Back in my preteen and teenage years, I first found I just couldn’t buy into some of the prevailing stories I often heard repeated in my broader Christian community. These messages were too simple, too neat in their claims—including the claim that Christians should be happier than everyone else, fearless, and consistently radiant in our peaceful stroll toward heaven, all our longings fulfilled. They didn’t match what I saw of the world, didn’t match what I read in my Bible. They didn’t match what I saw in my own family.
You see, my family had always been different, and my mother had always been different from other moms. But I didn’t know she had a serious mental illness until I was 14 years old, when she finally had a psychotic episode so severe it left her debilitated. It left my family permanently changed, and it was undeniable that our experience absolutely didn’t fit the prevailing picture of the faithful Christian life, which goes something like this: You repent and accept God’s grace. You immediately enjoy a sense of peace and happiness that is always with you. You read the Bible, go to church, and pray as much as possible, and over time Christ will painlessly transform you into a person more like him. You grow in knowledge, faith, and joy. You’re not supposed to be derailed by debilitating emotions, faulty thinking, or paranoid delusions. You don’t suffer deeply, in ways that completely alter the rest of your life, in ways that you just can’t do gracefully. If you do suffer, you’re supposed do so quietly, to quickly find meaning in it, experience God’s healing, and move on. You’re supposed to be deeply and joyfully satisfied, completely fulfilled by a relationship with God that means you no longer need anything but a connection with his presence in this life. Life becomes an ongoing celebration, unclouded by lament or loss.
The persistent anguish of repeatedly losing someone I loved showed me that I did need something more than just a relationship with God as I could experience it in this life. While I eventually came to understand that God is a mother to the motherless, nothing replaced that missing relationship. Being essentially motherless is not a fatal condition, but it is incurable. And it leaves scars that are always sensitive. And if I was going to believe any story about God being with his people and meeting all their needs, it was going to have to accommodate a story like ours.
Some days, life was excruciating. I was deeply unsatisfied with life as it was unfolding. I was serious about growing in my relationship with Christ, yet I found I still had unmet longings. I never turned away from my connection with God, but I remained hungry and thirsty for spiritual fulfillment and for a life better than the one I lived.
My family was living on public assistance, food pantry fare, government cheese, and the discounted bread that had passed its expiration date. I allowed myself to believe that if only I had what other people had, my spiritual and emotional hunger would be quelled. My mother was ill and dependent on me and my siblings, and I wanted to believe that if only I had a normal family I would no longer thirst for a more fulfilling life. I lived in the country, then in the city, in decidedly ordinary and overlooked places. I dreamed that if I could go to the exciting and glamorous places, or become one of the suburban folks I envied, I would feel like I belonged in this world.
I got some of what I wanted. I went to college, got married, became a professional, earned an adequate income, experienced some success. I became a mother myself, had some adventures, even moved to the suburbs. I went to counseling, did some hard work to heal from the hardships of my youth, even wrote a book that shared my family’s story, which God turned into a ministry to many people like us.
I studied the Bible, spent a lot of time in prayer, served in the church.
And I am here to tell you that I am still not satisfied—not by my life’s circumstances and not by my relationship with God.
Your story is different. You have been down a road I wouldn’t even recognize. But I am certain you have met with disappointment and loss and you know what it is to long for a life without moments of emptiness, weariness, insecurity, discord, and the occasional feeling that God is very far away. Like me, you may have heard many times that real Christians don’t live with such longings.
Christian teachers and leaders point out the shortcomings of what this world can offer us and point people toward Jesus with a faulty promise. “Only Jesus will satisfy,” they say. The satisfied life is found in living God’s way, and when we come to him for fulfillment we will find it.
Jesus doesn’t fulfill all our longings in this life.
He offers us his peace.
Jesus does not remove us from the fog of death and the ongoing consequences of human rebellion against God. He does not give us a “get out of suffering free” card.
He gives us purpose and reconciles us to the God we were created to know and love.
Jesus redeems our suffering and uses it to reform us. He reshapes our desires and changes us from the inside out. But he does not make us comfortable with life amid decay, death, depravity, and disappointment. Why would he want to do that?
Most of us have moments of satisfaction. We experience happiness, joy, and life-giving connections with God and other people. We find meaning in life. We enjoy times of fulfillment. We can take pleasure in God’s good gifts and be content with our circumstances. And when we surrender to our Creator, we find a purpose and pattern to our lives that makes them far richer than they were. But all these experiences are transitory, and they do not add up to a deep, overriding, constant soul-deep satisfaction that removes all our longings and conquers our human limitations. That’s the kind of satisfaction I’m talking about. And I believe something is wrong if we believe we live with that kind of satisfaction—or if we believe we should achieve it in this life.
So what are we to do? Give up? Simply bide our time–or waste it–until we can live in God’s presence and experience satisfaction?
On the contrary, we can endure the curse and learn to embrace the blessings of the unsatisfied life. We are promised good things when we live unsatisfied, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and I invite you on a journey to explore those blessings. I invite you to consider living intentionally unsatisfied.
This post was excerpted from the introduction to 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.