Below is an excerpt from an excellent book by Larry Crabb linked here (though I think all his books are excellent)! It discusses our desire for happiness and how that tends to play out in marriage. Our society places such high value on happiness. American culture tells us that only when we are happy will we be fulfilled and living abundantly. Yet Scripture consistently tells us that it is actually obedience that leads to fulfillment and abundance. We must be careful what our driving forces are in life, in our decisions, and in our relationships. If we are seeking happiness, we will always come up short. But if we are walking in obedience, we will experience a deep joy that happiness could never give us!
“A second flaw in our views of Christian marriage (and the whole Christian life) is the appealing emphasis on becoming happy and fulfilled. Our peppy songs about joyful Christianity neglect the need to develop a holy, obedient walk with God no matter what personal suffering may be involved. Uppermost in the minds of many Christians, perhaps unconsciously, is a preoccupation with following Christ to achieve the abundant life of pleasant, satisfying emotions and fulfilling, enriching opportunities.
In the last decade or so, we have dignified the shallow appeal of “be happy, feel good” by substituting the more Christian-sounding invitation to find “a fulfilling life” and to become “self-actualized.” The joy and peace available to the Christian have become confused with the similar sounding but very different idea of fulfillment. This has been seized upon by our sinful natures and translated into a priority on subjectively experiencing this deep joy and a secondary concern with whether the route to fulfillment conforms to God’s holy character as revealed in Scripture.
In some circles, people warmly speak of fulfillment in relationships to the point where adultery, divorce, and homosexuality are acceptable if they enhance one’s own sense of meaning. “I must be happy, I must express who I am. Don’t condemn me to a life of limited fulfillment. Don’t box me in with your legalistic morality. Le me be Me. I must do what is best for Me. God wants me to become a whole person, and I cannot be whole within the boundaries of traditional morality.”
We have become so conditioned to measuring the rightness of what we do by the quality of emotion it generates that we’ve developed a new version of relativistic ethics that might be called the Morality of Fulfillment. “Fulfillment” has taken on greater urgency and value than “obedience.” Psychologists do great damage by encouraging this reversal of priorities.
Does fulfillment have a place in biblical thinking? Of course. Each of us feels a deep concern for our own well-being, and this is as it should be. I long for an ever-increasing sense of personal fulfillment, and I confess this longing with no fear that my desires are sinful. The crucial issue is not whether we should be interested in our own welfare, but rather how we believe our welfare is best served. Pursuing whatever path brings the deepest immediate sense of internal well-being appears to be rather sensible strategy for finding fulfillment. But the Bible teaches that there is a way which—although it seems right—in the end leads to death: the tragedy of personal emptiness and desolation. Scriptures about dying to self, finding one’s life by losing it, being crucified with Christ, and living only for Christ make it clear that realizing true fulfillment depends not on preoccupation with fulfillment but on preoccupation with knowing God through absolute surrender.
In other words, the route to fulfillment is not the one with the road sign reading “Pleasure Ahead” or “If it seems to meet your needs, keep going.” The only sure path to real and lasting joy is the steep, rugged road marked “Obedience.”
We have allowed a natural concern for our own satisfaction to slide into an ethic that says that whatever seems to bring happiness is right. A married woman told me recently,
“I want to follow the Bible, but I just don’t know if I can be happy in this relationship. He simply isn’t the kind of man I can love.”
When we began to discuss what is involved in adhering to the Bible, it became clear that, to her, God’s thoughts on what she should do were a bothersome bit of judgmental moralism. So many people close their Bibles tightly, then confidently assert that “God wants me happy and fulfilled, but I can find neither in giving myself to this marriage.” How difficult it is to believe that a loving God with our deepest welfare in mind insists on painful conformity to the standards of His Word!”