A Powerful Wedding Toast
I was a best man once, and it’s all too easy to remember how I felt during the wedding reception. I was terrified. I couldn’t think straight and I was pretty sure my hearing had gone out in my right ear.
Leading up to the wedding I had done a little research online as to what makes a great toast, and what to avoid. The help I found wasn’t very convincing: compliment the bride, thank everyone for being there, tease the groom a little, tell an anecdote on marriage or love, and end by toasting to the couple's health.
A simple enough algorithm, I thought. But something was missing.
When my time came and they handed me the microphone, I stood up, all my hearing gone now, and began reading from some notes I had written on my phone. Until the mic started picking up interference. You know the electrical ticking that happens right before your phone rings? Some of you do anyway…
Well in my heightened state of awkwardness I did the only logical thing to get my phone away from the mic: I tossed it down the table where it bounced end over end and almost took out the bride's grandfather. Ok, I thought. The ice has definitely been broken.
My speech went much smoother from there, at least so I’ve been told as I have blocked the two minutes from my memory entirely. What I can say is that I have learned the core to a good toast, which the Internet did not tell me.
Giving a good wedding speech really comes down to speaking truth over the couple's lives—the kind of truth that is deeper than what is normally seen. It’s about reorienting ourselves to the mythic story once more, and about championing the hearts of the two people being celebrated that day.
Yes, thanking people for being there is good. By all means compliment the beautiful bride. But say something meaningful after that.
I’ve bartended a few weddings and it’s sad how many times the toast is squandered with stories that shouldn’t have been shared, some half-hearted (but well-meaning) sentiment, or worse—when no words are spoken at all.
(Please, forgo mentioning all past relationships, how lucky your bro is for finally tricking someone into marrying him, and let’s leave that story where you ran from the Mexican police for campfires… unless this was how he met the bride, in which case, awesome!)
Public speaking is one of the most terrifying things in the world to people. In fact, I struggle with it as well. But in those moments I am reminded of Viktor Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
I take this to mean that even if I am terrified, I know that looking back I want to have said something meaningful, and it is those words, not the one or two times my voice cracks, that people will remember. So I choose to step up and speak what I believe matters.
At the risk of seeming self-indulging, I am including a portion of a toast I recently gave.
"For most everyone on this planet life is a series of events eliciting joy and pain, loneliness and wonder, goodness and confusion. Through it all we try to learn who we are and what we should do, or can do, with our time here. This is not true of Blaine and Emilie. These two, unique and beautiful people, know who they are and where life is to be found.
Blaine is a warrior to his core. He fights for others and beauty and for the hope of restoration. He fights for Emilie. But he is also wise, and kind, and poetic. Emilie is also a warrior. Her love for those dear to her is fierce and she does not yeild or abandon. But she is also thoughtful and discerning.
Blaine and Emilie have chosen to risk by entering into relationship. While the world around them often does not understand, they know that love is worth fighting for and that beauty is possible. I love who I see you becoming as you step forward on this adventure together. May your life be full of wild beauty and your marriage full of wonder and joy. Together you bring life to those around you as you follow Jesus.
Tonight we toast to your marriage: may you experience life and adventure, peace and love, to new depths. The world will never be the same with you two in it. To Blaine and Emilie!"
Marriage is a powerful thing, and it is risky, and it is beautiful. Call out what you know to be true of the couple. Toast to their shared adventure and their new life together. I guarantee it will be the speech people will remember, and the one you really want to give.