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About this series
Taught by Chip's son, Ryan Ingram, Relational Intelligence gives us a clear understanding of what it takes to develop intimate, life-giving, character-shaping relationships where people share a rugged commitment to one another for the long-haul. Ryan exposes the flaws in relational thinking that result in broken, disillusioned lives. He provides alternative, biblical insight into how healthy, mature, and fun relationships can be nurtured and enjoyed.More from this series
You long and I long to know someone deeply and for them to know us significantly and fully. Where that it’s life-giving, like the friends where you’re just like, “Ahhh.” I’m around them and I know them and they just refresh my soul.
And not just that, but you want to be a better person. Like, they are character-shaping. And you know that they are going to be with you through thick or thin. It’s not a fair-weather friend, not a fair-weather marriage, but it has this rugged commitment.
And so, we asked the question: how in the world do we have those kinds of relationships? And so we said relational wisdom is the key. And that relational wisdom or intelligence is the skill of navigating life well.
That it’s not just the acquisition of knowledge and yet, wisdom is this skill, just like learning the skill of playing a guitar or shooting a basketball or swimming.
It is a skill. And so, it’s the proper application of the right knowledge. That there is this training and applying.
For some, this is where the rubber meets the road. And I was talking to a couple afterwards as we talked about the end of the series and they’re like, “It’s actually not the end of the series, it’s the beginning of the series, because now it’s time to apply it.” And I thought, What a great response. And it’s true.
You and I, we need to begin to apply the lessons that we have been learning about how to do relationships well. We started off with week one with this verse that said, in Proverbs, that there’s a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
There’s this way that appears to be right relationally, that appears to be right in how we go about our friendships, but in the end, it actually leads to death. It undermines the very relationships that we want. There’s a way that seems right, there’s a way that sounds right, there’s a way that even feels good, but in the end, and you know it and I know it, we have experienced it, it ultimately isn’t good for us.
And so, we are concluding with what I believe is the advice that has shipwrecked more marriages, destroyed more friendships, and this bit of advice, it actually has caused people to really undermine their very future, because this has even more implications not just relationally, but for decision making and all of life.
And the advice is: you deserve to be happy. Doesn’t that sound good? And we all go, “Yeah!” And some of you are like, “Ryan, don’t mess with this one.” Right? Please, okay, follow your heart, that was a hard feeling to swallow. Don’t mess with “you deserve to be happy,” because it sounds good! Its seems good. But is it really good for us?
Underneath that advice is this modern relational vision. It’s actually a new way of viewing all of relationships of the outcome or desire of what we want to see happen relationally. And the modern relational vision says this: your happiness is most important.
This is what we have bought into as a culture, that your happiness is most important. In fact, maybe let’s make it theological. Some of us would say it this way: God’s will for your life is to be happy. God wants me to be happy.
In fact, parents do this. If you ask a parent, “What do you want for your kid?” “All I want for my kid is to be,” what?
[“Happy.”] Thank you guys. I love that. Why? Because your happiness is most important.
Put it in the relational context, the purpose of relationships is personal happiness. The point of the marriage, the point of the friendship, the point of – what – dating is your personal happiness.
Now, let’s define happiness. Because the way we have defined happiness has shifted over the years. Actually, classically, the way you would define happiness, the way the ancients in Scripture would define it as well, but also just in classical thought had to do with this virtuous life.
It’s the well-lived life. It’s the one where you look back on life and you’re happy with it. Whereas when we define happiness today, it has to do with a deep sense of personal pleasure or satisfaction. It is this pleasurable satisfaction of the moment. And so, the purpose of relationships is this personal happiness. And so, you exist for my happiness. I’m dating you, I’m marrying you, I’m friends with you so that I will be happy.
Well, how do I be happy? Here’s our formula, if you will. When I get – and then you fill in the blank – then I’ll be happy. When I get. When I finally find the right person. When I finally fall in love. When I marry her or marry him, then I’ll be happy. And for some, you’re like, “When I’m not married to him and I’m not married to her, then I’ll be happy.”
When I get the right job, when I get out of this job, when I’m successful, when I finally own a home. And others who are owning a home, they’re like, “When I finally sell this home.” When I finally move out of the area. This area is crazy and it’s so insane and so, if we moved away, then I’ll be happy.
When I, when I build that lifestyle brand, like, when I can travel the world and live, have people live vicariously through my pictures and I don’t have to live through other people’s pictures, then I’ll be happy.
And so, then we give this bit of advice for people: do what makes you happy. If the purpose of relationships is personal happiness, if the most important thing is to be happy, then you should do whatever makes you happy, right?
If it feels good, do it. In fact, we ask this question, oh my goodness, and this question has shipwrecked more relationships: do they make you happy? She just doesn’t make me happy anymore. He doesn’t make me happy anymore. And if the most important thing is to be happy, well then, I need to do what makes me happy. Do they make me happy? No! The honeymoon stage wore off. Hm.
And we do this with our friends, right? I just need to surround myself with people who make me happy. Well, if your friends don’t make you happy anymore, then get new friends. And so, we come to this conclusion: If I am unhappy, something must be wrong.
Now, let me ask you this: why is it that happiness is so elusive? Why is it so fleeting? Why is it something that we are running after, we are pursuing, but we never quite get? And if we do get it, it just vanishes so quickly.
Maybe in the Silicon Valley, asked another way, why are our lives so full and yet we live such unfulfilled lives? I think there is a problem with happily ever after. We talk about it in the fairy tales and the myths of living happily ever after and it’s not just a fairy tale, it’s what we desire, whether it’s within marriage or friendships or in work. We want the happily ever after, don’t we? Like, I want the job that I work and it’s happily ever after. Do what you love, and you never work a day in your life. No. Well, I guess I don’t love this anymore, because it feels like work today.
The problem of happily ever after, Dr. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and neurologist, many of you know him – a Holocaust survivor, famous writer. He said, “It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”
He says, “Pursuing happiness,” see, happiness isn’t the problem, it’s the pursuit of happiness that is the problem. Well, why does making happiness the end goal of your life a problem? Well, three things I want to highlight for us.
First, it tells us that difficult is bad. As someone once said, “No difficult ain’t bad, it’s just hard.” See, we have subtly begun to believe a lie that if anything is difficult, it is bad and to be avoided.
“Well, this is hard!” Well, listen to this. When happiness is our end goal, we will never sacrifice and without sacrifice, we will never do anything of significance. See, we begin to believe that delay, discomfort, risk, inconvenience, obstacles could not be the will of God. Because if God exists to make me happy and this is hard, it could not be His will.
Dr. Tim Elmore, talks about this in our current culture is because of the technology and the life we are living, we are beginning to believe some things. He says, “In an age of speed we have begun to believe that slow is bad. In an age of convenience, we have begun to believe that hard is bad. In an age of entertainment, we have started to believe boring is bad. And in an age of nurture, we’re believing that risk is bad. In an age of entitlement, we are believing that labor is bad.”
The problem of happily ever after is, first, it tells us that difficult is bad. That if I’m going through something hard, then I must get out of it. It must be wrong. And, yet, we will never do anything of significance or that is of worth if we don’t go through difficult to get there.
Secondly, it leaves us dissatisfied relationally. It leaves us dissatisfied relationally. This whole when/if thing. When I get here, then I’ll have this. The problem is is when you get that, it doesn’t fully satisfy, does it? In fact, I was talking with some friends that reached all their goals the other day.
You’re like, “Really?” Yeah. Mid-forties, this is what happens, especially with the high achievers. Financially, relationally, independent – met all their goals. And guess what, common thread: depression, dissatisfied, looking and longing for what is next.
See, we think if we just got that job, if we had this, if we were able to finally travel wherever you want, go wherever you want – newsflash! I just sat across from someone who can travel wherever he wants, anytime he wants, and he’s dissatisfied.
Philip Cushman talks about the empty self. I think it’s an accurate assessment of our culture today. He says, “The empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists. The empty self experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning, a lack of personal conviction and worth. And so, it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated, emotional hunger.
This absence is just this chronic hunger of the soul, never satisfied. The problem of happily ever after tells us difficult is bad. It leaves us dissatisfied relationally. And it creates a disillusionment with life, with others, with ourselves, and with God. It creates this disillusionment.
Now, think about this. If my purpose is to be happy and I am not happy, stay with me, something must be wrong with me. For many, you have believed that happiness is the most important thing, the purpose of life, the purpose of relationships is to be happy. And I’m not talking, I want to be clear, on the clinical side of things, but the widespread anxiety, the widespread angst that we are seeing amongst this generation, it has to do – it has to do, I think, with misplaced end goal of what life is all about.
If it’s all about being happy and I’m not happy, all of a sudden, this internal angst, something must be wrong with me. I must be broken. Think about it, parents, as we have said, “All I want for my kid is to be happy,” and that kid doesn’t feel happy, they feel like they have let their parents down, and then this weight that they feel underneath.
Well, if God exists to make me happy and I’m not happy, then God has let me down. And the problem with happily ever after is it creates a disillusionment, because it’s the wrong purpose or goal for our life.
J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler write in their book The Lost Virtue of Happiness, “If happiness is having an internal feeling of fun or pleasurable satisfaction and if it is our main goal, where will we place our focus all day long? The focus will be on us and the result will be a culture of self-absorbed individuals who can’t live for something larger than we are. As parents, we will then view our children as a means to our own happiness. Marriage, work, and even God Himself will exist as a means to make us happy. The entire universe will revolve around our internal pleasure and me.”
You deserve to be happy. And yet, in a culture of abundance, why is it so few are? Why is there such a restlessness and an angst in our souls? Could it be that we have the wrong end goal?
Now, happiness itself isn’t the problem. In fact, let me ask a better question for us. Not, “How do I make sure I’m happy in life?” I want to make sure I’m happy. I want to make sure I get mine. But listen to this: how do you make sure that you end up happy with your life? Have you ever thought about that?
Like, when you look back, maybe you’re sixty years old, some of you are like, “Will I ever be sixty?” Yes, you will. When you look back and you look at the decisions you have made, you look at the relationships you’ve had, you look at the life you lived, the character you have, and you would go, Wow, I am happy with my life.
There is a difference between pursuing happiness in life and looking back and truly being happy with your life. I call this the law of happiness. And Psalm 1 unpacks the law of happiness and how we are to go about our lives in such a way that when we look back, we’d go, Wow, I am so happy with my life. With the decisions I made, with the relationships I had, with the person I became.
If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Psalm 1? We’ll pick it up in verse 1. It begins this way, the author says, “Blessed,” underline that word blessed, “is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.”
He begins this psalm, the very first psalm of the psalms. Psalm 1. It’s a wisdom psalm. And it’s going to teach us about how to live life well. And he says: you want to know about how to live life well? He starts off with happy. Blessed. Right? No, that’s the word “blessed,” Ryan. Actually, in the Hebrew, there’s a very specific word for blessed. This is not it. This word means happy.
In fact, right up above it, “happy.” The psalm says this, “Happy.” Happy are those. You want to be happy, you want to look back and be happy with your life? I’m going to share the law of happiness, how you go about this, so that you can look back ten years, twenty years, thirty years from now and go, Oh man, I’m so happy. Yeah, it was hard in the moment. I’m so glad we did it. See, that’s the type of life, the happy life.
He says, “Happy,” now notice this, “is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.” And you circle that word wicked. Now, when we think of wicked, we think about the worst people on the planet, right? You’re like, the wicked? And you can just, kind of like, have a few different people from history maybe show up in your mind that are wicked and you’re like, okay, that’s wicked. So, I don’t really have friends that are wicked.
Let me define wicked for you. The wicked are those who live as if there is no God, biblically. The wicked are those that live as they are the very center of the universe; life is all about them and they live for now.
See, I would say there’s a lot of people who call themselves Christian who live as if there is no God, that they believe they are the center of the universe, at least they act that way. And they live for now, not recognizing that there is eternity.
See, what he’s saying is: happy, like truly deep, resonant happy people are ones who do not live as if they are the center of the universe, as if there is no God, as if now is all there is.