World War I was a monumentally devastating conflict that permanently altered the world’s landscape and international relationships. New technology made soldiers more efficient killers than previous generations could have imagined, and somewhere around 10 million men were killed and injured in trenches in Europe and on battlefields throughout much of the globe. Ultimately, thirty-two countries were sucked into conflict, and millions of civilians died from injuries, disease, and famine. The conflict is estimated to have killed or injured close to 38 million people.
More than a hundred years later, military experts and historians still argue over the true cause of the war, which was called “the war to end all wars” but which in reality set the stage for World War II and many smaller conflicts, some of which continue today. The best description of the reason for the war is simply that it was a natural consequence of the status quo. Without forethought, empires came to sudden end and new powers emerged. The disruption decimated a generation, both physically and spiritually.
After the war, social upheaval took root throughout the Western world, and young people were particularly disillusioned. In some parts of Europe young women dramatically outnumbered surviving young men. People of all ages deeply distrusted their political leaders. Those who came of age during this time, dubbed the Lost Generation in the United States, keenly felt how much the world had changed. To them, everything they had been taught in childhood had been destroyed or revealed to be false. To many there was little to live for or hope in. So they lived fast and partied hard.
The same political and social realities that gave birth to World War I gave rise to an anarchistic form of artistic expression known as Dadaism. Dadaism was a reaction to social and artistic conventions, with artists seeking to unmask and overthrow conventional ideas not only about art, but about society as a whole. It was born out of disillusionment and anti-authoritarianism, an outraged realization that conventional society and its powers had led a blindly submissive world into widespread and senseless slaughter. Marcel Duchamp, among the most iconic of Dada visual artists, produced what he called “readymade” artworks, which amounted to no more than manufactured objects slightly altered and labeled works of art. This was a rebellion against artistic norms.
The funny thing is, in reacting against convention these artists produced their own conventions, some of which are now well-established and even taken for granted, entrenched in the artistic establishment. Dadaism simply gave birth to a new status quo.
In its extreme, our search for satisfaction can lead us into the jaws of the same kinds of movements and anti-movements that made our previous century such a deadly one (and which continue to fuel horrific violence in the twenty-first). When we are convinced satisfaction is necessary for life and right around the corner, we set ourselves up to blindly follow self-appointed saviors, join ill-conceived movements, become victims of manipulation and spiritual abuse, and lose our ability to discern right from wrong and wise from foolish. We attach ourselves to the Next Big Answer and the formerly unsatisfied become the new status quo.
Instead, when we recognize the blessings available in unsatisfaction, it begins to make sense that unsatisfied is a condition not to be fought, but to cultivate. Like our Lost Generation predecessors, we have good reasons to be unsatisfied with the status quo and with the prospects for this world with humans at the helm. We should be uncomfortable with spiritual bankruptcy, with the depth of our own relationship with God, with the love we offer others, with the extent to which the fruit of the Spirit displays itself in our lives. We should be disappointed in where our best human efforts have led us. When we admit that our best answers don’t answer our biggest questions, we have good reasons to remain unsatisfied rather than bring ourselves in line with false answers.
Disappointment doesn’t have to lead to disillusionment; it can lead to realistic hope in what is to come. When we nurture a healthy kind of unsatisfaction, we stop expecting this world to give us answers it just doesn’t have. It encourages us to keep the door open to God’s work in us. Holy unsatisfaction is flush with gratitude and with hope in a solution beyond our capabilities and only glimpsed in this life. We draw our hope not from ourselves or our fellow travelers, but from its source, who is satisfied only by the work he has done, will do, and is doing in pursuit of his own purposes. Cultivating unsatisfaction can help us keep our hope where it belongs, rather than transfer it from one thing to the next.
Insist on remaining unsatisfied, and let this liberate you! If you are unsatisfied by your life, you probably are not missing out on something. You are well on your way to living true.
This post was excerpted from chapter 4 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.