I once read an article that blamed the plague of modern discontent on the internet. Facebook flaunts vacationing friends sailing the Caribbean, or their “perfect” kids topping the honor roll, or we drool over the mansions of the rich and famous. And our hearts whisper, “If only….”
Others argue that it is advertising that supercharges our unhappiness:
Marketers have turned television into an instrument of dissatisfaction. The shows bring an idealized, expensive world into the homes of people who can’t afford it. And the ads remind everyone that their lives are incomplete and unhappy—unless …Seth Godin
It’s not that everything in our lives is bad (after all, we live in the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous time in history); we just wish our environment could be a smidgeon better:
- If only I could lose twenty pounds.
- If only I could work thirty-five hours a week instead of forty-five;
- If only my husband listened more, or my wife was better looking (or I was better looking).
While the internet and advertisers intensify our discontent, Scripture says the human heart has an almost unlimited capacity to pin our hopes on the tiniest of changes in circumstances. As one spiritual writer put it:
The terrible fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all a person’s troubles are due to his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was precisely in Paradise that mankind fell. (Martyn Lloyd Jones)
Our “If Only’s” Won’t Satisfy
Cynthia Hymel lived in New York in the 1970s. She knew actors while they were still bussing tables and driving cabs, but she also knew them after they became famous. She wrote:
I pity celebrities. No I really do. Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Barbara Streisand were once perfectly pleasant human beings. But now their wrath is awful.
You see, Sly, Bruce and Barbara wanted fame. They worked, they pushed, and the morning after each of them became famous, they wanted to take an overdose. Because that giant thing they were striving for, that something that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and happiness, had happened.
And they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.(The Village Voice, January 2, 1990)
Even the world knows that we are the worst judges of our deepest needs. The “If only’s” of our hearts deceive us. Sure, they may satisfy for a week or a month, but soon another “If only” will raise its hoary head, and roar, and turn us howling and insufferable.
We Need Something Else
Hidden in Cynthia Hymel’s article was this little line:
I think when God wants to play a really rotten practical joke on you, he grants you your deepest wish and giggles merrily when you realize you want to kill yourself.
But the real God says to us, “I am not going to play that rotten joke on you.” It is precisely his mercy that withholds so many of our “If only” pleas. He knows our frame. He knows what Augustine proclaimed:
Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.