When people ask how you are doing, what do you say? Usually my go-to is: “Good!” It isn’t dishonest, just very abbreviated. But lately, my answer would be: “I’m good. God’s been teaching me a lot and it’s been exhausting and sometimes painful. But very, very good.”
Let me give you the reason for my long-winded answer. For years I struggled with being unhappy and ungrateful, particularly in relationships. While there were certainly outside circumstances that might have “justified” my unhappiness, recently the Lord convicted me as I took a look inside, at my heart. He revealed how ease and happiness were my idols and how that affected relationships. I would feel like a victim when I gave everything I had but people didn’t give back as much in return. I would shy away when friendships got messy because they became hard work. I wondered how to find joy in the midst of these difficult relationships, but I was approaching it all incorrectly. I was thinking, “I’m unhappy because of x, y, or z.” However, God graciously revealed that it went more like this: “I’m unhappy because I’m putting my hope in x, y, or z, and it’s not fulfilling my demands.”
Through this season, God has gently and persistently reminded me that relationships of all kinds (with spouse, friends, or coworkers) do not exist simply for my happiness. It’s easy to say “I’m getting married for God’s glory” or “I’m serving my church for God’s glory,” but true colors show when something doesn’t go the way you expected or desired it to go.
I certainly felt like I was marrying my husband for God’s glory a year and a half ago, but a big part of me was still searching for happiness in him. And the truth is, I had been idolizing him our entire dating relationship. Six months into marriage, I found myself looking for Bible verses where God promised joy in marriage, feeling like, “God, you promised me this, why am I not experiencing it?” And do you know what? I found no such Bible verses. The joy that is talked about in the Bible is a lasting, eternal kind of joy; one that is linked with salvation and future glory, not with anything or anyone on this earth.
Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more.” All relationships (including marriage) are primarily opportunities to communicate the love of Jesus to others. And as the cherry on top, the Lord also uses relationships to bless and sanctify us.
The purpose of relationships is not our personal happiness. This truth stopped me in my tracks and rerouted me. Slowly, God has begun to restore proper joy to my relationship with my husband as I’ve attacked idolatry and sought to put God back on the throne of my heart. I pray that this unraveling continues and begins to mark my relationships outside of marriage as well.
A mentor of mine recommended to me the book Equipped to Love: Building Idolatry-Free Relationships by Norm Wakefield. It was so good and helped me understand that idolatry ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Not only was I asking my earthly relationships for fulfillment that only Jesus can supply, but I was also asking God for things and becoming bitter against Him when answers were unexpected or delayed. This kind of relationship cannot flourish.
As scary as it is to try and make earthly relationships your functional savior, it’s even scarier to look at your Savior as a vending machine for your happiness. I so wish I could relive these past couple of years with less focus on my personal happiness and a righted perspective towards the people that God had placed in my life at the time. But I am grateful that the Lord has revealed these things to me now. Root by root, I am ripping idolatry out of my life and my relationships so that I can love others the way I am called to: in Christ.
John 15:12-13 says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”