What’s in a Ring?
This is my wedding ring. I designed it myself and it holds a lot of symbolic meaning for me. I thought I’d share it with you.
Firstly, a wedding ring for me is a powerful symbol. If you’re not into rings, or you just think they’re another scam of a materialist culture (like diamond engagement rings), that’s totally fine. The meaning I give wedding rings is totally my own. I don’t base it on any Bible verse or spiritual insight, but I do believe that ritual, traditions and symbols (even when humanly invented) are very powerful things. Also, I think socially, there is a sense that wedding rings do communicate that someone has made the commitment of marriage. I know women who, when they meet a guy, will immediate take note of whether they are wearing a wedding ring or not, and the idea of the sleaze-bag guy who takes off his wedding ring when he goes on a work trip, is looked on with contempt by general society, even in this climate of the scepticism or redefinition of what marriage is about.
My thoughts about the powerful symbolic nature of the wedding ring became most potent in my life during my three and a half year long separation at the end of my first marriage.
For those three and a half years I had to decide whether I would wear my wedding ring or not. My wife had taken her ring off pretty much at the beginning of the separation and I do think it contributed to her belief that the separation was for her, when we became emotionally divorced. But for me, I was fighting for reconciliation and in my mind (and I believed, in God’s mind) we were still married, and so, I wore the ring. There was in fact, only a brief period over those three and a half years (about a month, I think) where I decided to take the ring off. This, in itself was a very powerful thing to do and I think I did it at the time because my obsession with restoring my marriage was causing me unhealthy depression and so I decided to symbolically “take a break”. I did not completely take off the ring though. I put it on a chain around my neck until I felt I could put it on my finger where it belonged.
That is why, when the divorce became finalised, I knew what I had to do to accept the reality that my mariage had ended. I had to take off my ring.
As I had been fighting so hard for my marriage for so long, I thought that I better do something even more potent than simply take it off, and so, on the day before my divorce was finalised I invented a little ritual. Having worked in the funeral industry for a while, I have come to see the importance of the funeral experience in the process of grief and acceptance and so I decided to have one of my own little funeral-type ritual. The counsellor I was seeing at the time recommended that I draw a line on the ground somewhere and go for a long walk thinking through my entire relationship and then come back to that line and simply… walk over it. This would physically symbolise the moment that my marriage ended and that I was walking beyond it. I liked this idea and so incorporated it into my little ritual.
I went to the spot where I had proposed to my first wife – It’s in a park in the city of Melbourne – and at the exact spot where I had bent my knee to ask her to marry me, I once again bent down and dug a small hole in the dirt. There I sat and cried and prayed as I held in my hand the photo I had kept in my wallet throughout the separation. And when I was ready, I took off my wedding ring and placed it along with the photo, into that small hole and covered them up. Then I stood up and went for a very long walk and did exactly what my counsellor had advised. I eventually came back to that spot where my wedding ring was buried… and I stepped over it. I walked forward as a single man and kept on walking. That moment was extremely powerful and helpful.
If you are facing divorce and you need to accept its reality in your life (I’m not commenting here on situations where a legal divorce would not constitute a “real” divorce in God’s eyes – that’s maybe for another blog!), then I would suggest doing some sort of ritual like this. I also had friends around that evening and I played a variety of songs that had been significant to my marriage and prayed and received their comfort. You should do what would be significant and helpful to you. The main thing I would suggest is not to wait for the legal certificate of divorce to come in the mail to be your “marker” or “moment of acceptance”. The document may take a bit to get to you and it is a cold symbol. Also, you need to file that document away and keep it safe so that you can marry again in the future, so don’t treat it with too much symbolic or emotional significance as you may end up destroying it.
Anyway, back to the subject of wedding rings.
By God’s kindness and mercy, a couple of years after my divorce I was looking for a new wedding ring. I had met Cat Wort, a wonderful, fun, godly and genuine woman, and a week before we had been dating for a year, I had asked her to marry me.
Now, after all that I have shared in the first part of this blog, I’m sure you can understand how thinking about purchasing a new wedding ring was quite an emotional thing for me. After all that I had been through, what did a wedding ring mean to me? Did it hold that traditional concept of a perfect unbroken circle of eternal commitment?
The “it had to be gold” thing was completely meaningless I could admit, but I couldn’t shake it. I looked and looked at heaps of other options, but I couldn’t get past the idea that deep in my psyche, there is implanted a cliche that a wedding ring is gold. The titanium wedding ring for men and the solid sterling silver men’s rings just didn’t feel right. It’s not a great argument, but, with Cat’s encouragement, I admitted to myself that it being classic yellow gold was actually important to me.
It also had to be different from my first ring. This was a bit trickier to accomodate. My first wedding ring was the classic simple band of gold – like the ring in “Lord of the Rings”. These you can find in any jewellery store.
Unfortunately, that first ring had so powerfully become a symbol to me, I knew I couldn’t buy another one that looked like it. I knew my new marriage wasn’t simply a replacement for the old. Cat wasn’t a substitute or a re-run. I never even refer to her as my “second-wife” and I never want her to feel like anything less than my “wife”.
So, I knew the ring that symbolised my marriage to her had to be special. I wanted it to symbolise what I had learnt about marriage and be a reminder to me and anyone else of those truths. I hope one day I can show my wedding ring to my kids or grandkids and explaining its meaning to them.
After searching high and low, and getting a little bit stressed about it, I found a little jewellery maker on Sydney Rd in Coburg (right near where I lived) and saw in the window a ring that looked like it was made up of lots of panels. It was very cool, and creative and so I tried it on. I really liked it and and was even more pleased after I found out that I could use that concept of the panels and design my own original ring and it wouldn’t cost any more.
After a few sketches and different designs, I eventually came up with the one I am wearing today. It says a few things to me…
The Broken Ring
The first thing you might notice about my ring is that it’s not just a solid band of gold. It’s made up of all these panels in a brick-like pattern. Now, I didn’t intend for it to imply that my first marriage was solid and now my new marriage is somehow broken, but it does reflect something of my experience. There is a fragility in marriage that I think all married people should acknowledge.
In hindsight, I see that in my first marriage I had, what I call a “Titanic” view of marriage. I thought, because we were both Christians and we were making a life-long commitment, that, like the Titanic, not even God could sink this ship! One of the reasons why so many people died on the Titanic was because they had such an expectation that the ship was unsinkable, they they did not take the proper precautions to make sure people would survive if they ever struck a big enough iceberg. They didn’t have nearly enough lifeboats and they had a poor emergency strategy. I think I thought of my marriage like that. I thought, as a Christian, I will never consider divorce an option – which I think was a godly position to take – but this foolishly fostered in me an over-confidence that meant I did not expect that we would ever hit a big enough iceberg to sink us, and because of that, I did not protect my marriage and ensure we had a healthy enough relationship to save us if disaster ever struck. So when we hit a big iceberg, the weakness of our marriage was exposed and the ship sunk.
I look at my ring and the fact that it is made up of panels reminds me that on one level my marriage is fragile. Like a brick wall, it is made up of pieces, but it is also well constructed. I am confident that my marriage to Cat will last until death do us part, not because of the strength of our commitment or simply the fact that we are Christians and so divorce will never seem like an option… I am confident because acknowledging our fragility helps me to be committed daily and diligently and most importantly, it helps me to be dependent on the one thing that truly holds our marriage together – the gospel.
Another aspect of the ring that you may have noticed is that the spaces between the panels create the shape of a cross.
For Christians, the cross is the heart of Christianity. There is nothing magical about the symbol itself. It refers to the horrible place of execution that Jesus experienced. So why is this symbol of death and disgrace the central symbol of Christianity? And why did I chose for it to be the key symbol on my wedding ring?
Well, there is so much that could be said about this topic, but I will try to just make three main points relevant to my marriage.
Firstly, the cross is the place where sin is acknowledged and dealt with. Marriage is always a commitment between two sinful people. In your wedding vows, you are making huge commitments that inevitably you will fail to keep perfectly. Your love will be mixed with selfishness. Your trust will go through seasons of doubt. Even your fidelity will be tested and you may struggle with attraction for other people or temptation to engage in porn use or even worse. If you have no way of dealing with sin and empowering forgiveness, then you will inevitably have a marriage that is based on performance and devoid of grace.
Our relationship with God is based on the grace found at the cross of Jesus. We can’t even begin to engage with the gospel if we can not acknowledge the most basic of all truths – that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We come to God with our sin in our hands and God comes to earth in Jesus and welcomes us into his family. But he doesn’t ignore our sin or sweep it under the carpet. He takes it onto himself and bears the full punishment it deserves. In the cross, our sin is rightly acknowledged as wrong and yet at the same time, it is paid for and dealt with. The cross is the place of atonement. It is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. It is the doorway to forgiveness. As Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).
The wonderful thing now is that, in trusting in what Jesus did on the cross, we can be reconciled to God and enter a relationship with our Creator that is not based on guilt or winning God’s favour by being good. Guilt is completely done away with. There is no judgement, no condemnation, no distance. Our relationship with God can begin and be built on grace and mercy and forgiveness. God still acknowledges our sin, but having being dealt with on the cross, is it no longer a thing that separates us from him, and so he can help us to change from the inside out.
This is how marriage should operate also. Because God has forgiven my sin and Cat’s sin, how could I hold any sin against my wife? As Paul instructs us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
Because the cross is the centre of our mariage, it is the place where we can acknowledge and deal with the sin in our marriage. It is the place that shows us and empowers us to forgive each other. When we are both daily remembering the wonder of God’s grace and mercy to us, this overflows into grace and mercy for each other and for ourselves.
It also means we can be honest about when we sin and when we are sinned against. Because we do not fear condemnation from God and we do not fear condemnation from each other, we can bring up areas of failure freely (though still with sensitivity) and we can deal with them quickly and without the need to justify, hide or defend our sin. Now, naturally, we sometimes fail at showing grace to each other, but even that failure is covered in grace!
Secondly, the cross is the greatest display and description of love. The bible passage that was central at our wedding was from 1 John 4:9-11. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Probably Jesus’ most famous teaching was to love our enemies, or love your neighbour as yourself. Clearly love is so important to marriage and everyone would agree that one of the saddest relationships is a loveless marriage. Staying faithfully committed is not God’s central goal for marriage. God wants marriage to be a place where love is experienced and deepened and displayed.
But what is love? What does it look like? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Is it simply a biochemical reaction in the brain? Well, if you are looking for an extensive list describing how love must practically demonstrate itself, then I’d point you to Paul’s brilliant and beautiful description in 1 Corinthians 13, but if you want it shown to you in a picture form, then time and time again the New Testament points us to the cross as the place where we see the love of God most potently displayed.
Again, that may seem odd. How can this symbol of death and torture show us God’s love? And how can it show us how we are to love each other? Well, in being willing to die for our salvation, Jesus shows us that selflessness is at the heart of love. Being willing to “die to ourself” for the good of our spouse, to bless rather than curse, to bear pain rather than inflict it, is what love is all about. It is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling that comes and goes and that we “fall into” and “fall out of”. It is a verb. It is a doing word. But at the same time, it is not devoid of emotion, like some sort of cold duty or theological principle. Love is passionate and genuine. Love longs for the good of the other. Love weeps when the beloved is hurting and is bold to fight for their good. As Paul says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7) These are practical words, but they are also emotional words.
And this is way Jesus loved us in dying for us on the cross. The cross in my wedding ring is a reminder that I must love Cat with the same sacrificial love that Jesus showed me. This is especially relevant for me as a husband, as part of the meaning and purpose of marriage is to be a living parable of the covenant love between Christ and the church. Christ is the “bridegroom” and the church is his “bride” and the Bible instructs Christians to display this dynamic in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Specifically, to Christian husbands, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
For Cat & I, the cross instructs our love, it models our love, it defines our love and it empowers our love.
Thirdly, the cross reminds me of my relationship with Cat that is deeper and longer lasting than marriage. Primarily, the cross is not about marriage. It is probably the greatest pivotal moment in all of history, where the greatest problem of mankind and all of creation was dealt its fatal blow. It is an event of epic and eternal consequences. Marriage, on the other hand, is quite insignificant in comparison. I do not define myself primarily by my marriage to Cat. Sure, I am her husband and she is my wife, but the cross on my ring reminds me that something so much more important is happening here. Our relationship as husband and wife will only last as long as we are both alive. As soon as one of us dies, we are instantly not married any more. Marriage is not eternal. It is fleeting like a breath, or as Ecclesiastes says… it is hevel (see my blog on Ecclesiastes for more). I do not put my hope or security or the centre of my identity in the fact that I am married. I think one of the problems in my first marriage was that I had done exactly that and came to discover just how “hevel” marriage really is.
At the most, I will be married to Cat for say, 40 years, and who knows, one of us could die any day (I work in the funeral industry, so I see how fragile life is). But as Christians who have come to the cross and put our trust in Jesus and found forgiveness and new life, we have become brother and sister in Christ. Now THAT is a relationship that will last! We will be worshippers of Jesus for eternity, which makes our 40 year long (if we’re lucky) marriage, seem quite small.
The best we can do for each other is to be faithful, not to each other, but first and foremost to Jesus. I want Cat to love Jesus more than she loves me, to be committed to Jesus more than she’s committed to me, and to seek to please Jesus more than she seeks to please me. And she wants that for me as well. Our relationship as spiritual siblings and fellow-followers of Jesus is deeper and richer and more eternal than our marriage. It is at the very core of our identity and so, consequently, it must be the very core of our marriage.
The reason why I did not design a ring with a cross engraved on to the gold surface is because the cross is not something I simply add on to my marriage to make it look more pretty or more religious. The cross is in the gaps of the broken pieces, holding them together. It is like the mortar in between the bricks. Take away the mortar and the brick wall can fall over with a bit of a push. But the mortar makes it all come together and gives it a strength that it would not otherwise have.
Likewise, the cross is fundamental to the strength of my mariage. Between every part of my marriage it can be found, and I like that my wedding ring displays this. When I look at it, the brick-like panels mean that I can see the cross in my direction, and in the next two panels, the cross is shown out to the world. This was unintentional, but I like the fact that this message of the centrality of the cross is displayed to myself and others at the same time.
The final thing I have unintentionally found that my wedding ring teaches me is how much of a pain it is to clean! Because of all the little gaps, it is so easy to get dirt and grit and shaving cream and hair mousse stuck in between the panels. It makes me keep an eye on whether it is getting gummed up or dirty, and it reminds me to protect it when I am about to do something that could clog it up. But, I guess, that’s a great lesson for marriage as well!
So, what’s in a ring? Well, for me, quite a lot. I know that rings are just bits of metal, and that they are easily lost or stolen. I also know that symbols, like rings, can make us feel like we are really doing marriage, when they really mean nothing if we do not do the real and practical work of loving and forgiving and serving every day.
I only hope that for as long as I have it on my finger, I can look at my ring often and be reminded of what my marriage really means.