Friday, 31 May 2019

Happy ending?

I've been pondering something for a while (that's usually a bad sign tbh...) It's something quite subtle, which you almost might not notice. The problem is, I have noticed, and now I can't stop. Writing this blog runs the risk of you, who may never have noticed before, now also noticing. I'm sorry. Read on at your own risk...!

Here it is. I've noticed a tendency in certain Christian testimonies, for the 'and then they lived happily ever after' part to include "and now they're married with 18 beautiful children" or similar.

Here's an example that I read today, in a magazine I really enjoy, which prompted me to finally write something (even though I've been thinking about doing so for ages). I'm not having a go here at the magazine, or the author, and it was a good article. It just happened to provide an example of this thing.

So in the article there's a story about a guy named Pedro (I would change his name, but the chances are they already changed it when they did the article, so there's no need to make things even more complicated!) Pedro was homeless and an alcoholic, until he found love and care and support and a Christian community which helped him to heal (that bits all great by the way, obvs!).

Here's the thing though. This is how the 'after' part of Pedro's story is described: "Pedro... found a community to support his journey towards sobriety and ultimately a faith of his own. Now, eight years sober, he helps at AA sessions, has married, and regularly cooks for his church's Alpha course."

It happens so often. Not long ago at a women's event I heard something similar: "Lucy (I am making that name up, I can't for the life of me remember what they called her!) has had her life turned around. She was in trouble because of X, Y and Z and her life was awful. And then she met Person A from Charity B and they helped her to sort her life out. Now she's doing this, this and this amazing thing, and she's married with a baby."

I've read it in books, and on social media. I've heard it in talks. OK, maybe I notice this stuff more than someone married would do, but nonetheless it is still actually happening!

Now, don't misunderstand me, I'm not just being a grump (I really hope I'm not anyway!) Obviously, if this person has happened to get married in this period of their life when things are going well, then that's part of their story, and of course it's right for them to tell that if they want to.

The issue for me is when we see the 'marriage and kids' thing as part of the happy ending. This person's life is better now BECAUSE they are married, BECAUSE they have children.

I'm all for celebrating the good stuff. I love to hear testimonies of God at work in people's lives, how their circumstances and their situation have been totally transformed. It's brilliant. But I think there's something about what 'we' (society? church?) see as typical traits of the 'before' and 'after' parts of the story.

BEFORE (BAD STUFF): homelessness, drugs, alcohol, addiction, crime...
AFTER (GOOD STUFF): marriage, kids (and what? 3 bedroom semi? volvo?)

I'm being facetious, of course, but actually the only thing that's got any business being in the AFTER column is: AND NOW THEY KNOW JESUS. (Yes, I know, no longer being addicted to stuff and having a roof over your head are pretty good too, but you get my point).

If I'm being hyper-sensitive about this, no doubt you'll all tell me. If I've made you aware of something that's now going to annoy you when it didn't before, I'm sorry. But if this is a Thing, and if you're single or don't have kids or whatever, and you've noticed it as a Thing too, let me know.

I guess what I'm saying is it feels weird when my life (which I'm happy with, and really quite like, at least the vast majority of the time) is seen as not good enough to feature in the AFTER column. Like when my life is some sort of pre-Good-Morning-makeover-style-reveal.

We must be careful about saying, or thinking, or even implying, that marriage and kids should be part of the 'happy ending' story (although they're great and brilliant when they happen well) - because if they're part of the 'happy ending' story, then where does that leave those of us who don't have them, and possibly never will?

My life is full of Jesus and friends and laughter and kids and chocolate and all sorts of good things. But it doesn't and never will involve marriage, or children of my own. And I'm ok with my own version of the happy ending.

Here's a picture of a sunset, just because they're one of my favourite things, and a pretty good 'ending' for each day, I'd say.


  1. The "happy endings" look like what Bella DePaulo calls matrimania.

    Here are links to two secular international facebook groups where this sort of unnecessary inclusion of marriage etc. is recognised for what it is: and

  2. Well written, Kate. Happy ending to me is being able to love and be loved. Great to see you and hear your teaching in Finland on July 😊

  3. Yep. I see it too.
    I guess as a recovering alcoholic I can kind of see that marriage and children are things that for many are impossible, destroyed and broken, as part of someone's addiction story and so it's a testimony of what God has done in their lives that they have become emotionally present in a way that has made them able to marry etc. But it very rarely says that about good friendships, or explains why this significance in their healing. Mostly it is offered up, just as you say, as if it is testimony in its own right to being this "proper person" now.

  4. Well done Kate, love this and i totally get you.
    Marriage and kids are NOT the happily ever after, and hey, here I am celebrating 40 years of marriage tomorrow, but that is purely by the love and grace of God. Our marriage may not have survived if it had not been for Jesus in our lives. But marriage for both of us happened before we were Christians and after all that had happened in my life (of which you know) and Grahams too, to find a love that was wholesome and lovely was a good thing. But we had many troubles along the way and life has not always been lovely. But our gracious God has given us strength, hope and courage to get to where we are. But I actually doubt if I'd ever have married otherwise. It was more a choice we made, not a seeking God's will, but thankfully it has worked by his grace. You have known Jesus since you were young and you know you have EVERYTHING in him. So marriage and kids is NOT the happily ever after thing we all need, but for some just a blessing from who IS the happily ever after. Our Good Good Father.
    Bless you my lovely, I am proud and blessed to know you. Xx

  5. Yes, I see it. Thanks for talking about it!

  6. Exactly this! You are so spot on with these comments and as a young widow it's incredibly painful when the focus on being a "successful Christian" seems based on marriage and kids. I don't think they actually appreciate the harm these comments cause and it's incredibly tone deaf to keep putting these out.

  7. I've been pondering this, and speaking and writing about it, for a few years, and share your frustration! The church has managed to 'baptize' the 'happiness myth' that is still very common in our culture (though currently being contested) - namely, that one needs to be coupled to be a 'normal'/'full'/'happy' person.