One of my favorite songs from Carly Simon touched an emotional chord recently. That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be features raw and emotional lyrics detailing the dashed dreams of too many marriages. These couples have everything they were sure would make them happy. A beautiful house, manicured lawns, and an Instagram picture perfect family. Yet the truth of their lives is starkly different. Carly Simon’s lyrics are haunting.
Their children hate them for the things they’re not
They hate themselves for what they are
And yet they drink, they laugh
Close the wound, hide the scar
My heart hurts that I personally know a lot of people caught in that cycle. They wear a mask and smile bravely through the pain. My heart cries out that there is a better way. There is a different path that ends in a room of grace. But you have to be tired enough and sad enough to quit trying to fix yourself and especially trying to fix others.
The net result of desperate self-effort is shown in the sad imagery of Simon’s lyrics. The belief is if we just try harder we can keep our love alive. But she has seen the reality of relationships built only on that shaky foundation and she sings this melancholy but insightful verse.
You say we can keep our love alive
Babe all I know is what I see
The couples cling and claw
And drown in love’s debris
How sad that so many couples are relationally clawing to keep from “drowning” in love’s debris? Culture sells that love should be a non-stop euphoric feeling but when the feeling is gone we are free to go. God says that love is a decision to love because we have been loved first by Him. We are not free to leave when feelings wane because we have been redeemed at great cost.
I see the same dynamic of false expectations in my Christian journey. I hear others talk about their spiritual “victories”. How they always receive financial blessings and how dynamic their prayer life is everyday. Satan suggests that is the way it should be for me and the enemy notes constantly that I am falling way short. I cling and claw and drown in sin’s debris that, ironically, have already been taken care of at the Cross.
There is a better way. The way you’ve always heard it should be may not be the way it should be. What if the real truth is that relational happiness is not about the other person at all? What if it is realizing that you are a new person? What if happiness is about recognizing your need to live out of the new identity you received when you became a follower of Jesus?
Author Tim Keller wisely notes this truth. “If you seek righteousness first, you get happiness. If you seek happiness first, you get neither.”
And where do we find this righteousness? The truth is that righteousness found us first.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) (Ephesians 2:4-5, NLT)
It is entirely because of Christ. Nothing I have done or will do will make me righteous. I spent four decades trying to be “righteous.” When I hit a dry spell I would try harder, read more books, buck up and beat myself up because I felt so distant from God. Lots of “helpful” Christian friends would faithfully remind me that God hadn’t moved so it had to be me. So I disliked myself more and tried harder and God seemed even more distant. I had reached the end of my spiritual rope and that is where God is always patiently waiting. I cried out to Jesus something deep and insightful along these lines.
“I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”
God does not get insulted by all-caps. In fact, I picture Jesus smiling at that point because I was finally ready to trust Him and not my own feeble clawing. I reached the point of brokenness that allowed me to finally let Him have full access to my heart. I reached the point where I no longer had to be right. I reached the point where I didn’t want to wear a phony mask of holiness. I reached the point where I was willing to trust God completely with everything about me. I reached the point where I was ready for grace. I was willing to believe what God says is true about me. That I am completely forgiven. I am completely loved. I am completely changed because of Christ. I am completely empowered with the Holy Spirit to mature into all of those things that are already true about me. I am righteous not because of anything I have done but entirely because of Christ.
If you are tired enough, discouraged enough, wounded enough and ready to scream you can’t do this anymore then I have good news. You are ready for grace. Marinate in these truths today written to the church at Colossae.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)
God is waiting for you to experience His grace. There is a better road for your journey with Jesus and your marriage. Maybe the way you’ve always heard it should be is not the best way. What have you got to lose? For me there was so much to gain.