“But I am happy,” he said clearly and defiantly, his rigid posture and furrowed eyebrows betraying tension. Upon revealing his conviction that his wife of almost 20 years did not love him or perhaps had never loved him at all, Peter asserted he was still “happy”.
Often, we think of happiness as an emotional state that brings smiles to our faces. Having counseled many clients over the last 30-odd years, I have learnt much from individuals like Peter.
In this instance, it is that happiness can be bittersweet.
There is the bitterness of not being loved in the way that one wants. To conclude that one’s spouse might have been drawn by the comfort and security that the marriage offered. Or that one’s marriage exists only because divorce is unacceptable – whether for the children’s sake or out of commitment to marital vows.
The sweetness of Peter’s realisation was in the fact that for many years, he felt that something was wrong but could not put a finger on it. He assumed that the fault lay with him. That perhaps he was too wrapped up with work and pursuing his goals. That his wife and he were too dissimilar and therefore incompatible. Consequently, he strayed into an extra-marital relationship, which led to another round of self-recrimination.
Over the two years I worked with Peter, he ended his affair, became more attentive to his family’s needs and turned back to God. Through his working hard and consistently at it, his clinical depression lifted. Two years of stability followed and then a family tragedy forced him to be more reflective. It was this period of deep thinking that led to his moment of epiphany.
Yet even in this state of clarity, he was unsure how to proceed.
I offered him a thought. I likened his commitment to staying the course and faithfully carrying out his marital vows as taking on the yoke of marriage. And in so doing in obedience to his faith, that he considers how such a “yoke” can be easy and its burden light. I cautioned him against carrying the yoke of his marriage as an act of burdensome sacrifice on his part.
Our Lord, I added, takes no pleasure in subjecting us to such servitude. Instead, when we bring our lives in alignment with His will, we experience great joy in obedience.
The walk of faith presents many contradictions. Bittersweet realisations, burdens that are light, and joy in obedience. Many of these contradictions become clearer in the light of His truth.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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