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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marriage, Happiness and the World Series


You know that song?  It goes on to say your life should show it…it’s kind of a dumb song, but in the olden days, we were a captive audience when they made us sing it at camp and other places. 

They just didn't say marriage in the words of the song.  

I just read a book by a friend, which I would highly recommend, called, Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome by Nancy Anderson.  

It’s a short, but very good book full of tips to help strengthen marriages.  You can check it out on her website at  www.ronandnancyanderson.com and the book is available in soft cover and ebook formats.  Very practical ideas.  

Anyway, in her book, she mentions a tough time in her marriage when she complained to her parents that she wasn't happy in her marriage.  Being wise parents, they challenged the notion that “being happy” is the purpose or basis of why one stays in a marriage.  I thought that was a pretty good comment, given the transitory nature of feeling happy.  I know I am always pretty happy when I get on a roller coaster….but just as I cross the top of the biggest hill, my happiness seems to stay on the hill as I zoom down the side with OTHER emotions!  

Nancy goes on to say that as she searched through the scriptures, she found that, indeed, God doesn't have in there a promise guaranteeing happiness.  But you and I both know a lot of marriages end because one partner or the other, or both, declare that they just aren't happy in their marriage anymore.  How do YOU respond to that?

What was interesting for me was that, shortly after reading her book, I happened to be at the church of a friend of mine, and the pastor was challenging people in their relationship with God, and said something like God’s desire was for us to be happy, not to be struggling in life.  

But I had just read my friend’s book, and found myself questioning his assertion.  

To make matters worse, I realized that in some modern translations, the word, “blessed” gets translated as “happy” in places like the Beattitudes:  “Happy are those who…”  

Is God’s goal for our lives for us to be happy?  

Probably depends on your definition of happy, and whether you are referring to continuous happiness here on earth, or ultimate happiness for all eternity.  Before I continue, let me refer to another quote about happiness that you probably know.

Add to that what I consider to be the wisdom of the U.S. Declaration of Independence when it mentions the unalienable rights granted to us by our Creator as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  

Not happiness, notice, but the pursuit of it.  Kind of interesting, don’t you think?  

The founding fathers did not assume that life and liberty would mean that we would be happy 24/7; but they did assume it would provide us opportunities to pursue things that make us happy.  In the same vein, I really don’t remember ever hearing the word “happy” as part of the promise in the wedding vows.  “I, Froderick, take you, Elsie, to have and to hold, so that I will be happy every moment of every day of my life, and promise to make you happy every moment of every day over your life.”  I’m thinking that isn't how they go.

I have two responses I’d like to suggest.  The first that the scripture promises something different than happiness, it speaks instead of God giving us joy.  Many have pointed out that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy, describing happiness as a fleeting emotion based upon circumstances whereas joy springs from an inner confidence and relationship with God, regardless of the circumstances.  Hence Paul could write from a Roman prison, “Rejoice in the Lord, always,” (Philippians 4:4) or James 1:2 suggests that we “consider it all joy when we meet various trials,” clearly not the same as what most of us experience happiness to be.  

As I write, I am watching the World Series.  The fans in blue were very, very happy when their hitter got onto first base.  Their happiness diminished when the inning ended scoreless for them, and completely disappeared as the first Giant landed his foot on home plate.  And now they are happy again, from a RBI double that brought their first score.  And now they’re not happy at all because their batter got hit on the leg by the pitch.  

Happiness is just very fickle.  

Joy endures, because joy has its source in God, while happiness has its source in our response to the events of our lives.  In fact, Jesus explicitly says that he desires his joy will be ours and that our joy that will be full (John 15:11).  It seems to me that the implication is we should never settle for mere happiness, when we can know something far deeper in our lives.

The second point I want to make after noting that happiness comes and goes, is that there are other things that are more lasting that I think make better goals.  For instance, I've noticed that the runners of the races in the Olympics don’t look particularly happy at much of any time during the race.  They generally seem pretty intense, pretty stressed and incredibly focused…until they cross the finish line in first place.  Only AFTER their achievement do they experience the happiness of their accomplishment.  Take a look when that gold medal is placed around their necks, their smiles are almost too big to fit on their faces!  

So maybe our lives are meant to be like that, too.  When we take on the great challenges of life, when we put forth our best effort, when we see that hard things through to the finish, only then can we expect real happiness to set in, happiness from the fulfillment of having accomplished something significant.  At least, that’s what I have seen on the faces of couples celebrating a 50th anniversary, even though it wasn't on their faces every day leading up to it.  

There is something to be said in taking a long view in our desire for happiness.  When you have lived your life the way you know God designed you to be, and have been faithful to him and to your wedding vows there is a fulfillment of purpose that no fleeting earthly happiness could ever be worth even comparing to it. 

Somehow, I think we need to give ourselves to something bigger than mere happiness.  We need to give ourselves to making a difference in the lives of others.  Or to accomplish something that really matters.  Most of all, to be fulfilled in accomplishing the very things we were meant to accomplish, the things for which God designed us, the chief of which is living in right relationship with him.  

I think Nancy’s parents were right.  

For the married partners who want to get out merely because they are not as happy as they wish they were, they are forfeiting their opportunity for fulfilling joy of being able to look back upon a lifetime of ups and downs, trials and celebrations as they kept faithful to their marriage vows through it all, knowing it was worth every struggle they ever faced.  My first marriage didn't make that, but with God’s help, that will be the story of my current marriage, struggles and all!

I’d like to close by quoting the Serenity Prayer….the ENTIRE Serenity Prayer as written by its author, Reinhold Niebuhr, including the second half which is often ignored.  Maybe it will offer a new perspective on happiness for you.

“GOD, grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change, 

Courage to change the
things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the
pathway to peace. 

Taking, as He did, this
sinful world as it is, 
not as I would have it. 

Trusting that He will make
all things right if I
surrender to His Will; 

That I may be reasonably happy
in this life, and supremely
happy with Him forever in
the next. 


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