Dan and I spoke our marriage vows on a warm July day, the air thick with humidity after a surprise summer storm. We held hands and took turns echoing the pastor: “For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” I tried to focus on the words, on their weight, on Dan’s eyes, on my commitment. But all I could think about was the stray hair blowing against my cheek and the dense air that had gotten trapped under my dress. It felt like my legs were suffocating.
After declaring “till death parts us,” we spoke joint vows, reciting Ruth 1:16-17 in unison:
Where you go I will go. Where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Ruth spoke these words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, after Naomi’s husband and sons (including Ruth’s husband) had died. They had been living in Ruth’s country, Moab, but Naomi longed to return home to Judah. Ruth insisted on going with her, pledging to follow Naomi and live among her people and learn her religion. It’s a picture of fidelity that transcends our Western storylines of love and fairytales and happily ever after.
The idea to recite Ruth 1:16-17 wasn’t mine to begin with: I borrowed it from my friend Beth. I don’t remember if it was before or after I got engaged, but at some point she mentioned that she wanted to do this at her own wedding someday.
I couldn’t get that beautiful picture out of my head—of two families coming together inseparably through marriage, of following a loved one to the ends of the earth, of sharing everything: home, identity, faith. So I asked Beth if she would let me use her idea in my wedding, and she gave me her blessing.
My voice mingled with Dan’s as our words floated toward the arch of greenery above our heads. Perhaps Ruth understood the weight of her words, or perhaps she didn’t. But I spoke those words the way most people speak vows at their weddings: joyfully, earnestly, naively.
Earlier this summer, I had the honor of attending Beth’s wedding. It felt like we were witnessing the happy ending of a romantic comedy—an exuberant bride, a dashing groom who wiped a tear away as she made her way down the aisle. A hundred guests sat in white folding chairs in a country club garden. We shivered slightly under a cloudless blue sky; the wind made 70 degrees feel cooler.
I watched Beth and her now-husband, Dom, as they recited the words of Ruth 1:16-17 together, just as Dan and I had five years earlier.
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
I placed a hand on Dan’s knee and gave it a gentle squeeze, letting my mind wander back to the palpable heat and hope I felt on our wedding day.
When I recited these words with him, I had imagined them coming to life as things we would do: follow one another to the ends of the earth, love each other’s families as our own, be faithful to one another even through the end of life. I hadn’t thought about what they meant for who we would become.
As I listened to Beth and Dom, a line I had all but ignored five years ago took me by surprise: “Your God will be my God.”
After all, what was there to think about? Dan and I were both already Christians; of course his God would be my God. Check. Done. Gold star.
When I first met Dan, I was entrenched in fundamentalist Christianity. In the truest part of me, I didn’t believe a lot of the things I claimed to. But I genuinely didn’t know there was any other way to be a faithful Christian.
The God I believed in at the time didn’t allow women to teach or lead—not from the stage, not in marriage, not even in flirtation.
The God I believed in required hour-long quiet times and pages of journaled prayers every morning, filled phrases that would prove my faithfulness: “Lord, I just want your will to be done.” “Jesus, I just need you to guard my heart.” “God, I just ask that you would be glorified in whatever happens.”
The God I believed in hated homosexuality and was proud of my efforts to “love the sinner but hate the sin.”
The God I believed in wanted his people to vote Republican, because anything else was akin to murder.
The God I believed in gave me the ultimate escape route through Jesus, so I didn’t have to care about the Earth or the people on it, beyond securing their eternal destiny.
The God I believed in sent non-Christians to a fiery hell for eternal conscious torment.
The God I believed in was so angry about my personal sin that he needed to kill his son before he could forgive me.
The God I believed in was angry and judgmental and needed to be appeased constantly.
Back then, I would have told you that what I wanted most in a man was a spiritual leader—someone who would lead us in daily prayer and devotions, who would ask about my walk with God, who would defend my honor and protect my heart, whatever that meant.
I’ve never been so glad to be blinded by love.
I remember being concerned when we were dating that Dan’s quiet times didn’t look exactly like mine, that he went to a church as “liberal” as Willow Creek, that his faith appeared so flexible and free. But I fell in love with him quickly for some pretty solid reasons. He won me over with his kindness, his genuine love for people, his joy in serving, his enthusiasm for enjoying life and protecting the Earth and giving away his excess.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that all the things I loved about him were the ways he reflected the image of God—a God who was actually quite different from mine; a God I desperately wanted to believe was real. Still, despite our different approaches to living out our faith, I assumed that we believed fundamentally the same things. My reasoning went something like this: “All faithful Christians believe what I believe, and I know Dan is a faithful Christian. Therefore, he must believe what I believe.”
And then, three years into our marriage, I began to massively deconstruct my faith, which is a nice way of saying that I questioned whether I still believed any of it. My deconstruction is not over, and I know now that my faith will always be evolving. But this is what I knew for certain at the time: I could no longer believe in the God of my teens and twenties.
At first, I was nervous to admit this to Dan. I was afraid he would say I was on a slippery slope, that he would fear for my salvation and eternal destiny, that we would grow apart doctrinally and relationally.
I told him one night in the kitchen while he was washing the remaining dinner dishes that I wasn’t sure what my theology was anymore. I wasn’t sure that I could be Evangelical anymore. I could tell he wasn’t sure what to make of this as he asked gentle questions, trying to figure out if I was abandoning my faith altogether.
I was raw and confused at the time, and the only way I could explain it was this: If I’m going to keep believing in something, then I have to believe that God is love. I have to discover that God for myself, because the one I believe in looks like fear and hate and shame.
In the following months, we would have dozens of conversations over dinner about everything from heaven and hell to women in leadership to same-sex relationships. If it was a hot-button issue, we talked about it. Often I would listen to a theology podcast, send it to Dan and ask him to listen to it, and we’d discuss it later that day.
With nearly every point I brought up, with nearly every faith shift that felt radical to me, Dan would say, “Yeah, I already believed that.” To which I would respond, “You what? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
Through two years’ worth of these dinnertime conversations, I have come to realize that Dan and I believed in wildly different Gods when we took our wedding vows. But five years later, due in no small part to Dan’s humble example, his God has become my God.
I believe in a God who is fully loving, fully gracious, fully divine, and fully human.
I believe in a God who doesn’t love white, straight, cisgender American Christians exclusively but who loves every single one of his children fully, safely, perfectly.
I believe in a God who does not abuse his power to make us afraid but who identifies with the outcast and defends the marginalized and roots for the underdog.
I believe in a God who doesn’t destine people for either unending luxury or unending torture but who calls us to be a part of his redemptive plan right here on this earth.
I believe in a God who is physically present in everything.
I believe in a God whose very essence—his loving-kindness—is the literal fabric of the universe.
Dan and I still don’t agree on every theological point, and quite frankly, we don’t have to. As we keep learning and evolving in our faith, we are orienting ourselves toward Jesus and each other.
Where I go Dan will go. Where Dan stays I will stay. His people are mine and mine are his.
And our God is love.