The gods we have made

A good friend posted this link earlier today: How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage. It is well worth the short read. It got me thinking about some broader issues.

Our society is struggling with a very serious expectations problem. It’s not just parenting; it’s life. For your first clue, look no further than the continually expanding expense and ritual associated with weddings and baby showers. From the get-go, we set up the expectation that marriage and parenthood (and on a lesser scale, other life accomplishments and milestones) will bring us bone-deep happiness and fulfillment. We get the message they are SUPPOSED to. So what does it mean when marriage and career and parenthood turn out to be really hard?

As a commenter on my friend’s Facebook post mentioned, it’s very similar to the problem of body image. We are comparing our lives to an unattainable, airbrushed ideal that doesn’t exist. I think previous generations may have understood better than we do: life isn’t about the perfect marriage and perfect family (or perfect house, etc.). It’s about making wise choices, working really hard, and living according to a guiding set of principles and values.

I find my purpose in serving a God who loves me passionately. He asks me to pass that love on to others. When I put my focus there, it keeps the rest of life in its proper perspective. My world isn’t shaken when the kids are driving me nuts and my husband and I argue. Life is hard! We can save each other a lot of heartache by being honest: marriage and family are so important, and yes, there is fulfillment there. But they will not supply your need for purpose and meaning. They shouldn’t have to, because the authors of the parenting article are right: That’s when we elevate these institutions to the status of religion.

We’ve gotten a warped picture of happiness. We need to unplug, stop comparing, and stop straining for an unattainable ideal. Happiness is a choice we make because we believe in things bigger than ourselves, because we find purpose in serving larger ideals, and because we understand what really matters. I think deep down, we all know this, but we get lost in the beautiful illusions of perfection. It’s okay to have lovely family photos and to honor the joy we take in loved ones (and careers and hobbies…). But I’m pleading with you, friends: Don’t look to these things for purpose. It will leave you frustrated, empty and depressed. There is a better way to live. There is ultimate contentment in knowing a deeper purpose and keeping everything else in its place.

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