Watching friend after friend find true love can be discouraging, but it can also be an opportunity to shine.
The day dawned perfect — sunshine and blue sky with a fall nip in the air. I walked into the church — my hair in soft curls — and my breath caught. Billows of tulle and white lights had transformed the sanctuary into something out of Narnia.
Emotion welled up in me. But it wasn't wedding-day joy. It was something else. Wistfulness. Loneliness even. I was not the bride ... again.
I have been a bridesmaid four times.
I realize that's a low number compared to many unmarried women my age. Last fall, when my sister married, I once again assumed the familiar role. While I was thrilled for Bekah and her groom, part of me cringed at being "not it" ... again.
That's the thing. Each time one of my friends finds love, I'm truly happy for her. But that doesn't mean being on the congratulating side doesn't get old. When will it be my turn? I wonder. I've caught the bouquet three times already!
If I'm honest, I have to admit that I have viewed the "supporting" role of friend to the bride-to-be as a lower status. I mean, minus the romantic euphoria, it definitely feels lower. But recently I've discovered that much like a supporting actor boosts the performance of the lead, a friend can make or break a bride's romantic success.
Song of Songs tells the story of the lover and the beloved, following their relationship from first meeting to marriage. The happy lovebirds are the ones I think of when this book is mentioned. But there is a third important character: the friends. This group of women — most likely singles — follow the bride-to-be around, witnessing her relationship and championing her cause.
Their influence is made evident early in the book when they proclaim: "We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine" (1:4).
Now, I have rejoiced with my friends who have wed, but I'm not sure I've achieved this level of enthusiasm. In this story, the friends affirm the woman and her relationship with this man. They witness the couple's love and applaud it.
I experienced this when my sister married. I had prayed for Bekah throughout her high school and college years, that she would walk with the Lord and find a partner who encouraged her in her faith.
It became clear during my sister's courtship, that Ezra was just that. He had been praying for a wife and preparing for one. Almost from the moment they began dating, Bekah became more serious about her relationship with Christ. Even though she is nine years younger than me, when I looked at the love Bekah had found, I could not help but notice that God was in it and praise Him.
Help, I Need Somebody
The woman's friends not only share her excitement, but they also challenge her. When she asks her friends to find her beloved after the two have had a fight, they ask her: "How is your beloved better than others, most beautiful of women? How is your beloved better than others, that you charge us so?" (5:9). These women are not afraid to step in to protect their friend's well-being.
I remember when one of my friends made the decision to marry very quickly — soon after getting out of another relationship. I was concerned about the speed of the relationship and circumstances surrounding it, so I asked her frankly: "What makes this one the guy? And what are your reasons for marrying so quickly?" After I heard her reasoning, I was satisfied that she was making the right decision.
Once the women are convinced that their friend's relationship is right, they proceed to help her (while bolstering her self-confidence!): "Where has your lover gone, most beautiful of women? Which way did your lover turn, that we may look for him with you?" (6:1).
If you've been a bridesmaid, you know about the importance of helping the bride with wedding-day tasks and last minute errands. But what help do you offer her during her courtship and engagement?
I'm ashamed to say that my tendency has been to back off when a friend begins dating. She's consumed with her relationship (which usually means she's spending most of her time with the guy), and sometimes the effort to stay engaged in her life doesn't seem worth it. Not to mention I can feel more at home and secure with my "single" friends.
But the Shulamite woman's friends are committed to being there for her from the start to finish of her relationship. They're all up in her business, so to speak.
An important function of these kinds of friends is that they help guard the woman's virtue by being involved in her life. Their presence provides natural accountability. In fact, it becomes clear later that this goal is central to their character. They say:
We have a young sister, and her breasts are not yet grown. What shall we do for our sister for the day she is spoken for?
If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar. (8:8-9)
These women are set on protecting the virtue and purity of their friends and siblings.
Throughout the book, the role of the friends becomes clear: rejoice, challenge, help and protect. The implication is that without these friends, the betrothed woman would be lost and vulnerable to impropriety or unwise decisions.
It's unfortunate that our culture often reduces bridesmaids to token friends who swoop in wedding week to wear impractical dresses and shoes. The friends in Song of Songs are not of this variety. They are deeply invested in the health and happiness of the betrothed couple.
Always a Friend, Never a Beloved
No matter how stellar of a friend you are, finding yourself continually in the pack of "friends" and never the "beloved," can be disheartening. I imagine that is why the beloved encouraged her friends with this statement:
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. (2:7)
This message was so close to her heart that she repeated it three times. Her relationship with her beloved is so affirming, miraculous and right, that she wishes the same for her friends. I believe she is telling her friends to wait on God's timing for a beautiful, heaven-honoring romance. She is urging them to hold out for the love God has for them and not settle for chasing after it in their own way.
Being a witness to God-ordained relationships should be an encouragement to single women. Days before my sister's wedding, I wrote these words:
Some assume that I would be discouraged by the fact that my little sister is getting married before me — after all, I have waited nine years longer than she for a godly spouse. I won't deny that an occasional question of God's fairness has crossed my mind, but by His grace, Bekah and Ezra's journey has encouraged me in a profound way and renewed my hope.
When I see Bekah and Ezra together, it is apparent each of them believes they have found a treasure in the other. They bring out the best in one another and desire God's good in each other's lives. As I've watched their story unfold, I have witnessed what the Giver of Life can do through a relationship He ordains.
I believe that is why the friends in Song of Songs can so easily rejoice for the beloved. Her romance speaks to them of God's goodness. One day it may be their turn to experience the blessing of courtship and marriage. And when it is, they can count on their friends to rejoice with them.
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