A couple years ago I met with a twenty-eight-year-old woman who told me of a struggle she faced. She was dissatisfied. Growing up, she had sensible desires for her life: a reasonable husband, a nice family, and a moderate house.
Soon after college she married a really good man; they both found good jobs (in their fields even); they bought a nice house; and a year later they had a healthy baby boy.
She had everything she had wanted yet she was restless.
Then they bought a newer car, repainted the house, added granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. They were promoted. Her husband got an MBA. She quit her job to become a full-time mother. It felt good. For a bit. It didn’t last.
Soon she felt restless all over again. She asked herself, “Is this all there is?” She saw the same restlessness in her friends, going after raises, cars, promotions, and kids.
Then she read an Einstein quote,
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.
She said to me, “I wonder if we’re all spiritually insane.”
We all know people who live frantic lives of fidgety discontent:
- Mothers who push kids into piano classes; then the travel soccer team; then the chess club; then the school play; then A/P English. They are frenetic.
- The young man always looking for the “right” girl. Like a serial boyfriend, no girlfriend has satisfied, and he keeps prowling, night after night.
- The pastor who grew a congregation from 100 to 300 and now wants 500; or has 500 but wants 1,000. He can’t sleep at night. It’s never enough.
- The addict who does another line of cocaine, it feels good, but the feeling fades. Tomorrow he needs it again.
It’s easy to see frenzy in others, they grasp for satisfaction in ways we’d never imagine. But what about you (and me)? How often do we think, “If only my wife would stop nagging (or my husband would start doing dishes),” or “If only she loved me,” or “If only we had stainless steel appliances”?
But if we do get “that” thing, how long will we be satisfied; how long before we start stalking yet another, elusive thrill?
The young woman told me that she had everything she wanted, but it wasn’t enough. Her marriage, family, and home were great, but they didn’t satisfy her soul. She said,
This time around, I’m going to pause in my discontent, rest in my restlessness, and just reflect on what I really need.
I told her she was a genius, on par with Einstein. She said, “Thanks! That feels great.” (A moment later she said, “Oh no. The feeling’s gone.”)
I tried the pause
I decided to try her challenge, pausing in my discontent and resting in my edginess. I sat at my desk and wrote a list of my “If only’s”: writing a bestselling novel, taking a month-long Caribbean scuba vacation, or running a retreat on Hearing God.
I asked myself, “How much more happy will I be if I do it?” and “How much less happy will I be if I don’t?” I realized the answer to both was, “Probably not much.” None of these things satisfy for long.
So why do I impatiently push for them? What am I really looking for? I must be spiritually insane. As I reflected on my insanity, I read a C. S. Lewis quote,
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. We feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex.
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
It’s right and normal to want (and have) food, love, homes, families, and careers. But the satisfaction of these desires will never bring the satisfaction of the soul that we crave.
Because we were made for another world.
Leaveable and bearable
John Newton said, “If we really knew the future glory for us, it would make the best times leaveable and the worst times bearable.”
That is exactly what I want; something today (my knowledge of tomorrow) that brings life to everything. There is a deep spiritual longing in our souls; we long for a satisfaction so rich that the very best times will be leaveable and the very worst things will be bearable.
It’s the future glory in store for each of us. And knowing that future—even knowing its existence—brings us rest for our restlessness today.
And I thought all I needed was a stainless steel toaster.
P.S. Try my friend’s challenge. Take fifteen minutes and a pen and paper, and write down the things you seek for satisfaction. Then ask, “What do I really need?”