This past week, part of my family has been struggling through a tragic turn of events. My stepdad has decided to leave my mom and little brother. His decision was completely out of the blue and based on his feelings that he “doesn’t love” my mom anymore. Upon hearing the news, I was shocked, heartbroken, and obviously upset. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about this unexpected change.
It’s an excuse that I’ve heard before, both in my own personal life and on countless movies and television shows. “I just don’t love him/her anymore.” “We’re not the same people as we were when we got married.” “I’m not happy with this life anymore. Don’t I deserve to be happy?” There are many ways to put it, but they all reflect the same sentiment. Love and happiness are fragile, they can’t be forced, and all is fair when they are at stake.
Simply put, this is an incredibly unhealthy way of thinking about love and happiness. Following this definition will almost never lead to love or happiness that lasts. Why do I believe that? Well for one thing, I’ve seen it fail over and over again in my life and the lives of people around me. More importantly, though, it’s not Biblical. The Bible is very clear when it comes to defining the right way to find love and happiness. They aren’t things that you have to find, chase, or struggle to hold onto; they are things that you can choose through God.
Contrary to popular belief, marriage isn’t about being constantly in love and filled with adoration for your partner. Marriage is about choosing to love your partner when times are good and when times are bad, when you feel like it and when you don’t. Mature, Christ-like love is not a feeling at all—it’s a verb. Love is something that you give to somebody else, not some feeling that you get.
When a marriage is based on God and true, genuine love, it doesn’t matter how each partner feels at any given moment. Instead, the commitment that both people have made to love each other no matter what is the firm foundation that holds the marriage together. But here’s the key; choosing to love is not something that we just have to stubbornly muscle through on our own. God helps us achieve this kind of love by giving us his spirit and changing our character. He fills us up with His love so that we can pour it back out onto others. In other words, we don’t have to do it alone! And thank goodness for that, because there is nobody who knows how to love as selflessly, purely, and completely as God does.
Happiness is similar to love in this way. It’s a choice that we are all able to make if and when we look to the proper source. Saying that a person can simply “choose” to be happy may seem idealistic, naïve, or even insulting to some people. And they would be right, if it wasn’t for God. On our own, choosing to be happy in situations that we are unhappy with is a paradox, and usually impossible to achieve. But when you add God to the equation, everything changes. God gives the gifts of infinite joy, hope, and peace to anybody who asks for them, and that changes the way that we can look at life. Happiness becomes a choice.
Not only does God offer us joy that is stronger than our situations, but he also shows us a way to improve our situations in life. If we follow Jesus’ example and live the way that He wants us to, our situations in life can vastly improve. Going through life God’s way leads down a much better path than any other way. If we choose to love others, be selfless, surround ourselves with loving people that God wants in our lives, use our gifts for God’s glory, and trust Him to provide for all of our needs, for example, then we will find much more fulfillment in life.
That being said, though, we are not perfect and neither is this world. No matter how much we rely on God or try to live in a way that pleases Him, we will still go through difficult situations in life. After all, this is Earth, not Heaven. This is where the whole “happiness is a choice” thing comes in; we can choose to find joy in God even when our situations are difficult.
Some things in life just suck. Bad things happen, people get sick, people die, others hurt us, we make mistakes, and tragedies strike. During these times, it is appropriate to be sad and to mourn. Even when things are going fine, sometimes depression or discontentment can make us feel unhappy with life. There is nothing wrong with feeling this way. Feelings are not bad, they just are, and we are allowed to feel them. But even in the midst of these feelings, we can choose to find joy through God. There is always something to be thankful for, and God can help us to see that. God helps us get through hard times, and we can always rely on Him because He loves us dearly. This is why happiness is a choice, because God is love and joy and you can always choose God.
When marriages end, it is always a tragedy. When marriages end because one or both partners choose to not love or not be happy, it’s a frustrating tragedy. I’m not saying that marriage is easy or that choosing to love and to be happy are easy things. But they are possible, and when done right, so worth the effort that is required. Marriage, love, and joy are all amazing, intertwining gifts from God. Whenever I see these gifts being misused or searched for in the wrong places, it makes me sad because I know that God has something so much better in mind. There is nothing that I can do to change my stepdad’s mind or fix the situation, though. All I can do is be there for my mom and brother during this hard time, and pray for everybody involved.
In my own marriage, however, it’s a different situation. I am not helpless. I can choose to love my husband every moment of every day, and I can choose to be happy with the life that we are building together. These are the choices that I make, and because of that, I know that my marriage will not fail.
Dedicated to my mom and Justin.
Mom, I am so sorry that this is happening to you. Know that you are so loved by Jesus and by your family and friends. Justin, I’m sorry that you have to go through this. Remember that God is your true Father and that He will never leave you. I love you both so much. Keep trusting God and relying on Him—He will help you through.