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

Eagles

Life can be interesting. It is often a conundrum. We seek peace and calm and then complain of boredom. We look for fulfillment in our spouses and our children while blaming them for the bumps and difficulties that we face. We look for happiness in every moment, but destroy opportunities for joy along the way.

Humans are supposed to be at the top of “the ladder.” We are above all of the animals. We have opposable thumbs. We think and have the freedom to make choices about our lives. We control our own destiny. At least, that’s what we like to believe. And yet, when I watch a pair of eagles work on their nest and raise their chicks, I have to wonder. Are we really better? Eagles mate for life. Occasionally, a young female will attempt to steal the nest and the male from a pair. But, that doesn’t happen often or very successfully. The claws come out (quite literally) and the fight ensues. The established female will fight to the death to protect her nest, her chicks and her partner. Why are we humans not willing to fight to protect what we have? Why is it so easy to just walk away?

I’ve not been in the situation where my spouse walked away. My husband died. There were no second chances. During our marriage we fought. We fought with each other. We fought to stay together. We fought to raise our children. There were many times that I would not describe as “happy.” But, we had a life-long commitment to work through the bad times. We were willing to fight for our marriage and our family. I guess that’s why I love to watch the eagle-cams on the internet. I can relate to the pair of eagles as they work together to protect and nurture their family.

I was blessed with a good marriage to a Godly man. For eighteen years, we worked at keeping our family together. We laughed and cried together. We faced fears and illnesses. We coped with extended family issues. There were times that we both entertained the idea of walking away. But, the promises that we made to each other were real. We were together until “death do we part.” We were committed. And all too soon, he was gone. No do overs.  There were no more options for us. As a result, I don’t have any tolerance for the common excuses for breaking marriage vows: “I deserve to be happy” or “We’ve just grown apart.” No one deserves to be happy. You choose to be happy. You choose to grow together.

Now, I’m engaged. After 9 ½ years of widowhood, I’m planning a new life with another wonderful, Godly man. And, honestly, I am scared to death! I’m also extremely happy and blessed. As we make plans to blend our lives and our families, I am so excited about what the future holds. I never dreamed that I would get a second chance at love, a second chance to build a marriage and a new life. I know there will be challenges. We are not in our twenties. We have children (and a grandchild) and all the baggage that comes with a more mature life. We have dealt with death and divorce in our past marriages and as a result we face trust and security issues. But, we are committed to building a strong marriage on Godly standards. We will face life together and weather the storms that come.

During the ice and snow storms last winter, there was a video released of a bald-eagle sitting on its nest, covered in snow. At first, it was hard to see anything but the snow. Only the eagle’s beak was uncovered. Then the snow began to move. The eagle emerged from under the covering of snow and tossed it aside with its strong wings. While inspecting the eggs that were protected from the cold, the partner eagle flew down and brought food and relief. They were a team. That’s the marriage that I want to build. Again. No matter what problems seem to cover us up, we will be together. No matter what storms approach, internally or externally, we will stand against them together, supporting each other. When one partner is covered up, the other will be there with the support that is necessary and needed. No one walks away, grateful for the happiness but seeking the joy that comes from a marriage established with God as the center.

This year will be exciting, happy, stressful, scary, fun and joyful. And that’s what makes life so interesting: the Ups and the Downs. Strap yourself in, it’s going to be a ride to remember!

“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31 NIV 

Anniversary

An anniversary marks a significant event in life. Most times, we think of anniversaries as celebrations. But what about those anniversaries that aren’t so great? Death and divorce leave a huge imprint on the lives they touch. And these anniversaries are multiplied by every other special event was ever celebrated. We can not avoid the anniversaries, and we do not want to celebrate. We honor the memory while touching the pain they cause as little as possible.

Admittedly, it’s easier not to remember. I’ve been told that I live life as if it’s a circle. I always come back to an event. Some people live life as a straight line and just move away from unpleasant events. Yet, those sad anniversaries are just as important as the happy ones. These anniversaries give us a chance to review the past year, to see what growth we have achieved, to see that we are still living. We are given a chance to reflect on what we currently value, what is really important. While I don’t want to dwell on the rough times, I do think there is value in remembering. I guess I’m looking for whatever good there is to remember. I want to find value, and justify the pain that shoots thru me at odd times.

Too often society defines how we should react. We are told to be strong. Be brave. Don’t look weak. Don’t get mad, get even. And, the expectation is there: Get over it. Move on. The first year in a child’s life is measured first in days, weeks, months and eventually years. Anniversaries are often measured the same way. But, after the first anniversary of a death or divorce, we are supposed to stop noticing the passing of time. After all, its been a year. You should be “over it”, right? I expected that first year of widowhood to be hard. I was surprised how hard the second year was. I wasn’t “fixed”. I still had issues. I didn’t cry as much and the days weren’t as dark, but the scars were still fresh and tender. I was moving forward with life and any admissions of grief were frowned upon by most. I had little patience with my own progress. I often felt guilty about grieving because it showed weakness. I was blessed to have friends that understood, accepted and encouraged me to be honest. Never underestimate the value of a strong shoulder or a firm embrace. These can quite literally save a life.

My faith was all I had left when death destroyed my life. I had my hope. And while hope and faith are good, they don’t remove the pain or the regret. So often in the darkest days, I thought I was letting God down. I wasn’t recovering fast enough. I was too sad. I was angry. I was lost in a world I didn’t understand and I didn’t want to be there. People that had offered support, the people I thought I could depend upon drifted away and moved on with their lives. I had to inch forward into the world around me, careful not to make anyone uncomfortable with my neediness. I had to learn to trust myself and others, again.

As each anniversary comes and goes, I remember what used to be. I wonder what might have been. And, I mourn the losses. And, I remember that I am alive and I have a purpose. I believe that God has a plan for my life even if I don’t understand or (sometimes) agree with it. Each year gives me a chance to measure how very far I have come and what I have accomplished. I’ve learned to celebrate the inches instead of bemoaning the shortage of miles. The anniversaries still hurt. They always will. And, I will continue to celebrate what I can as each year passes.