Back in February, I went on a trip to Chattanooga for work. During my time there, I didn’t sleep well. Part of it was that sofa beds are just never really paragons of comfort, and part of it was that I got a little homesick. I had just gotten engaged two weeks prior, and it was a bummer to be away from my fiancé Joel. One night, as I tried to sleep, I had a million thoughts that kept tumbling around in my head. I finally fell asleep, but woke back up at 3 AM, and all the thoughts jumped right back in.
Sometimes my brain tries to work on numerous “problems” all at once. So in the early hours of the morning, as I was finding myself becoming more awake by the moment, I tried to isolate one of the issues so I could dismiss it and maybe avoid scaring all the sleepies off. I was almost immediately able to label my emotion: anxiety.
As I tried to pinpoint why I would be feeling that way, I started feeling more and more foolish. Thoughts kept popping into my head, and I started to feel like I was dealing with a kid who was getting stuck in one of those stories that ends in a breathless “and then… and then and then and then…!”:
It’s dumb to be gone for so long when I want to be there.
I’m only gonna be on the planet for a limited amount of days; is it worth it to be here for five of them?
Joel’s only going to be on the planet for a limited amount of days too.
Oh my gosh, what if Joel dies while I’m gone?
I think we can all agree: that’s stupid. It might be true, in a way, but it’s still stupid. And it would be a stupid way to live my life, never taking chances, never pursuing opportunities because Joel might die while I’m gone. You can’t do that. But the bigger problem is that I’m really not one to worry like that, in those particular ways. I’ve had friends before who have had similar worries, and I’ve always thought it was, well, stupid. So what’s the deal?
The sleepies were well and scared off at this point, so I began to consider all the angles. And the conclusion I came to surprised me.
I had been, at some level, sure that God wanted and likely would take Joel away from me.
If I’m honest, it’s been a concern ever since we started dating and I found that Joel made me really happy. I’ve believed, at some level, that because Joel made me happy, precisely because I love Joel so very much, God wouldn’t want me to be with him.
That’s messed up.
So where the heck did such a stupid idea come from? Did anyone ever teach me that God takes away everything that makes us happy? I don’t think so. I certainly can’t recall it happening if it did. So where did the idea come from? And then I remembered: I read a book back when I was thirteen or fourteen, and in it, God made this girl break up with her boyfriend. They were in love and wanted to get married, and God told her to break up with him. I don’t think I finished it because that garbage is sad! But it’s stuck with me, all these years. And it’s followed me into my engagement, making me sure that God’s been subtly trying to get me to break up with Joel for the past two years because I love him too much, and now he’s gonna have to have him die because I didn’t listen and I certainly can’t be this happy.
Friends, that’s not the God I know.
There are certainly times when God asks us to give up things we love. And there are times when doing what God wants us to do doesn’t make us happy. But that’s different than God seeing us happy and saying to himself, “Whelp, we can’t have that!” and striking someone dead because of it. And to even subconsciously believe that he might is allowing a horrendous lie into your relationship with God.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
Why wouldn’t God rejoice in my love for Joel? Why wouldn’t he be pleased with this all-encompassing love I feel for him, this desire to enjoy, grow, and protect our relationship? Why wouldn’t God want us to get engaged, to get married? Marriage is used as a metaphor for God’s relationship with his people all throughout the Bible! One of God’s most poignant and emotional messages of love is the book of Hosea in which God uses Hosea’s broken marriage to represent his own broken relationship with Israel and to lament the pain and suffering it has caused him. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Hosea 11:8) The love found within marriage was the thing that God pinpointed as similar enough to express his desperate and powerful love for Israel.
Because we both personally know God’s love in our own lives, my love for Joel and Joel’s love for me can be an image of God’s love for his people. Christian marriage is supposed to be important, and one reason for that is that it is a human setting in which divine love can on display to others. God wants me to love Joel selflessly and with all my heart. God knows how it feels to miss someone when they aren’t near to you. In that time of homesickness, God embraced me and spoke in a quiet voice, “It’s hard; I know.”
He certainly wasn’t sitting there deciding it was the perfect time to drive home a point by killing Joel while I was gone so I could regret the trip to Chattanooga forever.
As I realized all these things, huddled on my friend’s sleeper sofa, tears filled my eyes. I’m 25 years old, and I had just figured out that God doesn’t want to punish me for being happy.
We have to be very careful to examine the reasons behind our feelings as they can reveal beliefs that are in need of correction or beliefs that are just plain wrong. And I think we need to be careful of what we teach others, both in things we intentionally say and in things that we unintentionally say.
I’m sure the author of that book I read when I was in my early teens wasn’t trying to teach any young girls that God will punish them for being happy. But that’s the lesson I walked away with because young minds aren’t always good at figuring out what adults are trying to say. That’s one of the reasons I think mentoring and speaking with younger people very intentionally is so important. We can’t control everything they pick up during their childhood and adolescence, but we can make sure that we’re establishing, again and again, a healthy example for them to fall back on. They may not be able to understand everything they come across, but hopefully they will be able to point back to real instances and examples of God’s love, compassion, blessing, and support in our lives, and therefore in their own lives.
But to be able to do this, we need also to be willing to stop and ask ourselves what beliefs lie behind our thoughts and actions and anxieties. I’m glad that I had that sleepless night to spend a little time in a place and posture where God could reach out to me and correct something I’ve been wrong about.
And the remainder of the trip was all the more enjoyable because I didn’t have to worry that God was going to kill my fiancé.