I posted a quote on Facebook taken from the Marriage Retreat that Justin and I attended last weekend at Keystone Church. “Happiness is a great desire, but it is a terrible god” (Susan Thomas). I was asked to expound upon that thought – and I think it is kind of along the lines of the lessons I have been learning lately (I went into this both in my Best Versions of Ourselves post and in my Where’s My Glass Slipper post). I tend to be a person of many words (as my friend Kelli Jones says, Ahem) whereas Susan cut straight to the point with her quote.
The entire point of the Christian life, in fact maybe the definition of a follower of Christ, is that HE is the goal. His presence, His power, His name, His glory, His renown. Jesus is the goal. Jesus is the God at the center of our lives. As Matt Chandler said the day he went to find out if his tumor was cancerous, Jesus is all. Period. There are many other things crying out for us to follow them, there are many other things our hearts (which are deceptive) want to follow. And those can be good things. They can be great things. But they are terrible goals. And terrible gods.
Here’s what this looks like. A relationship is a great thing. But when achieving a relationship becomes your goal, and therefore your god, it can turn into desperation, insecurity, compromise. You can make ridiculous choices in pursuit of the relationship you desire. I think about my junior high experience – I wanted badly to have friends. That is a good goal. But instead of looking around at the people near me to be my friends, my eyes were set on the popular crowd. Those were the people I wanted to be my friend. And so I contorted myself into this other person to “fit in” with that crowd – and ended up being miserable and alone inside. That is what I am talking about. Taking a good desire, a desire given to us by God, but twisting it in God-forsaken ways until it consumes us.
In that same way, happiness is a great thing. But when achieving happiness becomes your goal, you can make choices to “be happy” that are directly contrary to the commands and directives of God. So you meet someone and they make you happy. You feel good about pursuing this relationship – your heart tells you to pursue it – this person makes you happy. But you are married. And you don’t feel happy in your marriage. So you chase the happy – you leave the marriage and you chase down the thing your heart thinks you need, thinks you deserve. But the problem is, happy is fleeting. And when the happy is gone, do you have the commitment to stay? Or do you simply chase the next happy that comes along?
And the next?
And the next?
Where does it end? Is “being happy” all the time possible? And if not, why?
Brandon and Susan talked about the nature of all things in this fallen world. You have to realize that this world is not what it was intended to be. It was created to be a place of beauty, of the physical representation of the glory of God. But sin entered the world and with it the pain of death. And since that day, things have changed. The world has been given over to sin and death. So how does this play out? Brandon and Susan explained it this way: all things, if left alone, gravitate towards death. It is so true. They brought up milk – great thing, but left alone, it spoils and rots. Our bodies, great tools, but left alone, muscles atrophy and we age until death. Our brains, left idle, actually physically shrink and our ability to complete difficult thought processes goes away. Plants left without food or water wither and die. Relationships are no different. Relationships take work to fight against the natural progression of all things towards death. If you think you can enter into marriage and tread water, little do you realize that the current is slowly taking you out to sea. And if you “trust your heart” to guide you in your relationship decisions as you seek happiness as your goal – well, chances are good your marriage will not last.
So, then, are we supposed to just rot in our unhappy marriages until our bodies slowly wither and die? NO! Although the nature of this world is death, the nature of our God is truth and beauty and life.
So what do we do? We take our desires to be happy, to have a relationship, to have a great marriage, and we bring those desires to God. We bring our lives under His leadership and follow His instructions. And we watch and see as He makes all things new! He is the only hope and only power for light and life in this dark world. He is the only hope for our marriages. He can bring joy and happiness in our 10th year of marriage, and our 20th, and our 30th, and our 40th, and our 50th. He can bring joy and happiness when our circumstance are terrible and our happiness seems gone. He can change us, restore us, give life to our marriages again.
Although the nature of the world is a slow gravitation towards death, the nature of our God is a slow gravitation towards life eternal. And when HE is our goal, and HE is our God, we have joy. This same principle applies to all of the good things in our life: money, sex, friendship, acceptance – indeed every life goal we have. Goals are good. Dreams are good. But bring those goals and dreams to God and want Him first, and see what goals and dreams He brings to fruition in your life. He is good. He is all. He is enough.