The Happiness Trap

Happy Birthday! Happy Halloween! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Anniversary! Happy Kwanzaa! Such exclamations flow from our good intentioned hearts as we send greetings and good-byes with our well wishes of happiness towards others.  As stated in the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the rights that we possess and which have been given to us by our Creator.  To pursue happiness in our lives would therefore seem like God-given task that we should try hard to accomplish…after all, God wants us to be happy, right?

This is an interesting question.  To answer “no” would lead us to ask the follow-up question, “So, then does God want us to be miserable?”  Of course, the answer would be “no.”  To answer the question with a “yes” would then give us license to do as we want when we want so that we might be happy.  Of course, we would say that there are limits to that.  In other words, we would probably agree that removing someone from our lives that make us miserable through murder would go past that line.  But really, what are those limits and lines and where are they drawn?  Different people would come to different conclusions.

The trap of happiness is this:  happiness, to many, is the goal to achieve rather than a result that is achieved.  To pursue happiness (as defined by me) can itself be an idol.  It is the idol of self-centeredness.  “What do I need to be happy?” “What can I do that will meet my need for joy?”  These are some questions that are typically asked. Often, for those who believe in God, they justify their actions by saying, “God wants me to be happy,” so they follow through with their action to meet their idol’s need. When this occurs, it is easier to do it over and over again.  In our goal to be happy, what we often find is that we don’t receive liberty, but we become slaves of our own idol of happiness.

Though it is true God does not want us to be miserable, I would argue that God does want us to be happy.   But the happiness that God wants us to have comes as a result of obedience, gratefulness, and a life lived in relationship with Him, through Christ.  When we pursue happiness, we pursue self.  When we pursue God, the results of happiness come as a blessing to self (Mt 6:33).  Happiness is a gift from God, not a goal to achieve.

This sounds simple, but it is not.  Pursuing  God may seem like it is a trivial thing to do amidst the life circumstances.  You may say, “Yes, it’s a good thing to do.  But how is that going to help me be happy in life?”  Please remember, happiness is the by-product and not the goal.  The goal, instead, is to pursue God.  Focus on His love for you.  Focus on the cross.  A person who seeks to understand God’s love for them, who seeks to understand what Christ did for them on the cross and what He saved them from will grow in love, compassion, gratitude, peace, and happiness, because their joy is found in Christ and not in the circumstances surrounding them.

Friends, seek Him first above all things, and do not put any other thing above Him.  The results will be astounding!

The Marriage Trap

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching the movie, The Parent Trap. A story of twins separated at birth who met each other at a camp, switched places, and worked hard to reunite their parents. They plotted to “trap” their parents into getting together and rekindling their romance. And, of course, it worked and they’re all one big happy family.

Often, there are many people who feel trapped in marriage. As a counselor, I meet with people regularly who correctly cite Scripture in saying “God hates divorce” and believe that God would rather them be miserably trapped in marriage. “My husband is a jerk. He treats the dog better than me. If God hates divorce, then I am trapped in this miserable marriage. I guess this is God’s will for me.”

Sadly, many experience poor treatment by their spouses who do not treat them as God would desire. These spouses often tolerate a lot of negative comments, blaming, criticism, etc.   The spouse on the receiving end often feels emotionally empty…and trapped.  This often leads to an “either/or” thinking.  Either I remain trapped, or I find new life outside the marriage and get my “needs” met elsewhere.

Does God leave us trapped in a miserable marriage? Is this really his will? Are the “either/or” choices all there are?

Here are some points to consider:

1. What are your greatest emotional needs? Our spouses are not supposed to meet our deepest emotional needs of love, worth, and forgiveness. Though God has called husbands to love their wives (as Christ loved the church), these greatest needs must first be met in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Though God has called wives to respect their husbands, ultimately husbands must first recognize the honor received through Christ, in that he died for them because he honors them (men & women) above all living things. It is right to desire love and respect from spouses, because that is what we should do, but when we seek them from our spouses apart from God, we place too much on our spouses. Again, we are to find these things ultimately from God first.

2. What are your greatest physical needs? Is your life in danger due to your spouses actions? Do you need to be physically safe? If so, this may certainly warrant leaving a home (though not necessarily a marriage) for safety. Even Jesus and Paul ran when people picked up stones to throw at him.

3. What are some other options besides a) leaving, and b) being trapped and miserable? What actions are you doing (or not doing) that are contributing to this cycle? Are your actions enabling (not causing) your spouse’s actions? If you change…the relationship will change.

4. What godly help are you seeking? Are you speaking with your pastor or a counselor? Even if your spouse is unwilling to go, you can go and seek godly wisdom and learn to be confident in who you are (through Christ) and begin to change inside.

This list is just to get you started and thinking that a struggling marriage is not a trap that God has you in to be miserable. His desire for you is to first find your fulfillment in Him. When you find fulfillment in Him, your life takes on meaning and direction. God will give you the wisdom and strength to alter the direction of your marriage in a way that honors him.  For more on this, read The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick.

Don’t give in to The Happiness Trap, that is, “God doesn’t want me to be miserable, but God wants me to be happy. So, I’ll leave my marriage so I can be happy.”  When you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him.  Happiness is found in relationship to Him and not due to circumstances or relationships with others.  More on this in The Happiness Trap (next blog).

Life Lessons From A Seagull: Part 3

You can’t go to the Jersey Shore without walking on the boardwalk and partaking in the many healthy delicacies it offers.  And while walking the boardwalk, you just can’t go without having the frozen custard, the famous pizza, or the french fries before you leave.  To do so just wouldn’t be right. It would feel like something was missing from your visit there…that in order to have had your fill or for your visit to be complete, you must have the necessary ingredients: custard, pizza & fries.  At least that’s what I think.   Perhaps you have a different set of ingredients for your boardwalk fill.

I think the Jersey Shore Gulls think same thing…They just can’t go to the boardwalk without having their fill….of french fries.  With the same boldness they exhibit while taking sandwiches (see Part 1), their minds are set on the Fries of Life.  If you ask me, I think the seagulls were addicted to fries.  I really do.  As I visited the shore throughout my childhood, I remember the seagulls swooping down to grab hold of these fries from unsuspecting tourists.   Some tourists, so amused by the seagulls’ behavior, would encourage the gulls by throwing them a fry or holding a fry out for them to take.  I remember thinking: “What are they thinking?! Don’t they know that when you feed one, others will come?! Helloooooo?!”

When we think of addictions, we often think of others being addicted to crack, cocaine, alcohol, chocolate, pills, or whatever.  But if we think about it more, all of us struggle with some kind of addiction.  It might be an addiction to any substance, but at the very least, because of our sin nature, we struggle with the addiction of me (placing ourselves (what we want, etc.) above God).  We may often think, “If only I can get that one thing, that fry, then I will have what I need and be happy.”  As Christians, we know that this is an endless pursuit, but we may still live for it.  We often seek after people’s praise, work for material things, eat certain tasty foods, or whatever to get that high or sense of gratification, only to long for it again real soon.  Like feeding the seagull, feeding it only results in more hungry seagulls.  Getting our desires filled by things in this world will also result in more of a hunger for worldly things, and yet we would never be satisfied.

I’m reminded of the Woman at the Well (John 4), where Jesus shares with her that he is the living water and that if she takes the water he offers, she will never be thirsty again.  He then goes on to tell her her history of relationships with men.  What is the connection between his living water and her history with men?  I think Jesus was telling her that she was “looking for love in all the wrong places.”  I believe Jesus was telling her that he was the one who will complete her, who will fill her with the love that she needs.  These men in her life were french fries…they would fill her for a little while, but their love was not meant to fill her or to bring her life.  Nothing will fill us like the living water…like a genuine, honest, and heartfelt relationship with Jesus Christ. 

The Jersey Shore Gulls will never know about this, so they will go on taking sandwiches and feeding their addiction to fries, but they will never be truly filled.  Hopefully we won’t be so gullible and do the same. 

* Seagull artwork by Arlene Miller (Fred’s Aunt)