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
When I was a teenager, I was told that I should never watch soap operas. The reason was simple: they portrayed lives that were not realistic. The women were always perfectly coiffed and dressed. The men loved to talk about EVERYTHING. Life was not that exciting or interesting. This was reinforced when I was touring Europe with the United States Collegiate Wind Band the summer of 1978. When the family I was staying with in Buitenpost, the Netherlands found out I was from Texas, they immediately asked how many oil wells were in my back yard. They watched “Dallas” on television and believed it to be the ‘real’ Texas.
Fast forward to today. We still have the fantasies created by television shows. And, we have added reality TV & social media to shape the way we view life. All of these work together to create an unrealistic view of what life SHOULD be and how we SHOULD be living. As a result, there are many, many individuals living counterfeit lives. They are busy making things appear as they “should” and avoiding the reality that is life.
Have you talked to anyone that is of dating age recently? Most of them talk of getting married, buying a home and starting a family. But prevailing wisdom of today is to live together. The reasoning is that you can be sure it will last without the “big” commitment. But the reality is “I just don’t think it’s worth waiting until I’m married”. I remember being asked about waiting for marriage as a 20-something. The question was “What if the sex isn’t good?” My response, “If I don’t have anything to compare to, how will I know the sex isn’t good?” I was also raised to value myself and to know that marriage is more that sex. It’s commitment and building a life & family together. I’m not saying that waiting is easy. It is definitely not! And, the further down the path you go the more difficult it is to stop. What I am saying is that anything you value is worth the wait. You save money for a house, instead of buying a tent because “all my friends are”.
Counterfeit living is grabbing for all the advantages of life without any of the real commitment. Counterfeit living is pretending you are married when you are just “shacking up”. Counterfeit living is escaping into something (alcohol, drugs, shopping, games, television, etc.) to avoid facing a reality you don’t want to see. Counterfeit living is pretending you value yourself, but willingly give yourself away for the illusion of “living the life”.
Reality can be hard. Reality may mean walking away from something you really want in order to grow into a better person. Reality may mean saying “No” to pleasures that you don’t want to miss, but realizing you are worth more than the momentary pleasure. Reality may mean giving up control for just a moment and allowing others to follow their own path. Reality may mean manning up and facing the life you have chosen without whining or tattling about the person you “love” so much.
When my husband and I were dating, I told him I just wanted to make him happy. His response was “You are not responsible nor capable of making me happy. I choose to be happy or not. You can only provide opportunities for me to choose happiness.” Not very romantic, but entirely true. If I’m looking for circumstances or people to make me happy, I will never get there. I must choose to be happy in the circumstances I am presented with at the time. Real life doesn’t always provide opportunities for happiness. But, when the opportunities do arise, they are marvelous. Because, I can know the opportunites are real and solid and I can trust them. I can choose to be happy. I can choose JOY! Counterfeit living will never provide that. Counterfeit living will only cause questions to arise: “Is this real? Will this last?”
And for me, the only way to cope with reality is to turn to my faith.
“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,and blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD.” Proverbs 16:20
There are many people who have successful marriages after living in premarital relationships. And, I know many of them also live with years of guilt because they didn’t stand up for their own convictions. They will always have that small question “Would we still be together if we had waited? Was I worth it?”
I challenge you to look at your own life. Are you living in the reality of life with all of its struggles and joys? Are your walls stripped bare for all the world to see? Or, are you living in a counterfeit reality with facades that need constant attention and repair? Facades that provide for more stress and less happiness? When I was able to allow the facades to fall, I found an entirely new reality. I found a reality where I didn’t have to the strongest or the smartest or the best. I found there is contentment in just doing the best that I can in this moment. I still struggle and at times try to hide behind the old walls, but I’m no longer trapped and afraid to be honest.
We live in a fast-food world. We have become accustomed to getting things quickly: over-night shipping, text messages, microwave food, one-cup coffee makers, etc. Waiting is not an option. We want it all and we want it now!
I don’t like to wait any more than the next person. I look for the shortest line in the grocery store. I try to stay in the fastest lane of traffic. I check shipping times and get irritated when I have to wait a few days for a package to arrive. I no longer write letters, because email and text messages are so much faster. I love the option to order my coffee and it’s ready when I arrive at the local Starbucks. No waiting. It’s great! At least, most of the time.
There are times that I want to wait. I wait to pay bills. I put off until the last possible moment blood tests and doctor’s appointments. I hit the snooze button numerous times in the mornings. I avoid confrontation. These are all times when I want to wait. But, what about the person on the other side. Do they like to wait for me to act? Do the people who I cut-off in traffic or in the check-out line understand? Does the time to write a letter mean more than a quick email? Do I care? REALLY?
When the most important persons in my life are Me, Myself and I, the needs of others are of no concern to me. I don’t care how my actions affect anyone else. As long as I am happy, who cares? In an egocentric world, it’s all about ME. I don’t wait to get what I want, regardless of what that might be. When it’s all about ME, I can cheat on my spouse or just replace them when I no longer “feel” for them. After all, MY pleasure and happiness is most important. When it’s all about ME, I do my best to make others look bad since that’s the fastest way to make MYSELF stand out. When it’s all about ME, I obsess on the next thing I want: a new car, a bigger house, the newest gadget, the next cruise or vacation so others can see how important/successful I am. When it’s all about ME, rumor and gossip are my favorite types of communication. Talking about others’ misfortunes and bad choices, diverts attention from my own poor choices and discontent. When it’s all about ME, there’s never enough to keep me happy. I long for peace and contentment, but I don’t seem to be able to keep Myself happy for long.
Don’t misunderstand: There’s nothing wrong with success or having a nice home or car or traveling. There’s nothing wrong with them unless those are the things you center your life around. Happiness is not found in things. It’s not found in relationships or success. Happiness is found when I decide to BE happy; when I decide to seek contentment where I am in this moment. And, usually, I find happiness in the places where Me, Myself and I are not. When I focus on others, when I realize that my family and friends are important, when I begin to reach outside of Myself, happiness finds me. Momentary pleasure is not happiness. It’s said that “happiness comes to those that wait.” Maybe, we need to learn to be patient, slow down, invest in the world around us. Maybe we need to learn to wait. Maybe our focus needs to change from Me, Myself and I to You, Them and They. Would that make a difference?
What do you think?
“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” John 15:13-15 MSG
I’m tired of the attitude of entitlement. If it’s worth having, it’s worth earning.
I’m tired of ego-centric people that whine and pout and tattle about others being “mean to me” when they do not get their way. Treat others the way you want to be treated ALL OF THE TIME and see what happens.
I’m tired of power hungry control freaks. You can’t control the world. Concentrate on yourself and let me concentrate on me.
I’m tired of the blame game. Take responsibility. Own your decisions, right or wrong.
I’m tired of excuses. Yes, our circumstances shape who we are. They do not control where we are going. Stop playing the victim. Grow-up. Move on.
I’m tired of hearing “I just want to be Happy” or “I just want to have fun” as an excuse to shirk commitments and responsibilities. Happiness is a decision you make in the position you already occupy. Fun isn’t a pre-requisite for living.
I’m tired of watching people purposely hurting others in order to make themselves feel superior. What happened to “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”?
I’m just tired.
Recently, at a high school graduation ceremony, the principal listed several things that have affected the graduates of 2013. These graduates have never known life without a cellphone or MP3 player. They’ve watched technology take off and offer “new & improved” things with increased regularity. Social media are the norm for this graduating class: Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. They’ve had pictures and videos posted on a routine basis for most of their lives. DVRs, Netflix, Hulu & Amazon Prime have made on-demand television and movie watching an expectation. You no longer have to wait for the summer reruns to know what happened.
We have developed a fast-moving, impatient life style. Remember Hallmark’s slogan “When you care enough to send the very best”? Today, with the instant social media, Facebook “helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” We used to get the Yellow Pages and “let your fingers to the walking”. Now, Verizon trumpets “Can you hear me now?” Timex told us “it takes and licking and keeps on ticking.” Nike says “Just do it!” In our fast food society, we are unwilling to wait for anything. In our rush to make everything better, and faster, and quicker. we have robbed our children of the gift of savoring the moment.
We push our kids to grow up quickly. Little girls are dressed like grown-ups with make-up and high-heels. We start asking about boyfriends before they can read. Little boys are “coached” early to excel in sports. Our children are exposed to open sexuality in the media, in entertainment and too often in our homes. We no longer protect their innocence, but encourage adult behaviors way before the emotional base is ready to handle it. We are more concerned with being friends with our children than we are in parenting them.
We teach our kids with our own actions that happiness is the most important thing in life. We show them that happiness means a big house, a fancy car, and lots of money. Happiness is something pursued with a passion. People become disposable in the quest for happiness. The momentary pleasures and excitements that were at one time considered the little extras of a respectable, hard-working man or woman’s commitments, have now become the focus of everyday life. Why waste time on commitments and promises? Just go directly to the fun! I deserve to be happy. And, when happiness becomes elusive in one place, we just move on to another.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for being happy. It’s my preferred emotion. But, it is just that: an emotion. I do not want to be controlled by my emotions. And I do not believe happiness should come at the expense of those around me or even of my own conscience.
I look around at the world that I am leaving to my kids and my grand kids and sigh. My generation has done so much damage with the lackadaisical attitudes we have taught this generation. Adulthood brings with it responsibilities and privileges. unfortunately, my generation has taught that the privileges are actually rights. And these rights often are demanded at the expense of the responsibilities.
More is not necessarily better. Fast doesn’t always mean quality. Easy doesn’t build strength or character. Stop running after temporary happiness and instead make some serious, life-long investments of time and patience.