The left side of my closet is reserved for dresses I never wear. There’s room for taffeta to poof far on the left. For many women, this is the bridesmaid dress section. These dresses are hung left, beyond the winter coats, so all of the negative emotions that hide in those layers of chenille and lace remain hidden. After all, who wants to feel jealousy lurch when reaching for the perfect pair of stilettos; or resentment rob celebratory thoughts while peeling a favorite Donna Karan blouse off the hanger? Those, “Someday my prince will come” thoughts need to stay left. Way left.
Contemplating who we are not, and who we wish we were, can make the morning coffee bitter.
One bridesmaid dress hangs in full view though, right in the middle of the one-size-too-small slacks section. Yours may be simple, elegant black, or it may be coral silk with an itchy petticoat and shoulder pads. The important thing about this dress is that it does not have any resentment, bitterness or jealousy hiding in its pockets. It’s the bridesmaid dress from your sisters wedding, or your best friend’s wedding. It’s the dress you wore down the aisle with joy because you love that woman, whoever she is, more than you love yourself.
You don’t wish you were her. You’re made better by knowing her.
You would do anything for her, and dye your shoes to match.
Now John the Baptist did not have a closet of camel hair best man tuxes, but he was fully aware that he was ministering in Beulah Land - the land called Married - the holy place where the Groom was coming to meet his bride.
And he knew he was destined to never be more than the loyal best man.
More than that, the Groom had come and was taking over John’s job right there in the springs near Salim! The fourth Gospel has Jesus and John’s ministry overlap, so we find the cousins together in chapter 3 bringing people out of the chaos, through water, into purity, if just for a time.
John’s disciples are vexed. “The one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him!”
The flower petals dropped by those paving the way quickly get trampled upon and forgotten about once the bridal party enters the room.
Yet John wasn’t vexed. He knew he was no Jesus. Not one verse indicates that John would have preferred to have been the Messiah, or felt one twinge of jealousy for his cousin. In fact, John was joyful about fading into the shadows so his friend could begin the walk to His bride.
John and Jesus were close. Likely, the two played together as children, dreamed about this day of revelation. And it was not one-sided. John and Jesus were so close that after John is killed, beheaded for being such a faithful best man, and Jesus has an especially bad day escaping stoning and arrest, “He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there” (10:40).
There’s comfort in shared places, even with just the memory of a departed friend.
We choose a side of the river in which to be baptized every day. We can choose to dress as John’s disciples who lament about who they are not. If only I had a husband like that, a job that paid that well, a figure like hers, a life that perfect… The trouble with that side of the river is that there is no life there.
There’s some temporal washing as we flirt with God, but we’ll never be the Bride on that side of the river.
Yet, if we quiet the who I wish I was instead thoughts for a bit, we’ll hear Jesus proposing. He’s calling us to take the plunge on His side of the water. “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa. 62:5) Your true friends, like John to Jesus, will rejoice too. They’ll gladly step back into the shadows and watch you twirl in the gown of Christ.
Occasionally, from then on, you’ll catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, made perfect for all time, and you’ll be struck confident in who you are - a vital part of the body of Christ.
The Groom lifts the veil of His church as He passes her through the waters, and she rises up complete, second fiddle to no one’s pink taffeta.
"The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete." John 3:29
Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC