Pick up any well-known fairy tale and you’re likely to read this concluding line: “…and they lived happily ever after.” Usually the line refers to a beautiful maiden and her handsome prince who has saved her from some unenviable life. In a life filled with inconveniences and setbacks, it’s no wonder that many of us want to be rescued from our problems. Wouldn’t it be nice if some charming prince or princess came to sweep us off our feet and ride with us into the sunset to our blissful future? After all, it’s worked for many a fairy tale character.
Those fairy tale princes and princesses were happy after they met each other…weren’t they? Thanks to Prince Charming, Cinderella no longer had to scrub floors or suffer verbal abuse from her evil stepsisters. Sleeping Beauty woke up from an unconscious state at the kiss of her prince, and Snow White, having been poisoned by an apple from her wicked stepmother, was cured by a prince who kissed her simply because he was captivated by her beauty. But were they really happy? Is it even possible to be happy when your life is literally and figuratively missing a third dimension?
For Christians, that third dimension is God. We may think that we can only be truly happy when that special someone comes into our lives, but more likely than not, that is a lie. What if our only true happiness comes from God and pursuing him, not exclusively from marriage? What if marriage is something else entirely?
If we can’t be happy as singles, there is little hope in thinking that we could be instantly happy in marriage.
For Katelin Cummins, 24, from Madison, Wisconsin, her marriage to Allen was not just a path to happiness, but to holiness. Katelin described holiness as a way of life in which you become everything God intends you to be. “I had temptations and faults that only marriage could help me overcome,” said Katelin, explaining why she chose marriage instead of singleness. She said that in sharp contrast to fairy tale endings, “You have to be willing to die for the person you marry because in a way, you will. It’s self-sacrifice. That’s what love is and that’s hard stuff.” How many of us think about our fairy tale weddings with self-sacrifice in mind? Yet over and over again, that’s what I hear from people I talk to about marriage, whether they are married or single.
We have to be willing to consider the fact that some of our ideas about marriage and romance might be wrong. Dawn Eden, in her book, Thrill of the Chaste, notes that, “To tell yourself simply, ‘I’ll be happy once I have a boyfriend’, is to deny the seriousness of your longing. It turns the hunger into a superficial desire for flesh and blood when what we really want is someone to share divine love with us – to be for us God with skin on.” If what we really desire is God and the physical evidence of his love for us, marriage can’t be the end-all to our search for happiness. Marriage doesn’t last like God does, and God is perfectly capable of making us happy.
At times marriage can be far from perfect. “Being married is still life,” says Jessica, 24, from Beloit, Wisconsin. “It’s sobering to remember that marriage isn’t just someone waving a little wand and everything has been fixed, everything’s perfect. Life is still hard. So I think I would like it if there was a person who was sort of my partner in this hard life, but sometimes he might make it hard too so it’s not going to take away all my problems. It might even just give me new ones, but I’m still going to take that risk because I think that kind of partnership and relationship with another person is kind of scary but probably, I think, worth it.”
Katelin, who has been married for two and a half years, would agree with Jessica. “I had a lot of hard things to do my first year of marriage,” Katelin shared. “Marriage, first of all, magnifies your problems. You will have to look face to face with all of your faults, times ten.” This should come as no surprise to Christians. Jesus’ disciple Peter anticipated that Christians would suffer, writing in one of his letters, “do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12, NIV) Even though marriage is hard, Katelin still believes that “it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Despite all this, it makes you grow so much.”
Mary Ann Anichini, who has been married for 28 years, agrees that marriage is both challenging and rewarding. “Marriage is something you get up and work on every single day,” she says. Over the years, Mary Ann has learned a few things about marriage and life. “My job in this kingdom is really quite simple,” she says when referring to how she should live her life as she is following God, “it’s just, how can I fill other people up?”
For any of us, whether single or married, a Christ-centered life (and therefore an “others”-centered life) is what will bring us true joy. Jon Hill, 25, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, realized that although he desired to be married, he had to desire God more. “I really had to kind of come to grips with that and finally say you know what, if God calls me to a life of being single to serve him I would be okay with that,” said Jon. If married couples sacrifice their lives for each other, maybe singles can give up their lives, or at least their dreams, for God. If we can’t be happy as singles, there is little hope in thinking that we could be instantly happy in marriage.
So we know that we might not live happily ever after like the stories, but with God at least we have a fighting chance.