That title may be misleading. I really only have one confession, as a pastor who does indeed officiate many weddings: sometimes I think I prefer funerals.

Lest you think I’m terribly morbid, let me be clear. I don’t prefer death. My heart breaks with and for grieving families, and there is nothing more excruciating than burying someone who died too young. I’d take joy over bereavement any day.

It’s just that people don’t spend years obsessing over the perfect funeral. Few folks turn to Pinterest to plan memorial receptions. (I would have said no one does this, but a cursory search turns up pins such as “Seven ideas that put the “fun” in funeral”.) There is a funeral industry to contend with, to be sure. But it’s nothing compared to the wedding industry.

What I really prefer isn’t the funeral itself. It’s the firm focus on what really matters: life and love, family and legacy, hope and meaning. Funerals can be so hard, but they can be so beautiful.

Sometimes I fret that all the trappings of the Wedding Industrial Complex are more of a distraction from the point than a deepening of it. I love a pretty bouquet as much as the next girl, and I think marking milestones with champagne toasts and celebratory dancing is right and good. Still, when I meet with couples for premarital counseling, I think I might come across as a bit of a killjoy.

I tell couples that my primary concern is preparing them for their marriage. I make them fill out a long and comprehensive questionnaire that covers everything from sex to finances to in-laws, and no matter how long they have been together, they always discover something new and notable about one another.

I encourage them to read a good marriage book (which, by the way, is an excellent wedding gift, and I don’t just say that because I’ve written one). I beg them to make the decision now that they will seek marriage counseling if and when they need it.

I encourage couples to covenant themselves to one another with traditional vows—“vintage” vows, as I call them in an obvious attempt to make them sound less fusty. As I’ve written before, the vows are everything, and there’s something powerful about echoing the words that have bound couples for generations. (In one of my all-time-favorite Rachel Held Evans posts, she pondered if there is anything more spectacular than promising to love someone for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.)

I remind couples that their friends and family will pledge to support their marriage with love and prayer, and this care is more precious than any other gift they will receive on their wedding day.

And, I take a deep breath and gently encourage them to resist the temptation to let the wedding industry trick them into coveting extravagance. I encourage them to consider embracing simplicity—not the appearance of simplicity, but to actually keep their wedding day relatively simple.

Yes, weddings should be lovely. Yes, they should be special. But at the end of the day, the wedding is merely the gateway to the marriage—the shared life and love, the shared family and legacy, the shared hope and meaning.

Marriages can be so hard, but they can be so beautiful.