What if we always did exactly what we wanted? God wants us to be happy right, so why not do what brings us happiness? You’re probably already objecting. Anyone over the age of 6 knows you can’t have everything you want whenever it’s available to you. If you’ve ever vomited from an Otter Pop overdose (not that I’ve ever done that…) you’ll understand.
Humans have a strange habit of wanting things that are bad for us and rationalizing our decisions to indulge in them. Examples are easy: tasty but unhealthy food, expensive things financed with debt, extramarital affairs, premarital affairs, procrastination, too much time on your phone, and the list continues.
If our immediate happiness is the primary factor for staying married, we’re in big trouble. Difficulty in marriage is worth working through; at least that’s what I hope to communicate with this post.
Out in the cold
For the past two summers, I’ve climbed Mt. Rainier (Selena’s support was vital in my weakest moments). Here’s the thing about mountaineering: you need gear to make it to the top and back alive.
But gear is so heavy…I mean really heavy. I think our packs weighed in at around 65 lbs last year.
You need ropes, axes, fuel, a stove, a tent, a sleeping bag, boots, cramp-ons, food, and a bunch of other stuff I have NO desire to carry. Most of the stuff is “just in case” of an emergency or extreme weather. Also, it’s much warmer at the bottom compared to the top so you’re carrying a bunch of stuff you won’t use until late in your journey.
It would be SO much easier to just wear shorts and a t-shirt and jaunt up the trail. I DESIRE to carry less… it feels much lighter and freer. You want me to be happy, right?? So this year I’ll do just that – why wouldn’t I want more convenience and happiness?
…Well, because it would be stupid.
Carrying nothing and wearing hardly anything to summit a 14K+ peak would make me an utter fool, and I would suffer a horrible fate if I followed that particular desire.
This example is obvious we make comparably bad decisions about less obvious perils every day. We’re inclined to frolic carefree through mountain meadows, whistling and giggling along the path. All the while, nightfall approaches, dark clouds loom ominously, and deep crevasses wait hungrily.
A life without restraint is anything but free
We live in a society driven by desire. Never before in the history of the world has any generation been so entertained, comfortable, and pacified.
There’s a word for constant pleasure-hunting, i.e. “taking the path of least resistance”. It’s called hedonism. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, I’ll explain it… DON’T Google it. Basically, hedonists seek to maximize pleasure and pursue it. The concept itself is nothing new, but it’s subtleties in today’s culture are novel.
We live in a very hedonistic culture: “maximize pleasure and minimize pain wherever possible”.
Generally speaking, pleasure is good and pain is bad, we can agree on that. But for christians, a culture clash occurs when pleasure and pain-reduction are elevated to greater importance than glorifying, obeying, and worshiping God.
If we’re weak in our faith or knowledge of God, we can be filled with doubt and anxiety when we want something contrary to God’s instructions. Divorce is one such desire you may have considered…(Jesus and Paul do discuss two justifications for divorce in Matt 19 (infidelity) and 1 Cor 7 (desertion) respectively, but note “I’m not happy enough” isn’t among them.)
Christian culture clash
God gives commands because he loves us and desires human flourishing – honoring the covenant of marriage is one such command. God desires good for his children, the best in fact. Being happy is good, pleasure is good, and experiencing good things is good…because God is good. James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17) .
But good things stop being good whenever they replace God.
Popular culture is great at justifying our desires and pursuing them. The marketing industry is built on this concept of meeting a felt need or desire. You can hear the radio ads: “Buy now, pay later!”… “easy financing!”. They make it as easy as possible.
Love is caught up and distorted in the milieu of culturisms: “I love you but I’m not in love with you” is just another way of saying “I’ve grown tired of you, I need to move on to be satisfied”. We clamor for happiness for its own sake but it eludes us.
Conversely, Jesus told us this life wouldn’t be easy (John 16:33), yet we act like we were bait-n-switched when undesired circumstances arise. In marriage this means we may begin to lose faith and abandon the plan too soon. This is why marriage must be a covenantal relationship. Tim Keller writes:
“Vows keep you from simply running out too quickly. They give love a chance and create stability so the feelings of love, always very fitful and fragile in the early months and years, can grow strong and deep over time.”
pg 89, The Meaning of Marriage
Jesus showed us true love’s grit on the cross. But why would love hurt him, the one perfect person ever?
Love isn’t always easy, but it’s always good.
All of the above to say this…sorry for burying the lead on this one.
We’re shown that the marital covenant is akin to Jesus’ covenant with the Church (Eph 5). What an amazing God we serve – that He would choose the most widely recognized and intimate of human relationships to illustrate His commitment to us!
In marriage, love is purified and strengthened when we endure difficulty with selflessness. Love is most obvious and apparent when it survives inconvenience and hardship. Jesus didn’t want to endure the cross, he wanted to be spared the punishment and separation from God. He even asked God to let him off the hook.
God said “no” to Jesus, so he could say “yes” to us. He didn’t set Jesus free so we could be liberated. Now we can place our trust in Jesus and be spared from God’s wrath. Incredible!
That’s pure love, and it was far from pleasurable.
God saved us from eternal punishment through Jesus, and it’s cause for celebration! But as Jesus told us, we’re not saved from struggles and trials in this life. In fact, we will endure harder things because of Jesus. If you’re standing in faith for your marriage, or sticking it out because of your covenant before God, I’m talking to you.
Our obedience to God will sometimes feel like carrying a 65 lb pack up a 14K foot mountain when we’d rather shed the burden, embrace our immediate happiness, and get on with the journey. Don’t give up! You’ll need the pack, and all it contains, for the rest of your journey. God knows we will face struggles in the name of obedience, in fact he promised them.
BUT, he also promises to help you carry the burdens. The pack may be heavier, BUT your Helper is stronger than you’d ever be on your own.
Be encouraged, and stay the course
Let’s keep God on the throne of our lives and marriages. Let’s stay strong in our covenants and obedience to him, trusting that he is a good Father who has our absolute best interests in mind. This takes a strong, mature faith – which I’m confident you can have.
The pack may feel heavy now, but we must trust God that every bit of joy, peace, and hope are contained for the journey of a lifetime.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
How have you endured temporary hardship and seen God work through it?
I’d love to hear your response in the comments below.
Share an Encouraging Image
It’s easy: Click an image, it expands, you share… Who knows who you’ll encourage when you share your heart. For more images like these, you can go here.
Featured image by Jeff Marsh. If you’re hardcore and want a whole gallery of Rainier shots, go here.