This is not a new concept for me. I have heard it preached, I have read it in books, and I have taken a lot of time to process and internalize that message. God does not give a rat’s patootie about whether or not I am happy. Happiness is temporal in this world. It comes and goes based on circumstances. Joy, however, is internal and based on more than our circumstances.
My pastor has been giving some challenging sermons over the last few weeks. Two weeks ago it was about dancing in the rain (hard times), like Jesus, because life is always bringing storms. We are only really guaranteed two things: life is full of challenges and none of us make it out alive. What we do in the meantime, however, is really up to us. It can be as beautiful and meaningful as we make it, but we (too often) determine our happiness based on our happenings.
Today he preached similarly on a kingdom perspective – on how to adjust our reality to recognize that our joy comes from putting God first, others second, and ourselves last. This is also not a new idea. Jesus was very clear that the greatest commandments were to love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. God is far more concerned with how I treat others than my personal happiness. It’s that “radical love is the only thing that has the power to change the world” idea again. Crazy, right?
God is concerned with my holiness. He wants me to be the hands and the feet. He wants me to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable, and stretch myself in ways that make me uncomfortable. True joy comes from growth and giving unconditional love. Never are we so unsatisfied as when we are wholly concerned with our own well-being, and our own needs. Why? Because nothing is ever enough when we focus on ourselves. At least, that is true for me. When I focus on me, I find myself drifting into becoming more and more selfish. It’s a vicious cycle that ends in a “poor me” attitude.
Nothing highlights this problem more than my marriage. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. It’s actually pretty hard. We are really different people, at the end of the day. I made my choice for a life partner when I was young. I have questioned (A LOT) over the last five years whether or not it was time to call it quits and move on. My husband does not share my faith, we rarely agree on parenting ideals, and we share few hobbies and interests. One might say it’s been a hard row to hoe, and I am being generous when I say that. I have suffered some bitter disappointments.
Through that, I have grown resentful. I have focused almost entirely on my needs that are not being met. I have reacted harshly, even when not it was not justified. I have grown bitter and held grudges. There is nothing he has done wrong in the last 15 years that I still don’t recall and occasionally throw back in his face. Some might hear what has transpired and find me justified in my feelings. I can heap my justifications up a mile high, but I know he can, too. We need more than justificiations – we need grace.
Maybe my marriage is meant to be an opportunity for me to exhibit that radical love and grace. Perhaps I need to view it from a different perspective…to find joy in the challenges that encourage growth…and learn to treat him differently. Maybe I need to forgive the past and mean it, and to move forward looking for the good, instead of focusing on the bad. There is plenty of good, but once I focus on the bad, it’s all I can see.
I am also not discounting that there are problems that need addressed and corrected. Counseling is a good thing. Sometimes, divorce is a blessing. In no way do I condone staying in an abusive situation. But for most of the struggles people experience in a marriage, there is an opportunity to choose an abundant life in spite of challenges. I am choosing to affirm what is good until the good is what is overflowing – even if all I can affirm some days are that God is my strength and I am saved by grace.
I am learning to dance in the rain, step by step.