Imagine it’s Christmas Day. Your loved ones have gathered; the children have shaken, weighed, and squeezed every package under the tree; and now it’s time to open them. Everyone settles in, the gifts are distributed, and the room resounds with the noise of tearing paper.
“Thank you! It’s just what I wanted,” someone cries.
“Wow, it’s lovely!” another person exclaims.
“I’m going to put this to good use,” says another.
You smile in return, pleased they’re happy with your gifts…Then you notice no one has actually opened anything. They’ve all torn off the wrapping and delighted themselves with the unopened boxes.
“There’s more!” you say. “Look inside!”
But they all refuse, disinterested in what the boxes contain. “I don’t want anything else. This is perfect,” Aunt Sally insists, lovingly stroking the unopened Amazon box containing the beautiful silk scarf you know she would love.
Your brother Steve is pressing down on his shoe box, testing its strength. “I think this will hold my laptop. I needed something to elevate it to the right height when I’m sitting at my desk.” You cringe, knowing the box contains those gourmet barbecue sauces you bought on your trip to South Carolina.
Your mom is holding her small box up to the light. You have waited a month to see her face when she glimpses the delicate necklace inside. And now, instead of opening the box, she says, “I think this is just about the same shade as the living room sofa. This will look so nice on the coffee table!”
After several more attempts to convince people to open the boxes, you realize it’s futile. No one is even listening; they’re enthralled with their new boxes. “We’re happy with what you’ve given us,” they say. “We really are. We don’t want anything else.” They’re so eager to be satisfied by your gifts, they have convinced themselves the boxes are all they ever wanted. And all the joy you planned to give them is stuck inside those plain, ordinary boxes.
In the same way, many of us have lost our interest in what God will someday give us. We are so eager to be satisfied here and now that we turn our attention to the good things in our lives, and our constrained relationship with him, and insist our longings are fulfilled.
But they’re not.
I don’t care how peaceful, secure, or comfortable your life is. You live in a harsh, cruel world where humans can hug and hurt and blithely devastate each other on any ordinary afternoon.
I don’t care how much time you spend in prayer, reading God’s Word, serving others, or any other faith-building activity–you don’t have enough capacity to fully enjoy God’s presence and power in your current circumstances.
There’s no way any of us–if we’re honest and in tune with our longings–can be truly, core-deep satisfied in a life like this one.
Wait a minute, you might say. Doesn’t Jesus promise to fulfill all our longings if we follow him?
Sure, he does. But he never told us we should expect that kind of fulfillment today.
As I wrote in my upcoming book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied, “Jesus doesn’t fulfill all our longings in this life. He offers us his peace. He does not remove us from the fog of death and the ongoing consequences of 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. He 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?”
I suspect many of us are afraid to live in longing because we believe we can’t survive it or we’re afraid we might hope for too much. But we could never hope for too much from the one who created existence itself. In our fear of disappointment or discomfort, we settle for too little.
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
There’s no reason we should be satisfied with life on earth as we know it. We were never meant for this world, full of corruption and the miasma of death. We weren’t supposed to live with a blight of foolishness and rebellion that we can never eradicate on our own. We weren’t meant to dwell at a distance from God, where objects of our own creation sometimes feel more real than the one who invented reality.
We are supposed to enjoy the good things God gives us and the gifts we share with one another. But they aren’t supposed to be enough for us. And when we stop trying to convince ourselves (and others) they are, we can step into a new kind of freedom rooted in both acceptance and anticipation.
So let’s be unsatisfied this Christmas. Let’s exchange gifts, enjoy the people we love, and celebrate the incarnation of the only one who can restore this world and its inhabitants to their unstained beauty. Let’s grieve losses and unmet yearnings. Let’s light our candles and sing our songs and envision how our peace-loving choices might alter the landscape in the next year. And let’s keep all these things in their proper place–they are shadows of what is to come. Let’s stay in touch with our hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ, and all its side effects, to be unleashed in this broken world. God wants us to long for more! He wants more for us; if our hearts beat in time with his, they will never be satisfied in this life.
There’s freedom here–you don’t have to pretend the cardboard box is all you ever wanted. Thank God for what he has given you, and live in anticipation of the day when you’ll have all you need.
© 2017 Amy Simpson.