A few weeks ago, an article titled “Marriage Isn’t For You” popped up all over my newsfeed. Of course, I clicked because when I want to do something well, I read about it. We’re three years into our marriage and I still read every scrap of matrimonial advice I can lay my hands on, because, well, I’ve got a lot of learning to do.
At first glance, Mr. Smith’s reflections seemed like a basic summary of a Christian marriage theology: die to yourself and serve your spouse. A quick read was enough of a kick in the pants to get me off the computer and into the kitchen to make my husband breakfast. Something bothered me about the article, though. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it until I went back for a more thorough study.
First of all, I think Mr. Smith’s story was completely well-intentioned. As he puts it, the “Walmart philosopy” pervades our culture. We love what makes us feel good and toss what doesn’t. We are so saturated with the spirits of entitlement and selfishness, that the idea of living and dying for another is a completely foreign concept.
Mr. Smith writes: The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear…Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?
When Mr. Smith voices his concerns, his dad’s response is a bit scathing: Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy.
Perhaps dad could have been a bit gentler, but his advice was spot on, right? Wrong.
The desire for happiness isn’t selfish, it’s human. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the longing for happiness is universal: “We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.” The Catechism takes it even further. Not only is the desire for happiness common to all man, it is a desire placed in us by God in order to draw us into communion with Himself – the source of all happiness (CCC 1718).
It follows that the more closely we walk with God, particularly through the living out of our vocation, the more happiness we will find. Not ease, comfort, or pleasure, but true happiness which will culminate in the lasting happiness which is Heaven.
The Catechism explains that it is the hope of happiness which purifies our actions and sacrifices, saves us from discouragement, and enables us to love freely. By the hope of happiness, we are “preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”
Got that? The longing for happiness saves us from selfishness and leads us to love.
Our culture desperately needs the lesson of self-sacrifice, but more than that, we need to hope for a joy the world cannot give. We need to hope that our marriages aren’t doomed and we need to hope that we will find happiness in faithfulness.
Mr. Smith Senior meant well, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. He should have told his son to set aside his anxieties and pray, as Tobiah and Sarah did, for a long and happy life, because the desire for happiness isn’t selfish — it’s the beginning of holiness.
Note: The title of the article is problematic in itself. Marriage IS for you, your spouse, your children, the world, and most of all, for God.