Spiritual Insanity

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.

restless couple

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.”  

It’s everywhere

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 pause

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.

Sam

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?”

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37 thoughts on “Spiritual Insanity

  1. “…the best times leaveable…” I’ve never heard it put that way before. Having been through rough times that made me long for somewhere over the rainbow, I could relate to “the worst times bearable.” But then I would look around at friends who had so much going for them; a rich, easy, satisfying life. And I could understand why death was such a loss for them. But if we could really grasp what is waiting for us, just how good it really is, maybe we would be more like Paul, longing to go on and yet content to stay and endure this life and make the most of it while we can.

    • John,

      I agree with you. The best part of that quote is, “the best times leaveable.” We all know God’s grace can make the worst times bearable; but knowing the future life we have can make the BEST TIMES LEAVEABLE. That’s just … great.

      Because our best times here are mere shadows of what’s to come.

      Thanks

  2. I know one thing, Sam–if you write that novel, I will definitely purchase it. Everything you write on paper is a page-turner. Love your work, sir..

  3. So true, Sam. Yes, we were made for another world. It’s only logical.

    By the way, I misread your disclaimer above as, “I reserve the right to BE offensive, off-topic, and leave lengthy comments.” Ha ha!

  4. Leavable and bearable… yup. I think as long as we know our fullest life is ahead of us, and life in the here and now is at best compromised, we will live in the tender middle of hopefulness and divine discontent… Great thoughts, Sam.

  5. Good stuff Sam, always good stuff. Thanks for the reminders and the invitations to look within and take inventory with God.

    • Hey Michael,

      I just heard (maybe I shouldn’t say this publicly) that you are completing your second book. If so (and if it’s not secret), when will it be published and what will it be called?

      Sam

  6. Thanks for this. I have struggled with dis-satisfaction for a long time, and my life is bursting with blessings. I realized that I had this belief in the back of my soul that God must be holding out on me, not allowing myself to rest in the knowledge that He has my best laid out for me and planned for me. Self evaluation is so important, and I agree that we become so frantic in our daily striving that we often forget to pause and see where we really are and who we really are in God’s eyes

    • Hi Sarah,

      Great comment. Thanks for sharing your self-reflection.

      We know he HAS the best plan for us, but we need to be reminded; by him, by others, and sometimes we just need to remind ourselves.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  7. Some people just need goals to work toward to feel happy. I am a musician and am constantly setting new goals and getting better. It might not be spiritual at all. She might need to finf something interesting to work toward. That is how God has wired some of us.

    • Hi,

      I agree we humans are wired for purpose; “without a vision, the people perish.” Just like we are wired for friendship, love, food, sex, work, and rest.

      And when we lack something we are wired for (food, work, rest), life deteriorates. Something doesn’t work quite right.

      But that doesn’t mean that the presence of things we are wired for (goals, career, love) will fully satisfy us. We are made for something more.

      We are made for something more, but that doesn’t mean we should quite eating.

      Thanks for commenting. You make an interesting and vital point about humans wired for purpose and goals.

    • Hey Rachel,

      Try it, you’ll like it.

      And for everyone else, yes, I’m an Uncle Sam, but rarely am I a big fan of the government (no matter which party is “in charge” at the moment).

  8. Thanks for this post, Sam. It really hits upon a prevalent, under-the-surface discontent that so many Christians feel. While hope for tomorrow and in the new life to come can help us to get our minds and hearts settled, I believe that our discontent is directly proportionate to how aligned we are with living out God’s purposes for our life. Are we living our design? Jesus came to give life and to give it abundantly – in the here and now. I believe we can access this abundant life by walking the path that He created us to walk by engaging our passions and using our gifts and abilities for the Kingdom! There is a deep satisfaction that comes when we engage deeply with who we are created to be in Christ.

    • Hi Anita,

      Great comment. Too many of us live unhappy lives, living outside of purpose, vision, or calling. We are designed for a call, purpose, vision, plan.

      Most people I meet are totally unaware of any purpose/calling, and I agree that such ambiguity causes a dislocation of the heart. “Why am I here?” God wants to answer that because he gave us each a unique design. He wants us to discover it.

      I also think we can be dissatisfied, though, with life when we rest our lives on anything but God–EVEN our purpose. Meaning; we need to rest in the giver of blessings (the blessor) rather than the blessings.

      It’s weird; we are to rest in God alone. The more we do that, the more we become free from things of the world; and the more God can trust us WITH blessings; because we get our identity from him instead of from what we do.

      Thanks for a great comment. You really are thinking this stuff through.

      Sam

      • “I also think we can be dissatisfied, though, with life when we rest our lives on anything but God–EVEN our purpose.” Totally agree, Sam! We must rest in Christ alone. And yes, as a Christian Life Coach, I am thinking this through all the time as I work with women to discover their design and live passionately and on purpose. A friend shared your blog on FB today and that’s how I got here…looking forward to reading more! -Anita

  9. Sam, 2 quickies:
    Your timing on this is perfect – yesterday I thought about buying a Porsche. It would be a stretch on the budget and it wouldn’t be new – but a Porsche, WOW! But I stopped and said to myself “Then what?” I would put the top down and drive it to the beach, all the way feeling the rumble of the exhaust on my spine and thinking how really special I was – and I knew I would make a couple of middle of the night trips to the motel’s parking lot to make sure nobody took my $600 wheels. So – I decided to wash my pick-up instead. All this took under thirty seconds since I have a garage full of things to make me happy, and don’t.
    Reading this again to my wife this morning – and “Great is thy Faithfullness” jumped into view. “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.” There’s you peace!
    Write your book, we’re waiting.

    • Yikes,

      I hope you aren’t going to blame me for not buying that Porsche! (At least it wasn’t stainless steel … that was a Delorian).

      Indeed, great is his faithfulness.

      Thanks

  10. Here via Jen Busick, and glad she shared. As an older woman who was denied most material of the and familial blessings you describe until her 50s, may I suggest that part of spiritual insanity is a lack of gratitude? “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” said St. Paul (1 Timothy 6:6.) You have no idea how great a gain it is until you see the imploding dreams of those who went into insane debt and worse work schedules to pay it off. At my age, the women who had no kids have no one to care for them in their old age, and no grandchildren. The men who finally pay off their student loans and houses don’t have enough time to save for retirement. They either blame “society” for not being a success–success as defined by television advertising, mind you– or have the success and are still empty. It’s why the LOVE of money is the root of all evil: you’re either chasing a chimera or blaming others for not having material things. If only we could learn to live below our means, and have resources to deal with the inevitable entropy of life. But we “love the praise of man more that the praise of God,” and “the debtor is servant to the lender.” We’ve become a nation of debt slaves.

    To buck that trend, my husband and I practice “voluntary poverty” and have stopped caring what other people think. We care what God thinks. We’ve paid off all debts and live below our means. It leaves us wiggle room to deal with emergencies and help others, as is our Christian duty.

    • Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for your comment (and thanks Jen Busick for sharing). A few things.

      First, I love that you bring up gratitude. One of my favorite books of the past several years is Ann Voskamp’s A Thousand Gifts (http://www.amazon.com/One-Thousand-Gifts-Fully-Right/dp/0310321913). She teaches the power of gratitude; I haven’t learned it all yet, but the more I practice it the more shocked I am at its power.

      Second, great going with living beneath your means. Most people find it difficult to live “within” their means. Your way is smarter–and certainly MORE satisfying.

      Third, now matter how much we follow the world’s “I’ve got to have it now” or Dave Ramsey’s financial self-control, we still won’t be satisfied until we find our satisfaction in God. YES! Let’s be smart about possessions. But, somehow or someway, let’s learn and help each other to find our final rest in God.

      He along will satisfy us. It’s weird. It’s not having his blessings that satisfies, but it’s having him. And that is so foreign to us westerners, that I think we need to remind ourselves every day.

      Thanks,

      Sam

  11. Very helpful as always. I posted the John Newton comment on my fridge, (my 10 cu. ft. Whirlpool with glass shelves and a nice size freezer after my dorm room size fridge no longer met my needs). Alas, I have to say, I long for a larger apartment to put my “things” in. 😀

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