Your happiness really is not the most important thing.
Ouch. I think most of us read that and something within us bristles a little.
Because we want to be happy. I mean, we really want it. All of us. And it’s human nature to seek out our own happiness and satisfaction at all costs. We feel we deserve to be happy. We have the right to be happy.
Except that we don’t. Look at things from a biblical standpoint, (which I realize isn’t a priority if you’re a nonbeliever, but hang with me here,) and it’s hard to find any scriptural support for our “deserving” happiness.
But I think it’s interesting that even the founding fathers of our nation seemed to recognize happiness as an elusive and often fleeting state of heart and mind. Obviously aware that happiness is often hard-sought and not easily gained, they listed our “unalienable Rights” as Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness. The truth is, they knew full-well that every effort in the world, and even all the good fortune in the world, cannot guarantee a person will be happy.
And yet there is a mindset pervading our culture that says there is nothing more important than our happiness. What’s even worse, many within the Christian community push the same idea, even going so far as to claim that God wants us happy above all other things.
Except that He doesn’t. I’m sorry, but He just doesn’t.
There are things more important than our happiness.
Just the other day I stumbled across a thread in one of the many ‘mom groups’ I am a part of on social media and found there a woman I do not know expressing her unhappiness in her marriage. Honestly, she seemed sincere… not demeaning toward her husband or critical of him. In fact, she said he had always been faithful to her and worked hard to provide for her. He wasn’t perfect, but she knew he loved her and he was good to her.
But she wasn’t happy. She said she wasn’t in love with her husband and hadn’t been for years and she was asking the advice of other moms.
Fortunately there were several wise women offering good and sound advice, and she seemed to respond to it. But I was startled at the number of women who openly and confidently encouraged her to leave her husband for no other reason than that she wasn’t happy. We’re not talking about a marriage plagued with infidelity or addictions or abuse, where the issue of staying or going, even if just for a time of separation, becomes much more complicated.
We’re just talking about a woman who wasn’t happy. And so again and again I read comments like this:
You only live once! You have to do what makes you happy…
Listen, honey, your happiness is the most important thing…
God wouldn’t want you in an unhappy marriage.
And I was so bothered by the implications of those statements, not just in how they apply to marriage, but to every area of our lives.
For one thing, at least where marriage is concerned, the concept of happiness first is completely unbiblical. Like it or not, the Bible is pretty clear about the covenant of marriage and there is one, and only one exception given for divorce — infidelity. (Matthew 19:7-9) The Bible does seem also to acknowledge that sometimes an unbelieving spouse will choose to walk away from a marriage and the believer may not be able to bring reconciliation to the relationship. (1 Corinthians 7:15-17)
But nowhere in the Bible is there any allowance made for divorce on the grounds of unhappiness. I’m sorry, but it’s just not there.
But the concept of my happiness first defies logic as much as it violates scripture. And if we carry that notion into every area of our lives we will bring chaos and disorder and, interestingly enough, considerable unhappiness to our own lives and the lives of others.
Because if our ultimate happiness is REALLY the most important thing, suddenly a lot of things begin to change.
If happiness matters most, then people unhappy in their jobs should quit them, whether there are bills to pay and mouths to feed and an economy to drive or not! A woman whose pregnancy is interfering with her happiness has every right then to abort her baby. Someone who is unhappy that their neighbor has a brand new sports car now has the right to take it from them. A housewife unhappy in her role as a mom can walk away from her precious children, no questions asked. A drug dealer has the right to sell to as many people as he wants, if doing so gives him money enough to make him happy. A man unhappy with the fact he is expected to care for an ill relative should feel free to abandon them. And anyone and everyone who wants to end their life because of their own unhappiness should by all means do so.
But we know that’s not right. Because there’s such a thing as responsibility. And right and wrong. And, yes, those things are more important than our happiness.
Listen, I don’t believe for a moment that God wants us to be unhappy. I don’t even think He’s indifferent to the idea! I think God desires our happiness, but not at the expense of what is good and right. He wants us to find it in obedience and contentment, not in giddy feelings He knows will come and go like the summer breeze.
Feelings, including happiness, are fickle and fleeting and totally, completely unreliable. That’s why things like faith and relationships should never be built upon them. Feelings will come and go, and sometimes may never come at all! But the absence of feeling should never be a factor in our decision between right and wrong.
Doing the right thing may not bring happiness. At least, not right away. Often, with time, our taking responsibility, or taking a stand, or learning to obediently accept what we cannot change, can lead to happiness, or at least to some measure of it.
But let me add, too, that this world is not meant to be the source of our happiness. Especially as Christians we should be careful not to look to things and people and circumstances to satisfy and complete us. We live in a broken, sin-cursed world, and why would God want us to find our ultimate happiness in a place so shattered and dysfunctional? In Him we find goodness, mercy, grace, true love and all the things that make for real happiness. And, someday, God will take us to a place where everything will be set right again, and where the effects of sin and shame, disappointment and poor decisions will never be able to touch us again.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. There’s also nothing wrong with pursuing what we think will add to our happiness. We do that daily anyway, whether it be with the food we choose to eat, the places we choose to go, the things we choose to buy, and the people we choose to keep company with.
But we should always remember our happiness is NOT the most important thing. It can never replace what is good and true and honest and upright.
But God help us find our satisfaction and our contentment in Him.
“For in Him we live, and move, and have our being…” Acts 17:28
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