Last time we began looking at the Idol of Happiness in Part 1. I discussed how often people won’t do the right things in life simply because those things don’t make them happy. It’s common in our culture for believers to mistakenly believe the notion that “God doesn’t want me to be unhappy.” This is especially true in marriage. For many Christians, marriage has some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card attached to it. They seem to think the radical, difficult parts of Christianity (to love, to serve, to forgive, or to sacrifice, pertain only to those outside of one’s marriage. Loving, suffering, turning the other cheek, forgiving are all wonderful Christian concepts, but one shouldn’t have to do that in our own marriage. That would be way too much work.
“But stay in an unhappy marriage!?” you protest. I’ve had people try to reason and argue with me about why they were bailing on their wives or husbands and justify it one way or the other based on the presupposition that God would not want them to suffer. “Come on,” they’ve said to me incredulously. “Are you actually saying God would ask someone to stick in a marriage that makes them unhappy?’
I grant you that the idea of staying in an unhappy marriage is a completely foreign concept to most folks, and it’s one that is not readily received. (You may as well be speaking Swahili to non-Swahilis.) But have you ever considered that the reason the Scriptures call us to live by faith is to empower us to do what’s right even when it’s hard to do—whether or not we suffer while doing it? What if faith was designed by God to give us the courage to choose what’s right though it makes us unhappy, though it means losing everything we have, though it means laying down our very lives? Whoa, this sounds so—Jesus-like.
“So, you’re saying we should just accept an unhappy marriage?” Absolutely not! In fact, my life is dedicated to showing couples how they can be happy together, how they can make marriage work, how needs don’t have to go unmet, how they can succeed. I believe everyone can have a happy and successful marriage. But you can’t secure a happy marriage if you’re will to discard an unhappy one.
Happiness dawns only when we are willing to sacrifice our personal happiness to do what is right. I’m not always happy. When things go badly around me, I’m not happy. When things I expected to happen, don’t, I don’t feel happiness. But I have learned a secret. When I do the right thing (though things around me are not right), things eventually change. And I have discovered that in the midst of unhappy situations, God is still there.
Jesus claimed, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” You can “be of good cheer” or have joy when no one else seems to sense it but you and Jesus. The fact is, He loves you and cares for you no matter what is going on. Faith celebrates that.
A number of years ago archaeologists uncovered some letters written by martyrs during the first three centuries oaf the Church’s formation. One martyr penned:
In a dark hole I have found cheerfulness; in a place of bitterness and death I have found rest. While others weep I have found laughter; where others fear I have found strength. Who would believe that in a state of misery I have had great pleasure; that in a lonely corner I have had glorious company, and in the hardest bonds perfect repose. All those things Jesus has granted me. He is with me, comforts me and fells me with joy. He drives bitterness from me and fills me with strength and consolation.
This is the stuff the bible talks about. And you can experience this same joy right in the middle of a troubled marriage. The Bible actually promises, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But you won’t experience joy if you’re serving the idol of happiness.
Jesus taught us that the only way to truly save your life is to lose it. It is only when you and I are willing to do what’s right, even if we suffer doing it, that we get to taste Christian joy. And this joy is present before you get God’s answer to your problems. This is important to distinguish. The joy does not come from having the answer to your problem. It comes from being willing to suffer and still do what is right. But we must make the decision: I will serve You, God. I will honor You, no matter what. I will do what’s right. I don’t care what it costs me. I don’t care who it associates me with or who it separates me from, I choose to honor and serve You—regardless of whether or not it makes me happy at the time.