The possibility that we can find true love and happiness is the carrot dangled in front of us. It is the promise in every romantic comedy. We would be disappointed if it wasn’t. However, real life begs the question of whether we have placed our faith in fairytales. I know I have wondered this.
In my teens and early twenties I battled the fear that nobody would want to marry me. My three younger siblings were married and I found myself wallowing in longing and loneliness. Marriage and family seemed to be the missing element that would fill the void I felt. My mother was convinced it was the next thing I needed and I admit I listened to her. I even went so far as to visit a “boyfriend” in another province with whom I had a rather long long-distance relationship to let him know I was finally ready to settle down. Unfortunately I discovered he was now taken.
I watched an interview with a young woman who had every marriageable quality, namely beauty, youth, understanding, insight. She cleans houses for a living and lives frugally. Who wouldn’t want a woman like her for a wife? But like me, she expressed a fatalistic acceptance of never being married. It hit me that I know very many in their twenties and thirties like her. I wished I could open a match-making service to bring these people together.
I think what is missing is opportunity to meet a varied group of marriageable people in a setting where there is no pressure.
Someone told our college-aged group that we would marry out of our acquaintances and this jarred me. I realized that I held onto a fantasy that my prince would come riding into town one day. He was not already there, among my peers, waiting to be acknlowledged. I had tried to broaden my horizons. Nothing wrong with that. I remember a girlfriend and I went to a gathering of youth across the border, with no other intent than the hope that we might meet someone.
I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Two of my best friends also despaired of ever getting married. Like the girl I mentioned earlier, they had everything to recommend them for marriage but it was as though all hell was bent on keeping us from the alter. Recently I have begun to think there may actually be some truth to this. We cannot deny there are oppositional forces keeping people apart and preventing them from committing to another person.
Why should my girlfriend and I get married, a young man asked me. So you can have a family, was my response.
Family. Think about it. We come from a family, such as it was. We dream about the ideal, two-parent biological family. Nobody can deny it is what we need and want.
I think many people have given up on ever having either marriage or happiness. Not only is it disappointing to have neither love nor happiness, it is depressing and almost devastating to have to acknowledge that this was the elusive carrot and that we were virtually deceived and promised an ideal that would never happen.
But happiness is not tied to marriage. In fact, happiness is not dependent on our situation. It is a mindset. It is deciding to refuse to be unhappy and doing everything we know to do in order not to sink into despair. I’ve engaged in years of observation and study to find out why some people are happy and others are not. I’ve concluded happiness is not dependent on circumstances. People can be in an identically trying place and one will be happy while another will be on the brink of suicide. Each has arrived where they are as a result of a pattern of choices in how they respond to what life deals them.
Refusal to sink is a powerful weapon. It means you may go under water, but you will always rise again. It means you believe in your resilience. You get up as many times as you fall down.
It also means looking out for the things that make you buoyant and strong.
At the root of happiness is a personal integrity. You value your life.
It follows that if you value your own life, you will value the lives of others. And if you value the lives of others, you will live your life so as to make the world a better place. Integrity is being the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. It also means cleaning up the mess inside.
It means dealing with your anxious feelings, with your tendency to become easily annoyed, with your constant worrying, with your fearfulness, with your difficulty coping. It means facing the truth that the best thing you can do for yourself is to become a stronger, better adjusted person.
An interesting thing happened at the time in my life when I was afraid I would never get married. I increased my happiness level.
I had not wasted my time while I was waiting for my prince. I had worked at becoming marriageable. It struck me one day that I needed to become the person who would attract the kind of person I wanted to marry. Once I had this revelation an amazing thing happened. I began to have options. I also turned down unsuitable prospects because I valued myself and knew what I needed.
I was still unrealistic, however. I might not marry a “handsome prince.” Looking back I see that I had a sad pattern of always falling for a stereotype. Yes, the tall, dark, handsome type. I married a ginger.
As I thought about who I wanted in my life as a life partner, I decided that I wanted someone whom I would enjoy sitting across from me at the breakfast table for my remaining years.
Happiness has not come easy for me, but the pursuit has been rewarding. I think we find happiness in the pursuit because our eyes are opened.
Lately I have had more of a struggle maintaining a happy spirit. I awaken at night with dismal feelings, even feelings of doom. I don’t think it is possible to be truly happy unless your soul is at rest. This is where I believe the Christian faith shines. Not only does the example of Christ inspire, we are offered forgiveness. This is such a unique and profound concept. That we can start anew. That we can be restored in our relationship after having failed. That we can offer this hope to others.
A life of integrity is a life lived with the quiet assurance that we have done our part reasonably well. This is what helps us sleep at night. It is also a life that is not naive and can face with courage the evil and devastation in the world. Let’s be honest, there is evil and devastation. The longer we live, the more we see. This is the reason for my feelings of doom. It is the reality we live with. The only response I have found to lift me out of this place is prayer. Prayer is an aspect of virtually all religions. But prayer is only a placebo if the entity to which we are praying is a figment of our imagination. On the other hand, if we believe in a Creator of the universe, then it follows that this Creator and sustainer of life cares. Every day we have a new sunrise. Every day the birds are fed. Every day plants grow. This simple observation is enough to lift me out of despair every time because it is evidence that my Creator lives. My only reasonable response is awe and worship and gratitude.
When I awake with feelings of doom in the middle of the night, I begin to pray for the world. The beauty and the order I see in creation, the intricacies of the balance of nature, inspire me to pray for the same thing among human beings. In other words, I pray “Thy kingdom; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
I consider myself the most fortunate person on earth to have grasped this understanding. Prayer for me is not a placebo. It is a powerful coming into unity with the one who created me and sustains me. We have been done a serious disservice by being taught to put our faith in the theory of evolution. We have been told to believe in a “theory.” In fact the qualifier, “theory” has been mostly erased. In university we are stigmatized if we do not “believe” in evolution.
This is more critical than people realize. I propose that the real purpose of the introduction of the theory of evolution was actually an objection to belief in a Creator. However, looking at the laws of the universe will quickly dispel the theory. Seeing that there is no evidence of the “in-between” and “imperfect” stages of development disproves the theory. Yes, there are similarities between species that could point to giving rise to superior species and development from simplicity to complexity. But there are components that need to be in place simultaneously and so many components that evolution never attempts to explain. This proposition merely depends on our ignorance and inability and unwillingness to open our eyes and see and reason.
Why is this relevant to marriage and happiness? Every species propagates. Propagation is part of purpose. If we cannot propagate, we can support others who can. Do you see how evolutionary theory opposes propagation? It cannot have a worldview of blessing and sustenance by the Creator. It totally depends on personal effort. Well, we are doomed when we exclude a Greater Power.
This is why faith can be threatening. It truly engages a Higher Power. It is also why faith and religion have not only been maligned but have been distorted and destroyed from within and become unrecognizable as a source of goodness and strength. It is what the Bible refers to as damnable, the “holding of truth in unrighteousness.” The perfection we see in creation around us is meant to be mirrored in our lives. Yes, there is forgiveness offered when we fail, and we all fail. But we are called to a higher place. A place where rivers of living water flow out of our belly. A place of fruit-bearing. A place of hope and joy and peace.
You will see that this flies in the face of popular culture. This is because God has a real adversary and people can choose with which side to align themselves.
Whenever I pray for the whole world when I have a personal need, I feel the burden lift. But it is not a victory without a battle. There is a relationship we can have with our Creator that exceeds the beauty and fulfillment of a marriage. I have lived this for decades and I have found “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It is the glory of God we are seeking, even more than marriage and happiness. When we experience the glory we will not be satisfied with anything less. We will have a “continual feast” and it will make us the kind of people in whose company others desire to be. It will also give us patience during the times of waiting. And much of life is waiting.
I am amazed at how confrontational these simple observations are today. We have moved so far from the simple understanding of believing in a life-giving God and living a life according to godly principles in the way we were intended to live. All of nature around us is an example of the beauty and simplicity of a life lived according to the original blueprint.