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The great Desired

God want us to glorify Him in our marriages, and our own happiness will follow ...

BRITNEY SPEARS'S RECENT RECORD-BREAKING marriage and annulment stirred up a storm of comment, including protest by homosexual advocates: How can this society legalize a joke marriage because it took place between heterosexuals, meanwhile denying legality to homosexual couples?

Marriage has certainly been devalued by "straights" (which is no argument for further devaluing by homosexuals). But joke marriages, phony marriages, and marriages of convenience are nothing new. What's new is the fragility of "good" marriages. The same weekend of Britney's moment of madness, I learned of my best friend's divorce.

Full disclosure: She hasn't been my best friend since college. Over the years our relationship became a matter of keeping in touch by Christmas cards and year-in-review letters. When my last two cards went unanswered, I got suspicious and did some internet research, confirming my worst fears. My friend's is the only name listed at their address; her husband is at another address. That is all I know.

Perhaps some horrible crisis came into their lives and forced them apart, or one of them committed an unpardonable sin. Or the marriage somehow collapsed into a dark pit that one partner had to escape to save life or sanity. Or (more likely), everyday crises, commonplace sins, and ordinary potholes opened up fissures that became gaps.

I wouldn't have expected it of them. I was there when they met, and I watched them fall in love. By the end of freshman year they were talking about marriage; by sophomore finals she had a ring. I've never known a couple to generate fewer misgivings. Their choices seemed exemplary: a long engagement, his steady career path, her staying home to raise the children and serve the community. When I saw them last, they occupied a nice house with swimming pool in an upscale neighborhood, delighting in three outstanding children who made exceptional grades at the local Christian school.

So what happened? A Hollywood-movie interpretation would peel back the over-nice exterior to reveal ugly hypocrisies and perverse longings. But my friends claimed to understand human depravity and their need for grace-not a pair to stumble into easy self-righteousness. Not a pair to be deceived by the hollow promises of earthly "happiness," either. But if I had to make a guess it would be that one of them came to think of the other, "I'm just not happy with you anymore."

That story has become distressingly common. Up until my generation, couples stayed together because everyone expected them to. God set that standard, but society reinforced it, even for the ungodly. When the standard fell, it was only natural that unbelievers would gleefully fall with it. But believers have joined the stampede, in nearly equal numbers. God hasn't changed-why are Christians cocking an ear to the world rather than the Lord?

Alarmed by the trends, some churches have become more serious about premarital counseling. We tell our children to expect hard times, but resolve to weather them together. Those who do, and live to old age with their marriage intact, will usually discover a settled satisfaction that is its own reward.

That counsel is true as far as it goes, but I suspect we underestimate the temptations of "the pursuit of happiness" in a day when Americans live longer, make more money, and have more choices than any generation ever. There's simply more "happiness" out there to pursue, and many who have abandoned long-term wives and husbands to make a new start appear satisfied with their choice.

So perhaps our warning should be more tough-minded: Children, there may come a time when you look at that person you're living with and see a stranger. Inconceivable as it seems now, you may find yourself longing for release from the woman who doesn't even want to understand you, the man who remains locked within himself. What does "facing problems together" mean, if your partner is the problem, and "together" an empty concept?

But that is precisely when you must look up. Don't ever deceive yourself into thinking that "God wants me to be happy." God wants you to glorify Him. In a marriage, that goes double. Your happiness will follow ultimately-maybe a lot more ultimately than you would prefer-but your happiness is incidental rather than central. If your desires are frustrated, you've lost sight of the great Desired.

Listen, children: The crazier this world gets, the more radical must be your devotion. The faster and looser this society plays with sacred fire, the more your willingness to be consumed by it. Your obedience testifies to His truth; stand fast, and testify.