Since I graduated from college and went into my first real career job, I have demanded too much of my work. This is completely different from demanding too much work from myself; it’s about asking my work to satisfy me in ways it won’t. My work is an important part of my life, as I believe it should be. But too often I have made it more than that. I have asked my work to be at the center of my life, providing me with meaning and purpose; I have asked it to make full use of my gifts and skills while providing constant challenge; and I have expected it to deliver deeply satisfying rewards in proportion to my investment of time, effort, and determination. My career has been a fulfilling one, but thanks to my expectations, I could also look at it as a string of disappointments.
Each time I’ve changed jobs, I’ve walked out the door believing I had left most of the unhappiness in my life behind…only to find myself in a new organization just as imperfect and insufficient as the previous one. And with my most recent job change came the greatest shock. I moved into full-time self-employment and was forced to recognize much of my work-related angst was still with me. That could only mean one thing: I was the biggest problem behind the frustrations in my career. When it came to serving as my own boss, I discovered I was perfectionistic, demanding, critical, and sometimes indecisive. I was also humbled.
Being my own boss has been very good for me, partly because I enjoy what I do. But beyond that, God has used these circumstances to reveal a lot about me–most of which still needs to change. He has managed to pry my ambitious fingers loose(-ish) from the controls of my career. And he has helped me grow to a place of greater balance, where I turn to my work for satisfaction and identity less often. The truth is, no matter how successful my career or how fulfilling my work, it will never be up to the task of satisfying my soul. In those moments when I place my hopes in my professional accomplishments and ask them to define my identity and my happiness, I am always disappointed. I am understanding that God has far better purposes for me than simply devoting myself to building my own kingdom. Why should I convince myself to settle for less?
Something is wrong if we feel deeply satisfied, or believe we are satisfied, in this life.
Show me those who are completely satisfied in their intimacy with God, who do not long for much more, and I’ll show you people who don’t realize that what they know of God barely scratches the surface, who have nearly lost sight of heaven, who have forgotten the first song their souls ever learned to sing, who are much too easily pleased.
As we look toward a better world, we exercise our faith in what we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). And what is visible to us now, we see as a hazy reflection in a mirror, knowing that someday we will see face to face and our knowledge–incomplete and unsatisfied for now–will then be complete (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). It’s hard to live with the unseen in sight, yet that is what makes our faith sustainable. It’s what produces a faith that can survive, and even thrive, when life is really hard.
Many people, caught up in the pursuit of satisfaction–perhaps even cognitively convincing themselves they are completely satisfied–face a crisis of faith when they run into a brick wall called human life. It’s like the reality check that comes with leaving a sheltered environment for the “real world.” I’m reminded of the experience of moving from a small town (and a country church) to the city. The community we left was part of the real world, but it was a place where kids could be sheltered from some of life’s harsh realities. I remember the first day of ninth grade, when my parents took us to our new school and we had to meet with the principal to register. When we told her where we had come from, she actually sat there behind her desk and laughed as if it were the funniest thing she had heard in at least a month. This was not a reassuring introduction. And after leaving the principal’s office, it didn’t take long to realize I was going to need some new knowledge and skills (like figuring out how to open a locker, understanding that some staircases were reserved for going up and others for going down, and dodging fights in the hallways). I was forced to adapt to an environment very different from the one I had been prepared for.
This kind of shock is inevitable as we go through life; everyone is affected by the imperfection of human society, the unpredictability (and sometimes tragic predictability) of human behavior, the persistence of longing, the ridiculous choices we make, the resounding consequences of choices made by someone who came before us. When our understanding of God and ourselves necessitates the idea that we should be satisfied by what we can access now, we will try to make the world’s circumstances fit that theology–and we will fail every time. We may grow bitter over perceived injustices from the hand of God (who doesn’t seem to be holding up his end of the bargain), become obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior to make our illusions achievable, feel overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance, or retreat into a comfortable spiritual coma called denial. The belief that life in this world, in right relationship with God, is as good as we need it to be is incompatible with actual life in this world. It’s unsustainable in the face of reality and in the light of what lives in your heart and mine.
This post was excerpted from chapter 2 of my new book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World. If you want to read more, you can find the book here or wherever you buy books.
Taken from Blessed Are the Unsatisfied by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2018 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.