The Dangers of Happiness
Every day, we are bombarded with enticing invitations to stray from the path God has placed before us and enter into sinful and life-altering situations. Ines Franklin, the president and founder of Trochia Ministries, an online Christian discipleship ministry, talks with us today about her story of redemption from adultery and how she uses this painful time in her life to help others. With Easter not far behind us, Ines’ story is a beautiful illustration of repentance and resurrection.
4word: When can the pursuit of happiness become dangerous, both emotionally and spiritually?
Ines: Everyone wants to be happy, but there is no end to the pursuit of happiness. The problem is nothing on earth is truly secure. We can lose anything or everything in a single moment. Sometimes we lose things slowly, but other times, happiness is stripped away with alarming speed and ruthlessness.
The pursuit of happiness becomes the most dangerous in the moments when what we thought would bring us happiness is taken away. We lose all hope, we dive deep into despair, and we scramble to find something else, anything else, to fill the void. So, we are hopelessly bouncing from one shallow thing to another, never finding true joy or contentment.
I know this because for many years I pursued happiness to no avail. Being the sixth of seven children raised by a single mother, I suppose my ambition was fueled by a fear of being invisible. If I performed well, people noticed me, and that made me very happy. My job position, salary, home, marriage, children, and people’s opinion of me became the key measures of my happiness. As wonderful as these things are, they are not reliable. We cannot fully control them, and at some point they will let us down or we will mess them up.
In my late thirties, my success tower came crashing down when my second marriage ended in divorce and my son became addicted to drugs. I had to shut down my business, sell our home, and go on with life, now a single mother of three children from two different marriages. It was a huge blow, but I was not done trying. I was not impressed with my track record, but I was still blind to the damage my pursuit of happiness was doing to my family and myself. This stubborn determination led me to make more mistakes and eventually to the lowest point of my life.
4word: Redemption is a topic you are especially called to speak about. What does redemption mean to you personally?
Ines: Redemption means freedom; freedom from due punishment, freedom from shame and freedom from earning my relationship with God.
My grandmother “abuelita” named me Ines Socorro, which means “pure help.” She had great dreams for me to be a nun, a woman dedicated to God. I did not become a nun, but I tried my hardest to be a good person. I did not turn out as good as Mother Teresa, but hey, I was better than Hitler. That used to satisfy me, especially in light of my many mistakes and wrongful behavior.
It was not until I reached my fortieth year that I realized the fallacy of my thinking. I had the wrong bell curve in mind. I compared myself to other people and thought God would judge me according to my good effort and willingness to try.
It became clear that this wasn’t enough to be in good standing with God, especially as I continued to accumulate a “rap sheet” of sins, and my sense of security was shattered. After two divorces, two abortions, and a whole bunch of “smaller” sins, I was clearly far from Mother Teresa and even further from God.
The lowest point came when I found myself in a romantic relationship with a married man, something I thought I would never do. Jim decided to divorce his wife and we started our plans for marriage in the midst of great turmoil. Now that I had also committed adultery, I entered a season of emotional and spiritual crisis. My road to happiness had reached a dead end, and my prize for arriving there was overwhelming shame.
Just before Jim and I got married, we decided to attend church regularly and I started reading the Bible for the first time. Using a chronological version of the Bible, one day I read Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. I read the Ten Commandments for the first time, twice! And then it hit me: I had broken every single one of these, and I now understood the bell curve God uses to measure our “goodness.” God compares us to Himself, to His goodness, to the goodness He intended for us from the beginning.
When I read Paul’s words that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in Romans 3:23, they did not bring me any comfort for it simply stated the facts. I was just another sinner now aware that the wage of my sin is death. But the next verse made all the difference, “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” There is a penalty due for my sins. A just God has to do something about evil, including the evil that I had done and the evil that still lived in me. There is a cost for my sins, and someone had to pay. So to me, redemption is the process through which God bought me at a price and now I belong to him. Jesus took the penalty I deserved, the death I deserved, so that I may have the life He deserves. Redemption is the restoration of shalom, peace with God. Redemption is the sweetest of gifts, the costliest.
Because I am redeemed, I no longer live for myself but for Him who died for me and was raised again (2 Cor 5:15). It means that my purpose is changed. My reliance on performance is slowly being chipped away by a loving God that reminds me daily that I am now a child of God. I’m still a perfectionist, but not because I am perfect; rather because Jesus is perfect. My drive is now to be like him more and more each day.
God redeemed my life and my marriage to Jim in the most remarkable way. Our family has healed greatly from the many wounds inflicted by the way we started our relationship. We have many new friends and a community that celebrates with us a God that is full of grace. Over the past thirteen years, God has used us in many areas of ministry at our church and para-church ministries. We have traveled the world with Free Wheelchair Mission delivering free wheelchairs, and I have had the privilege to teach God’s word for the past three years at Mariners Church and around the world. In 2009, we traveled to Israel, and there our pastor encouraged us to leave our shame behind once and for all.
4word: Why do you consider sin, such as lust and pornography, as something like a form of self-mutilation?
Ines: Quite often we are not aware, or don’t want to be, of the consequences of sin, especially when we think we deserve what we are about to do or take. One of my favorite books on sin is Cornelius Plantinga Jr.’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be; A Breviary of Sin. He wrote these words, “The image of ourselves as center of the world is fantasy –perhaps, in its sheer detachment from reality, even a form of madness.” (pg. 125) We all know that we should not stare at the sun for we could go blind. Focusing on sin has the same effect on our wisdom. The shiny object before us blinds to the future or the damage that is sure to come to ourselves and to others. We lie to ourselves when we say, “this will not hurt anyone.” Lust and pornography are ways we invite the cancer of death into our bodies and souls. The more we engage in the behavior, the more disease is poured into our hearts and minds. We cut off our ability to be intimate with others, to truly love others, as we replace the sacrificial act of love with immediate personal satisfaction. We break the bones of our character and poison our minds with lies. Envy and pride weaken our ability to form real friendship and community. Our souls become corrupted as sin spreads to every area of our life. Sin is self-mutilation, and what is more, it also destroys those we love. It is never just about us.
4word: What led you to enter into a relationship with a married man? How was God able to use this time in your life to bring you to Him?
Ines: Jim and I worked together for many years. We are both perfectionists and workaholics, and so we found that we could get a lot done together. We had a lot of fun, too, as our personalities were well matched. For years, our relationship was professional but grounded in friendship and mutual respect.
Everything changed when I got divorced, which also happened to be at a time when Jim’s marriage was in trouble. All of a sudden, our sparks had a different effect. Men were starting to pay attention to me and that had an effect on Jim. Also, I was lonely, and since he and I had known each other for a long time, we spent a lot more time together. This became fuel for an adulterous relationship. The numerous conversations, meetings, lunches and dinners increased our feelings for each other. I never intended to “enter into a relationship with a married man.” I was in a relationship with him that evolved because we shared too much time together and opened our hearts to intimacy with each other. The burning fire of passion became louder than the still small voice of God telling us not to sin.
When it was clear to us that we had crossed the line – way before we did anything physically – my heart started to break. Although our relationship progressed, my sense of personal sin increased. I had made mistakes before, but this one made me feel dirty. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I could not be the “good” person I so longed to be. This was certainly not good. God was able to use this time to gently open my eyes to him and his ways. Unfortunately, I did not become a believer until after Jim decided to divorce his wife, we moved in together and we were well into our plans to get married.
Many other difficult events happened in this season, including my son’s addiction to drugs. My proud heart was finally broken when my son disappeared for a month. That is what ultimately took me down to my knees, and for the first time be fully open to God’s truth.
4word: Tell us how you came to know what path your life was meant to go down, even in the midst of depression and an identity crisis.
Ines: After Jim and I got married, it became clear to us that working together would be a challenge for us. It used to be that we challenged each other and had fun doing so. But as his wife, now my work-place challenges seemed to hurt and frustrate him. Also, we were traveling a lot for missions work around the world, and my ability to do my job became harder and harder. We decided that it was best for me not to work at all.
For the first time since my fifteenth birthday, I did not have a job or a business card. I had an identity crisis. What was I to do with my life now that I did not work in my early forties? My daughters were in high school, and their needs for me were diminishing. I spent a year in intense prayer and journaling, crying out to God for direction. It became a season of dependence and waiting. I kept myself busy with my daughters and some volunteer work, but my heart longed for more.
My path became clearer ever so slowly. Like morning fog burned away by the warmth of the sun, my depression and identity crisis dissipated under God’s loving presence. I took one step at a time and simply said yes to the opportunities before me. Eventually, a new cry from my heart emerged, this time for those who say they are Christian but are not living according to their faith, and those I consider spiritually poor like I used to be. Jim and I had taken hundreds of people on mission trips to minister to the financially poor in other countries, but I noticed that the poor in spirit needed helping too. From this burning pain in my heart to help others understand and apply the Bible and mature in their faith, my path to becoming a teaching pastor emerged.
4word: What words of wisdom do you have for those who are either considering entering into a sinful situation or are in the midst of one and desperate to right their situation?
Ines: Don’t minimize. Don’t justify. Run!
This is what I tell myself on a regular basis. I am still a sinner and the enemy has not taken a break from tempting me. So, this is my advice for others too:
Don’t minimize. We tend to make our sins seem small when we want to do or say something. The easiest way to see if we are minimizing something is to bring it to the light. Compare it to God’s word, pray about it, confess it to God, talk about it with a wise friend or accountability partner. Any of these things will help us see sin for what it is.
Don’t justify. We lie to ourselves all the time, especially when we want to get our way. We think we can gossip because she gossips. Maybe we rename our gossip as concern. We think it’s okay for me to hurt the other person first, because they are going to hurt me eventually. We make up all kinds of reasons to fuel our “right” to act on our desires. Justification of this type can be deadly to our soul.
Run! We all have a deep voice that starts warning us when we are entering into a sinful situation. The problem is most of us ignore most of these signals. One way to right your situation is to run from sin. Go in a different direction, call a friend, change your routine, or simply stop what you are doing (stop the secret meetings, the phone calls, or text messages).
1 Corinthians 10:13 is a great reminder that whenever we are tempted, God will “provide a way out.” Look for a way out. Pray for God to show you a way out. Ask a friend to help you find a way out. Then, when the way out is clear, take it! If you are having doubts, consider the consequences if you stay in your direction. Play the movie in your mind all the way to the end. Consider how many and how deeply others will be hurt by your actions or in-actions. Consider the cost you will also pay. Imagine telling your story in the future. Is this something you want to be part of your story? Run! I say it again, RUN!
Have you found yourself at the crossroads of a life-altering decision and wondered what you should do? Did you give into sin’s temptation, or did you find a way to stay true to the path you knew you should follow? Remember Ines’ mantra: Don’t minimize. Don’t justify. Run!
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Ines Franklin is the president and founder of Trochia Ministries, an online Christian discipleship ministry. She is a lay teaching pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine. Ines completed a Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. She is also a graduate of The Masters Program, a member of The Barnabas Group, and board member of Relevate Group Inc. Her experience includes business management, sales, marketing and paralegal services. Ines is passionate about spreading the Gospel, caring for the poor and helping Christians mature in their faith. She regularly shares her personal testimony of God’s grace and redemption. Ines mentors young women and leads a women’s Bible study group. Ines and her husband Jim live in Irvine, California and have a blended family of five children and six grandchildren.