Commitment or Happiness: Do I Have to Choose?

Our pastor and his wife, Kenny and Valerie Dean, talked yesterday about marriage. Central in there discussion was how hard marriage can be. I don’t think it matters how “in love” you are with your spouse, there are times you just want to quit and walk away. All through the Bible, marriage is used to show how much God loves us.

“God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭1:26-28‬ ‭MSG‬‬

“No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:29-33‬ ‭MSG‬‬

As I considered yesterday’s message, i understood that people often treat their marriage the same way they treat God. We expect our marriages (and God) to be exactly what we want: all fun and happiness with no rough spots. Life is a beautiful rose garden with a fairy-God granting our every wish. However, it doesn’t take long to learn that the roses have thorns. God loves us, but He loves us through the trials. It’s only through the struggles that we learn trust and commitment. When marriage is all about what makes ME happy, the rough spots are inevitable. By loving my spouse IN SPITE of my feelings, I learn what true love is.

In our fast food, microwave culture, we have forgotten how to wait. If things don’t turn out the way we want, we find another option. We don’t have the patience to wait on God, so we stick around just long enough to glimpse the truth and then jump to something else. When I’m not happy in my marriage, I find other ways to get pleasure. The divorce rate in our country is indicative of this. If I hear one more person say “I deserve to be happy” I will scream! That’s a lie. Happiness is a decision not a right.

Time and time again we see evidence of the messes we make trying to “help God”. The unrest in the Middle East has its origins in such a debacle. Sarah helped God by giving her servant to Abraham. Ishmael was born the result. Sarah was mad when Hagar became pregnant and abused her. Hagar ran away to die.

“The angel of GOD said, “Go back to your mistress. Put up with her abuse.” He continued, “I’m going to give you a big family, children past counting. From this pregnancy, you’ll get a son: Name him Ishmael; for GOD heard you, GOD answered you. He’ll be a bucking bronco of a man, a real fighter, fighting and being fought, Always stirring up trouble, always at odds with his family.””
‭‭Genesis‬ ‭16:9-12‬ ‭MSG

How many times do we cause issues because we aren’t willing to wait? We jump from one partner to another trying to find love and happiness. We cheat and take what we want and then wonder why there is suspicion and heartache in our relationships. Sexual promiscuity is acceptable and dangerous. You have no idea what you will be exposed to in a single moment of pleasure. When you have convinced yourself that variety in partners helps you to grow into a better lover, you rob yourself of a truly intimate relationship.

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:16-20‬ ‭MSG‬‬

I serve a jealous God.

“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭34:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If my marriage is to be a picture of a my relationship with God, then I cannot venture outside of my marriage to find happiness. My joy and my happiness will be realized through serving God and loving my husband regardless of what’s going on in our lives. Through the good times and the bad, through the fun and the sadness, I will honor my marriage vows. I will honor my God.

. . . “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
‭‭Ruth‬ ‭1:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“If you can’t say something nice. . .”

We’ve all heard that phrase:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’ve said it to my own children when they were busily calling each other names or tattling on each other.  But, I have recently realized, that this phrase has taken on a whole different meaning in my life.

My internal voice tells me that nice people never get angry, so there must be something wrong with me when I get irritated, annoyed or mad.  I avoid situations and interactions with others that have made me angry in the past.  Rather than confront the pain/anger, I’ve become very adept at “not seeing” those persons.  I’ve been told that I don’t “do guilt.”  That’s not at all true.  I’ve just learned to hide all my guilty feelings.  If I don’t see them, I don’t have to feel guilty for the way I feel.

This internal voice also tells me that nice people always agree and swallow their own differences for the sake of being nice and preventing others from being irritated, annoyed or mad.  This has been a hard lesson for me.  When I’m asked for my opinion, I usually give it.  Why would anyone ask me if they didn’t really want to know what I thought?  However, the vast majority that ask don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  They expect agreement and support from me.  I’ve been told that I didn’t know enough to have that opinion.  I’ve been told to work things out within myself and “wrap my head around” an issue (meaning come to see “the right” opinion.)  I’ve been threatened in work situations when I didn’t automatically agree.  So, I’m very careful when it comes to being open with my feelings or opinions.  It’s better to be stoic than honest.

My therapist once asked me what kind of animal I felt represented me.  My answer was a possum.  A possum is useful in getting rid of unwanted pests. A mother possum is a fierce protector of her children and carries them around with her.  But, a possum is ugly.  It slinks around in the dark.  When confronted, it plays dead.  But, I want to be a flamingo.  A flamingo is beautiful.  It spends time in the open, eating and just being beautiful. Flamingos are members of a flock, and raise their babies together.  Everyone loves the flamingo.

I recently read a devotional taken from Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind” that said:  “We should choose our thoughts carefully. We can think about what is wrong with our lives or about what is right with them. We can think about what is wrong with all the people we are in relationship with or we can see the good and meditate on that. The Bible teaches us to always believe the best. When we do that, it makes our own lives happier and more peaceful.”

I am attempting to rewrite my internal messages.  I don’t think anyone should purposely hurt or offend others.  Name calling is a childish behavior and should be avoided.  I do, however, need to be honest.  And being honest about my hurts and my feelings may not feel nice to others.   I may not do some things in order to keep the peace or because it’s the expected thing to do.   I may still avoid situations and interactions with others to avoid unnecessary confrontations.  And, I refuse to feel guilty for putting my husband and children as a priority in my life.  I will live my life to the fullest and stop worrying about the approval of others.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life settled on the soil that God, your God, promised to give your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG

Struggles

I have begun and stopped at least a dozen posts.  There’s so much I want to say, but the thoughts seem incomplete and unimportant.  I struggle with what to say, what to share.  I see so much around me, both good and not so good.  But, putting the words around those moments has proven difficult.

I watch friendships that come and go for so many reasons.  I don’t think all relationships are meant to last forever. There are some people that come into our lives for a season and then we move on in different directions.  What I’m seeing, though, are relationships that are coming apart because there are so many conditions that are set forth.  The most common condition:   “I can’t spend time with you if he/she will be there”  or the more definitive “You have to choose, it’s me or him/her.”  But the most interesting spin on these conditional friendships is that the conditions are usually not reciprocal.  The same person that forces the choice also requires unconditional acceptance of all of his/her own relationships.

I see snap judgments made with very little knowledge of the circumstances.  It’s easy to jump to the obvious conclusions.  It’s much harder to look through the  details and find out the circumstances that surrounded the event or person.  Not all information that is provided through the news or social media is complete or even correct.  I remind myself that a cup of salt and a cup of sugar look a lot alike, but they impart very different results.  It’s time to stop assuming everything is at face value and look deeper.

I realize how easy it is to forgive and forget a “pet” sin.  Adultery, promiscuity, little white lies, petty theft are easily excused and often expected by the majority of the population.  But, make a mistake or forget something that is involved with one the “causes of the day” and expect be hung out to dry.  Political correctness, bullying, gun control are all examples of causes that get a lot of attention very quickly.  One misstep and you are toast.

I mourn the loss of discipline in the home and schools.  Where are the strong parents that created strong homes to provide the framework for successful children?  Instead, we have given rise to the “helicopter” parent that is just trying to force the schools and society to adapt to “MY CHILD”.  Where is the discipline in schools that commanded respect? It has been eroded away, bit by bit, by the parents who see no wrong in their own special and perfect hell raiser and the leadership that is afraid of repercussions.

I’m exhausted by the total obsession with “me, myself and I” that surrounds us.  All of the above would be remedied by taking time to look around and try to understand.  But, I can’t see others if I’m focused on me.  Am I a cup of sugar or a cup of salt?  How will I affect the recipe of life around me?

 

The Old Ways

church-pews-hymnal-bible

Anyone that has been around me for very long knows that I love music.  There are few things as satisfying to me as singing really tight well tuned harmonies with others.  That’s one of the reasons I love to sing the “old” hymns.  They were written for harmony.  With that type of music, you don’t need all the instrumentation:  the voices are the instruments.

But, I also love the “new” music (at least some of it!)  Technology has moved us past simple piano/organ accompaniments.  We now have  so  many variations of guitars, drums, keyboards, etc.   It’s fun to see all of the components fit together and the excitement often builds with the noise level.

I get amused when people start comparing music styles.  The argument for singing hymns is often the history and the message in each of them.  I jokingly refer to the  blue Baptist Hymnal with which I grew up as “God’s Hymnal.”  Between the King James Bible and the Baptist Hymnal, we had a lock on all things religiously important!  I still love many of the hymns from that hymnal:  #96 At Calvary, #240 Just as I Am.  I knew the page numbers of the hymns we sang quite often by heart.  I could also sing verses 1, 2 & 4 from memory for many of those.

But changes occur.  The first ripple I remember was “The Good News for Modern Man” version of the Bible.  It was easier to understand, but was still not treated as “THE Bible.”  Then came the Living Bible and the New American Standard Bible.  Newer translations and paraphrases were used more and more.  The New International Version moved onto the scene as well as The Message and countless others.  And none caused a bigger stir in the Baptist world as the introduction of the NEW Baptist Hymnal.  The hymn numbers were different.  They included some of the “new” songs like “Pass It On” and “He’s Everything to Me.” Some people still were lamenting the loss of the Broadman Hymnal with the shaped notes and the “real” hymns.  I remember the comments at the time.  But, we  moved forward and the world as we know it did not end.  We continued to have church, we continued to sing.  We just did it differently.

Just as I use various translations and paraphrases of the Bible to study and learn, I use different styles of music to worship and enjoy.  “The Old Rugged Cross” is still dear to me.  “Victory in Jesus” will never go out of style.  And the memories that these older songs bring up are precious indeed.  My college years were filled with music by Amy Grant, Dallas Holme & Praise, the Imperials and other contemporary artists of the day.  They were loud and new-fangled to my parents, but they are old-fashioned to my kids way of thinking.

I recently had a conversation with one of my daughters and she commented on the old music being played by the local Christian radio station.  I couldn’t help but laugh.  The “old” stuff was MercyMe, Chris Tomlin, and other artists I still consider relevant.  But, the praise music we hear today is more often from Bethel, Elevation, or the newest Hillsong iteration.  Within Contemporary Christian music, a new division has been emerged:  Praise and Worship.  The other stuff is just old and boring.

I will continue to enjoy both the old and the new.  There are new versions of the old hymns introduced every year.  Who hasn’t been moved by “My Chains are Gone” or “The Wonderful Cross” or “Cornerstone”.  All use hymns as their basis.  I can’t wait to see where music is in 10 years.  Will “What a Beautiful Name” or “Oceans” join the ranks of “Because He Lives” and “Shout to the Lord” as “old” hymns?  Will we continue our trek back to tighter harmonies and more unplugged sessions?  Just as fashions seem to come back into style and translations change, what music will be popular again?

And in case you’re interested, there are songs that move me to tears in just a few notes:  “The Strategic Air Command March”, “Under the Double Eagle” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  All are marches (not hymns) that bring up some very bright and wonderful memories for me of my years playing trombone with my high school band.  Music speaks to the soul.  You may have a particular genre that you prefer and that is just fine.  Please allow that others react differently.  Just because it’s new (and maybe loud) don’t discard it immediately.  Let God use His music of all kinds to speak to you.

19 Talk with each other much about the Lord, quoting psalms and hymns and singing sacred songs, making music in your hearts to the Lord. 20 Always give thanks for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Ephesians 5:19-20 TLB