be together. We’d have some time to ponder the commitment we’d just made to each other.
But wouldn’t you know it, in the quiet moments sitting with my fiancé in the celestial room just before the ceremony we barely had it in us to concentrate on what was about to happen. Instead we were feeling exhausted and frustrated by our encounters with family and friends and had the general feeling that we were maybe the only ones trying to focus on the main event… which was really keeping us from focusing on the main event. That time in the celestial room before the ceremony that was meant to be a moment of reflection for us, turned into me trying to convince my distraught soon-to-be-husband that all of my family didn’t hate him, and underneath it all they were really glad we were getting married. The ceremony itself feels like a blur, because I was—despite all of my efforts to have a different experience—so very distracted. (Although, we do remember that our sealer had a crooked forefinger and kept waving it at us when he was trying to make a point.) We felt more relief than joy when we finally drove away from the temple.
Don’t get me wrong. There has been much joy since that day, and I kind of believe that the wedding ceremony is the least important part of getting married. It is what you do with it in all of the years and eternities, after that day that counts. My husband is wonderful and my marriage is amazing, we have a great relationship with both of our families (my husband feels blessed to have the in-laws that he does), and in the end I don’t really think how the sealing went down is what matters, just that it went down at all.
But still. When I read these stories about sealing ceremonies that were separate and special—special because they were separate—I just feel jealous. It never even occurred to me that I could do such a thing. Of course I could have, and I even knew that in other countries it was done that way. For some reason it just never crossed my mind to insist on it for myself. Probably because there is this pervasive idea among (US) LDS culture that if we have a civil ceremony we are down-playing the importance of the sealing ceremony. People applaud the combo wedding because they say it sends the right message to outsiders, that the sealing ceremony is the most important thing of all. That is erroneous, of course. “Outsiders” don’t get to see or even hear about what happens in the sealing ceremony and so it will never seem important to them. Only exclusionary. I know, without any doubt, that the family members and friends I had standing outside the temple weren’t in awe of the awesomeness of me getting married inside. It made very little impact on them at all. Because of the way we shaped our agenda, many of them didn’t even stick around, because there was no celebration to be had afterward. Talk about anti-climactic.
If we had chosen a civil ceremony, there would have been fall out of course. We would’ve been told we had to wait a year before the sealing ceremony could take place. (Why? I don’t know. We were both worthy and ready; that is a pointless policy that seems to only apply to US couples.) People would have made all kinds of assumptions about why we’d done that and rumors would have abounded. But I’m always going to wonder whether we should have taken that risk and whether the sealing ceremony would’ve been more like I wanted it if we had held the events separately.
I can’t help but compare it to my own endowment, which was separate. I went through the temple for the first time two years before I got married, so there was no connection there. Neither was it connected to going on a mission, for the record. I just wanted to—and was ready to—work out my own salvation. I knew that was somewhat controversial at the time, because I had friends whose bishops and stake presidents were telling them that they weren’t “allowed” to go through the temple unless they were getting married or going on a mission. Which is inaccurate and ridiculous, and I was blessed my bishop had no such notion. And when it comes down to it, I felt like my endowment was made even more special because it wasn’t connected to a wedding. Its only purpose was me making covenants I needed to make, and it was a day for me and me alone. I wish I could’ve seen the sealing ceremony the same way, as more special when not connected to a wedding. As more special because it was a day for me and my husband, and the sacred covenants that we needed to make. I see it now, but of course it’s too late.