It’s a particularly sad phenomenon that Church kids—young people who have been born and raised with the teachings of the Bible—have begun having serious marital problems. Anecdotally, I know of a few who have even divorced. You probably know of some yourself.
Do you think it's possible that the reason is because our culture has taught us that to have a good life, we must reach for the stars, pursue our dreams and be all that we can be? That in order for us to be happy at the end of our lives, we have to be able to look back and see that we've tried everything that seems good and pursued every dream and opportunity to its fullest? In other words, that the ultimate goal of life is the self-fulfillment of our own desires, wants and dreams—to have checked off everything on our “bucket list.”
My generation has been bred with the lie that self-fulfillment is the ultimate and highest attainable goal in life, and therefore by extension that love—the kind you fall into—exists to give us what we need and want. That a good marriage is one where both parties get what they need. We may not even realize it as we pursue the ideals of the well-lived life. We rationalize that “of course God wants me to be happy,” all while we kick the can of responsibility down the road just a little longer.
This belief in self-fulfillment pervades our generation so deeply that it's almost as if it were in our blood. But in that version of attaining happiness, marriage is downgraded to become only a part of the fulfilled life—another contributing factor to my own fulfillment.
Marriage as Seen Through a Distorted Lens
Concurrent with the rise and acceptance of this pursuit of self-fulfillment is the delay of maturity: the extended period of adolescence. People delay marrying until their 30s, using their 20s as the decade to check off as many things as possible on the list before reality sets in and responsibility drags them down. “Getting married at 22 seems an awful lot like leaving the party at 9:00 p.m.” The party is both the party of self-fulfillment as well as romantic/sexual experience.
Taken together, the pursuit of self-fulfillment and the extended adolescence twist together into an idea that one should experience as much as he can while he's single, so that he can get a sense of what he values, who he is and therefore have a better chance at finding “the one.”
“The one” is the person who will make him happy. By extension, theoretically, he is the one who will make her happy. They will be highly compatible. Their chemistry will be undeniable. Their love will come easily and naturally—so easily that all that will be required is for them to fall into it.
Unfortunately, “the one” is a lie handed down by Plato and Greek mythology that makes individual choice only a bystander in the drama of dating in order to find the one with whom it all “just clicks.” In that drama, however, there is real danger that the moment trouble arises (or their love doesn’t come so easily or their points of view don’t align perfectly or their respective bucket lists change or their personalities change or…), both parties can’t help but wonder, “If this is so hard, maybe I married someone other than the one for me.” Then perhaps one of them meets somebody else who seems to be more compatible with them, who they identify with more and who they “click with” better, and as they get to know that person, the sinking feeling sets in that “I married the wrong person.”
But true love is not a fulfillment of my own needs, wants and desires. True love is a sacrificing of my own life for that of another. It is putting my own wants, needs and desires in second place (or third, or fourth, or…). Marriage is a commitment I make to my wife to hold her accountable to God, to encourage her to succeed, and to eschew what I need and want for my own self-fulfillment in favor of what she needs. It is to make my life the definition of service in the way I live it for her (Matthew 20:28 Matthew 20:28Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
American King James Version×). It is to set aside my childish shortcomings, lack of responsibility and foolish distractions, and to become a more perfect Christian so that we both become stronger in the perfect love of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 4:12 1 Timothy 4:12Let no man despise your youth; but be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
American King James Version×).
The Truly Fulfilled Life
To be clear, by no means do I recommend that we shouldn’t experience life to its fullest. That we shouldn’t pursue our dreams or that we shouldn’t seek self-fulfillment. That we shouldn’t find out through dating what type of person will make a happy, fulfilling marriage the most likely for both parties. That we shouldn’t have a list of goals to pursue and live to our fullest potential with the talents God’s given us.
I don’t mean to imply any of those things. None of those things are bad or good in and by themselves. Knowing firmly who you are and finding a compatible mate makes the Christian walk much more pleasant. Traveling to experience the world widens our perspective and helps us identify with more people in their vastly differing living conditions and cultural backgrounds.
To live a truly fulfilled life is to look back at the end of it and see that more of your time was spent serving God than not; sacrificing your needs and wants and desires and dreams in deference to His. To have put yours in second place (or third, or fourth, or…) after the needs of His children. To have made your life the definition of service (Galatians 5:13-14 Galatians 5:13-14 13 For, brothers, you have been called to liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×).
We do not exist to check off the bucket list and to look back and think “Wow, what a self-fulfilled life I've had.” It is not our destiny to live a personally satisfying life then die. It is not to marry the person who makes us happy until they don’t anymore and then find somebody else. It is not to travel the world and make memories (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 10 And whatever my eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had worked, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
American King James Version×).
No, we exist to become more perfect like Jesus Christ. We exist to learn what true love is—an outgoing, service-minded love—and to exercise that love toward all of God’s children (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2 1 Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;
2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
American King James Version×). In marriage, it is to put my own wants, desires, needs and dreams in third place behind those of God and those of my spouse (Ephesians 5:28 Ephesians 5:28So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.
American King James Version×). It is to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18 2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
American King James Version×). It is to make the hard decision not to do what feels good, but instead to do what’s right.
We exist to look back and say “Wow, I would have never dreamed of how much God used me to fulfill His purpose.”