I’m too miserable to stay in this marriage any longer. I know in my heart that’s not what God wants for me. So I’m leaving; I’ve been unhappy for too many years. God would never want me to be this unhappy for the rest of my life!
Those are just a few of the statements we’ve heard from spouses, which causes them to feel it’s okay to leave their marriage to forge a new life. After all, “God wants me to be happy” …right? Well, yes and no. We have to look at the context of what their “happiness” costs on many different levels.
I agree with what Mrs Parunak says in her PursuingTitus2.com article, “Wouldn’t God Want Me to Be Happy?” When asked this question she wrote,
“I think the fact that you apply that question to a situation in which you are contemplating leaving your husband for another man demonstrates that you’ve been fed lies in two critical areas: what God wants, and what will make you happy.”
Same Principles Apply
Now even if you don’t have someone else chosen to be the one you will eventually marry after you divorce your present spouse, the same principles apply.
Does God want you to be happy? Of course… It’s natural to assume that as a Father, He would want that for His children. But if your happiness steps on someone else’s happiness what’s the answer then? Is your happiness the only consideration here?
You might THINK that everyone else would eventually be happier if you left your marriage, but are you all-knowing? I’m not. And I have a feeling that you aren’t either.
Leaving, Pursuing “Happiness”
Years ago, my dad left my mom and us four kids to pursue his “happiness” with another woman. He was sure that was what he should do and that this would make him happy. In doing so, he left my mom who was devastated, and us four kids whose lives have never been the same, as a result. This woman left her husband and her children who were also devastated. There were also a lot of other grieving family members and friends that were hurt too by all of this. This brought up the following questions: Didn’t God want US to be happy? What about us? Was my Dad and this woman’s happiness the most important thing to God?
Was it God’s will for us to grieve so my dad and this woman would be happy? No. I can’t imagine that this is what God would approve of at all. There’s a problem when our happiness violates other principles that are important to God.
I can tell you as a grandma that I want my granddaughter to be happy. But if she had to elbow my grandson so she could grab his toy, food or whatever, so she could be happy—I wouldn’t be happy about that at all. And neither would her brother be happy, nor her parents. Happiness is not the ultimate goal of life. Sometimes we have to be left wanting or unhappy for the greater good—especially the greater good of many.
Our Character VS Our Comfort and Values
Yes, God wants you to be happy, but not at the expense of the greater good that HE knows needs to happen. He is more interested in our character, than our comfort. God wants HIS values to be lived out, more than our temporary satisfaction and happiness.
We’re told in God’s Word, “The eyes of man are never satisfied.” (Proverbs 27:20) And it’s SO true.
End of the Story
Let me tell you the end of the story with my parents. My dad eventually left the woman he ran away with. Their happiness didn’t last long. they were sure it would. But it didn’t. He realized she wasn’t all he thought she was. He also realized that they weren’t so great together after all. She eventually went back to her husband and family. But then she ran off with another man she wanted “happiness” with and “loved.”
My Dad came back home; and my parents worked on their marriage and it survived until my mom died several years ago. But my mom’s love and trust level she had for my Dad took a big hit while my Dad was pursuing his happiness. It was never the same. And that’s not all that that suffered. I eventually grew up, married and had marital problems for a long time because of my insecurity in trusting men. (Thankfully, God helped me to get to a better place; and my marriage survived and is now thriving.)
I also have to tell you that when my Dad left, something snapped in my brother. He was never the same. He eventually self-medicated by turning to drugs and alcohol. Sadly, he died a young death from complications of his alcohol abuse. He left behind a grieving widow and siblings who miss him terribly. My other brother and sister have lived with their own emotional scars. (And their marriages and kids have suffered from the negative ripple-effect of our childhood insecurities.)
Our Actions Affect Others for Generations
I tell you all this to say that just because we want to reach for “happiness” and just because it seems that it should be justifiable for various reasons, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for us to do. We don’t live as islands unto ourselves. Our actions can and do affect others for generations. We need to always consider that. God knows it. That’s probably a big reason why He hates divorce. It’s because of all of the damage it causes. He also hates it because it tears up the living picture of His love for the church. (This is portrayed throughout the Bible.) There’s something wrong with this picture, when we have to tear up God’s picture to reach for our happiness.
I appreciate something that Erin Davis wrote in her blog, Does God Want You to Be Happy? The following is part of what she said that stood out to me. (Please go to the above link to read the rest, along with the comments.) She was telling of a wife and mom of a toddler that was “unhappy” in her marriage. Erin tried to scripturally convince her NOT to divorce.
“Her response? ‘I believe that God wants me to be happy; and I am just not happy in my marriage.’
“Soon after that conversation she left her husband. She is no longer involved in the church where we used to minister to teenagers side-by-side. I can’t say if she is happier now or not. But I do know that her decision came at a tremendous cost.
“I’ve heard the argument ‘God wants me to be happy’ made often through the years. I’ve heard Christians defend all kinds of decisions based on the belief that God wants them to be happy. But the truth is I’m not sure that He does.
“Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that God delights in our misery. But I’m not sure that there’s any biblical evidence to back up the claim that He wants us to be happy. In fact the Bible seems to teach that He is more concerned with our holiness than our happiness.”
And He is. Edie Wadsworth (a former physician —now full time homemaker and part-time blogger) wrote the following that also brings out this point. In her article, “Why Marriage Is So Hard” (which I recommend you read in its entirety) she writes about spouses who sometimes don’t “make us happy.”
But Even So:
“God knew what He was doing when He gave you this particular person. He knew the flaws in your character and personality that this person could sharpen. He knew that this person could expose the sins you try to cover and hide. God knows better than you what you need; and the sooner you submit to Christ and His purposes in your life, the sooner you will see what He is up to in your marriage. This relationship is not for your happiness; it is for your redemption. He is not trying to make you comfortable. He is desperate to make you holy. God will go to any lengths to transform you because He loves you so much.”
Whether God gave you this particular spouse, or you chose him or her on your own, there can still be redemption, even in times where we’re unhappy. Living a life of holiness and obeying God’s commands is much more important to God than that which we think will make us happy. Pastor Gary Kinnaman touched on this point in a Marriage Partnership Magazine article titled, “What’s Wrong with Happiness.”
“I’d been counseling a couple for several months when a wife came to see me one day. Although she had been married for 25 years, she wanted out. Nothing I said could change her determination; she simply was no longer happy in her marriage. She and her husband divorced. And it wasn’t long after that she turned up at church again. This time she was sitting in the pew with her husband’s brother. When she came to ask me to officiate at her second wedding, she wasn’t too pleased to hear my refusal. She said, ‘But it says in the Bible that God wants me to be happy!’
“Of course, she couldn’t point to a specific chapter and verse. The Bible talks about joy, about contentment; but the Bible doesn’t lift up happiness as an ultimate goal.
“It’s not that happiness is such a bad thing. Who doesn’t like to feel happy? …Happiness is what I’d call a ‘neutral’ value. It’s not good or evil; but it’s a cultural value that can assault Christianity. The woman who deserted her husband assigned such a high priority to personal happiness that it overwhelmed the Christian, biblical value of marital commitment. She valued her own happiness more than she desired to obey God’s commands.”
OUCH! I hope this isn’t true of you. I also hope you will consider something that Pastor Mark Gungor, of the Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage ministry said on this idea of happiness being something God wants for us to grab.
Mark Gungor Wrote:
“Now it’s not that I’m against being happy. I do believe God wants people to be happy, but not to the point that it overcomes the right thing to do.
“…As I travel around the country, I am stunned at the number of people that I talk to who are ready to walk out on their family. They are ready to walk away from their kids, and their husband or their wife. And their pure justification is ‘God wants me to be happy.’ It’s as if this was God’s standard for making His rules. This is ridiculous! I don’t think God was sitting up in heaven, saying, ‘thou shalt not commit adultery, unless it makes you happy. You know, I’m open to that.’ …Who told you God wants you to be happy to such a high degree? Oftentimes, God asks us to do things that make us profoundly unhappy. When Peter was being crucified upside-down, that was a bad day for him.”
True? Absolutely! You have to look at the total picture of God’s will for us, not just cherry-pick and then rearrange God’s priorities for us. Do you want your children to be happy? Yes! But do you want them to have that happiness at the expense of others? Is your child’s happiness more important than his or her growing up to be a good, moral, kind-hearted, promise-keeping adult?
Is Your Happiness God’s Ultimate Goal?
Consider the following written by Bill Elliff:
“As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people have justified breaking up their marriages by saying, ‘I have to do this. God just wants me to be happy.’ But according to God’s Word, a spouse’s individual happiness is not the purpose for marriage.
“The Bible says in Colossians 3:17: ‘Whatever you do in word or deed, do for the glory of God.‘ While all parts of creation are to glorify God, mankind was made in God’s very image. Through marriage, husbands and wives are to reflect His character and have children who will reflect His character. This applies all the way to the end of time.
“Every marriage knows unhappiness. Every marriage knows conflict. And every marriage knows difficulty. But everyone can be joyful in their marriage by focusing on God’s purposes and His glory instead of individual happiness.” (From the Family Life Today article, 8 Lies that Destroy Marriage)
It’s important to note that there are different types of joy. There is the “emotion of well-being and success.” But there is also the joyful emotion of knowing you are doing the right thing. There’s joy in doing what God would have you. Those can be two different emotions. One leads to a temporary fix of leaving behind the hard stuff to pursue your own happiness, even though you break other hearts in the process. And the other leads to one day having the Lord say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in what was handed to you.”
I don’t doubt that those who are tempted to leave their marriages are feeling miserable. Joy is the last emotion they can ever imagine feeling if they don’t leave their marriage. I get that. God gets that. But that doesn’t justify doing that, which we shouldn’t because we are hurting.
“Some time ago, we received the following email: ‘I’m leaving my husband and our two small children. I know what the Bible says; but God knows my heart. He just wants me to be happy.’ Another woman who was separated recently complained about her marriage. But she said that she was ‘seeking God’s will’ as she headed to Vegas with her boyfriend. I want to shout, ‘WAKE UP!’ Sin blinds us from the truth; and we blame everyone and everything instead of looking in the mirror.” (Shane Idleman)
As Shane writes, we need to WAKE UP! Please prayerfully read the rest of what Shane writes in The Christian Post article:
And finally, I know I’ve given you a lot to consider. But there is a great testimony written by Carla Anne Coray (posted on Crosswalk.com), which addresses this whole area of wanting out of a marriage that doesn’t seem to be working. Please prayerfully read it. And then I hope you’ll pray some more about your thoughts on happiness being God’s desire for your life:
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Save My Marriage