8 Blessings of the Unsatisfied Life

Amy Simpson noticed early on that the tidy claims of Christianity were not lining up with the reality she was living at home. Suffering from the impact of her mother’s serious and debilitating mental illness, her family was certainly not strolling toward heaven with all their needs met and a smile on their faces. In fact, even though they seemed to be “doing the Christian life” according to all the patterns and prerequisites, their family was always just shy of “normal” and the provision they experienced always just short of enough. Unsatisfied with government cheese and feeling deprived on every level, Amy’s childhood was characterized by unmet longings and the dream of a “normal” life.

At this point, standard issue story-telling practices beg for an ending tied with a bow:  college, marriage, a successful career, and a loving family of her own–all a straight arrow toward deep satisfaction. However, in Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, the reader is caught up in paradox, for even though many of Amy’s personal and professional goals have been met, she confesses that she still lives “with a kind of unsatisfaction that will not be lifted in this life.”

If this is (secretly) your experience as well, find companionship with the writer of Ecclesiastes and take hope from these words from the author:

“Jesus doesn’t fulfill all our longings in this life. Instead, 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.” (4)

The moments of satisfaction we experience on this planet are transient at best. Here, we live in the tension of embracing the blessing of an unsatisfied life in which contentment lives alongside longing, and where we rest and rejoice in the given without succumbing to a Pollyanna-ish form of optimism.

Living unsatisfied is acres and acres apart from living dissatisfied, for nothing is ever acceptable to the chronically discontented soul. “Dissatisfaction is an active–sometimes even purposeful–absence, rejection, or refusal of satisfaction in a context where satisfaction is expected. It breeds discontentment, contempt, and a feeling of emptiness. And it is miserable.”  By contrast, an unsatisfied life combines acceptance with anticipation in an “embrace of the God-shaped vacuum in us, . . . a healthy hunger that is content to wait for the feast.” (41)

With this mindset, Amy Simpson shares 8 blessings that accompany the unsatisfied life:

1.  The Blessing of Need

Unsatisfaction is a reminder that we need God. No matter how gifted or “together” I am, my self-sufficiency is insufficient for living Christ-like and for managing the disappointments that come. Moses knew it and tried to warn the nation of Israel:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied,then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”

2.  The Blessing of Perspective

If I can be satisfied by clicking “Add to Cart,” I will not go looking for answers beyond my next purchase. However, living in an awareness that there is NOTHING (even on Amazon!) that will slake my cravings and fill my emptiness, my ears are open to the voice of God, and my heart is looking for answers in the intangible Truth of Scripture.

3.  The Blessing of God’s Heartbeat

My longing heart is the puzzle piece that will connect with the big picture of God’s family and with humanity at large, a collection of longing people, all with their own disconnected edges. When I stop longing for a better world and miss the needs of others, I’m a corner piece, hanging off the edge of the picture and missing the truth of God’s great love and HIS ache for the disconnected and the hurting.

4.  The Blessing of Focus

If you’ve heard the plaintive refrain of U2’s “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” and identified with the serial disappointment of chasing after the visible and the temporal, you know the importance of turning our eyes toward the unseen–“for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 

5.  The Blessing of Company

My  husband and I have tried to portray this truth to our kids with the old adage: “People who are all wrapped up in themselves make a pretty small package.” And it’s obvious:  if I’m satisfied with my own company and that of a few safe others, I’ll never venture into the unknown. Living unsatisfied pushes me into community.

6.  The Blessing of Growth

Back in the 90’s my co-workers and I rolled our eyes at employee meetings that were basically pep rallies for the latest Continuous Product Quality Improvement initiative. As annoying as institutional rah-rah-rah can be, the notion of continuous improvement is a line from the playbook of Scripture and the unsatisfied life of the Apostle Paul: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

7.  The Blessing of Vision

Amy recalls a joint project in which her own predominantly white church partnered with a predominantly African American church with both congregations enjoying “fellowship” staked out on opposite sides of a cafeteria. She remembers thinking that this was unnatural and wrong . . . but inertia won out and she stayed in her seat instead of reaching out and mingling. I want to be unsatisfied with “as is” so that I will keep dreaming about how things could be.

8.  The Blessing of Anticipation

Every once in a while my boys will ask with a sleepy voice, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow, Mum?” I’ve stopped asking them why they want to know, because I remember from past experience:  they want to know what they have to look forward to in the morning, and when you’re a teen boy, food is a pretty big deal. Anticipation is risky, but if I remain immune to the sadness of loss that comes with death or if I fail to enter into the reality of God’s promises, still pending fulfillment, I may fall prey to the short-sighted notion that redemption is limited to what my eyes can detect today and that this temporary world is my real home.

Sustainable Faith Is Expectantly Unsatisfied

The Sermon on the Mount, with its pronouncement of blessing upon the most unlikely of people, lands like an indictment on the ears of those who prefer to thrive on their own terms. Sometimes it’s easier for us to lower our expectations and to live disappointed and without hope than it is for us to embrace an uncomfortable hope. The truth is, however, that the only sustainable Christian life is one in which we give up the chase, embrace delayed gratification, and lean into the blessings of living unsatisfied.

Many thanks to IVP Books for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

Additional Resources

Amy Simpson was featured on one of my favorite podcasts, the February 15 edition of Quick to Listen. Click here to listen as she answers questions about her book and about issues surrounding mental illness and the church’s response.


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Tired of Taking Sides?

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call, ‘Christianity And.’  If they  must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference.  Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring.”                     Screwtape

In Part One of Jesus Outside the Lines, Scott Sauls counteracts Screwtape’s advice from the pit.  To walk with Jesus outside the lines of my political leanings or my hobby-horse-of-the-week is to embrace the notion that not everyone in Heaven will look like or agree with me.  (One of the reasons I listen to NPR is that every now and then I need to hear people say things that I disagree with.  I’m practicing for heaven!)  Sauls helps us to see that the Christian’s “uttermost foundation of stone” is Christ — not our political hot-buttons, our worship preferences, or our tax bracket.  Therefore, “we should feel [most] at home with people who share our faith . . .”  Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and many Christians prefer the company of unbelievers, simply because they are “tired of taking sides.”  God intends for His people to need and to be needed by a body of believers.   Sauls exposes the church’s faulty thinking about money with the truth that it is not wealth but discontentment that is the true evil of our day.  In fact, in all our heated discussions as believers, it would seem that the fire blazes most destructively when we lose sight of the truth that the most beautiful thing in the world to Jesus is people.

In Part Two, Sauls casts his net wider to address the Yin and the Yang of dilemmas that have been argued since Jesus walked this broken ground.  Sauls pulls back the curtain on his own Pharisaism, insecurities, and disappointments, yielding a powerful collection of essays on the Christian life in relation to:

  1. Criticism – The fact that Jesus affirmed both His followers and His non-followers opens the door for present-day Christ-followers to “affirm expressions of truth, beauty, and goodness wherever [we] find them.”
  2. Judgment – The holiness of God requires a realistic look at humanity’s hopeless depravity, and yet, for the Christian, Judgment Day has been absorbed by Christ.  Wanting this freedom for others is the best motivation for evangelism, and Moses sums it up beautifully in Exodus 20:20:  Fear God so that you will not have to be afraid of Him.
  3. Hypocrisy – Yeah, it’s true.  Gandhi and all the others who complain about the hypocrites in church are telling it like it is.  In the words of Anne Lamott, we’re all “very crazy and very damaged,” but the transformation that Christ makes in a life puts the believer on a path toward demonstrating the loveliness of Jesus.  The more time we spend with Him, the more like Him we will become; and, consequently, the more faithfully we will walk His path.
  4. Sexuality – Succinctly, Sauls interprets the whole of Scripture to say that “God is in favor of sexual freedom.”  However, our “culture of casual sex has led to outcomes that are anything but casual.”  Sauls shares heart-rending conversations he has had with believers who struggle with same-sex attraction, and his conclusions are both biblical and compassionate.
  5. Suffering – Christ Himself wept and raged over the suffering and loss on planet Earth.  The knowledge that all will be put to right by “the Resurrection and the Life” when Sam Gamgee is proved right and everything sad does come untrue, is a call for the believer to fight against suffering and injustice in this present age.  Hope and realism are both appropriate responses to life on a fallen planet.
  6. Self-esteem – Competitive, narcissistic humans express our brokenness in our misplaced hunger for approval.  The Bible offers humility as an antidote to our self-absorption along with the fact that “you’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.”

A theme that runs like a fresh-water stream through Jesus Outside the Lines is the truth that Jesus managed to defy all the labels imposed by the religious elite in His day, and He continues to elude our “definitions” today.  Jesus Outside the Lines is a challenge to look for Jesus outside the boundaries and an invitation to join Him there.

This book was provided by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

The Edges of His Ways

Not a Chance — God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason by R.C. Sproul and Keith Mathison:  A Book Review

R.C. Sproul has not written a small-minded, fear-mongering diatribe against science.  His purpose in Not a Chance is to point out the precipitous slide into fiction that occurs when the brilliant minds that discover and describe the unseen workings of God’s creation attempt to make a side step into the realm of philosophy.

Typically, the debate about origins revolves around the controversy of how the universe bridged the gap between “nothing” and “something.”  Intelligent design advocates argue from Scripture that God spoke everything into being.  The burden of coming up with matter (or energy) of any kind with no Prime Mover places the atheist in contradiction with the laws of his own scientific method:

(1) ex nihil, nihil fit  — “out of nothing, nothing comes”;

(2) the law of noncontradiction  — for something to, essentially, create itself, it must be and not be at the same time;

(3) the impossibility of the contrary — if A is, non-A cannot also be at the same time and in the same relationship.

Sproul’s argument necessitates the clarification of the complexities of speech, causality, what it means to know, and what it means to be.  He includes in this section a most helpful description of essence and persona as they relate to the doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation.

Since it seemed to R.C. Sproul that chance has been, over time, ascribed the dignity of causality in scientific musings, he invited Keith Mathison to close this updated edition of the book with a final dialectic chapter addressing scientific and philosophical arguments which have come to light in the ten years since the initial publication of Not a Chance.  Even if the reader is, like me, a died-in-the-wool creationist and impatient with all the verbal gymnastics of those who would strain logic in order to strain-out a Creator, there is food for the soul and for the mind in Not a Chance.  Most of the science discussed in the book had not found its way into the average high school physics class thirty years ago, and there is much to be gained from reading Sproul’s history of quantum theory and his descriptions of dark matter, virtual particles, and the working hypothesis of dark energy.  Not a Chance presents strong and compelling arguments which should be of interest to the atheist who wishes to be intellectually  honest and to do his homework.  Of equal value, it is a reminder to the Christian that, in all our arguments and speculations about God and His creative work, we are only approaching the “edges of His ways.”

I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

The Most Important Thing You Can Do for Your Son

A Mom’s Prayers for Her Son by Rob & Joanna Teigen:  A Book Review

There’s nothing like becoming a mother to ratchet up the frequency, sincerity, and desperation of one’s prayer life.  My husband and I had four boys in eight years, and I was horrified to realize that a new blender comes with more instructions than a new baby.  Furthermore, the advice that comes from well-meaning friends and relatives is usually a confusing kaleidoscope of conflicting information.

Sometimes, even as we pray, we reveal that same lack of focus.  During the toddler years, we pray that our boys will be healthy, strong and creative, knowing all the while that their vigor, power and ingenuity may be the death of our living room furniture..  As they grow, we pray that they will be humble servant-leaders, even as we storm the heavens on their behalf that they will make every team, nail every audition, and excel in school.   Then, just as most mothers are becoming hormonally-crazed, middle-aged, and exhausted, their sons begin to test the limits of parental authority, the reality of their faith, and their mother’s sanity.  What are the right words to pray, when you’re no longer sure what you want God to do?

Rob and Joanna Teigen have issued a call to prayer for the mothers of sons, and they have taken it a step further by offering the gift of words for all seasons of our boys’ lives.  A mom who wishes to pray for her boy during good times and bad will find help for all the “whens” of life:   when he’s going through a storm, when he’s grieving, when he’s stressed, when he needs to be generous, when he’s making plans for his future, and even when he’s having fun!  The seventy-seven written prayers are interspersed with encouragement to pray for all the many facets of a young man’s life, as well as personal accounts  from popular authors or bloggers who have seen God work in the lives of their sons through their motherly prayers.

I especially appreciated the realism which infuses the book.  Christian mothers have been counseled over the years to dance dangerously close to the edge of determinism in their parenting:  “If you, the mother, do or pray for “X,” then you can be assured that your believing child will do “Y.”  Joanna maintains this view:

“No matter how much I care for and love them , I can’t make them who I want them to be.  I can’t keep them safe.  I can’t control their future or their choices.  I can’t be the perfect mother I tell myself they need.  I look at them and at myself and realize that without God, we are lost.”

This book is a treasure that will encourage a lifetime of intercession, and also stands to enhance the mother/son relationship by increased understanding.  This is a book that I will give to my daughter-in-law as she and I together pray for my first grandson.

I received this book free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

The Creation of a Protagonist

Deceived by Irene Hannon:  A Book Review

With Deceived there is no deception when it comes to Irene Hannon’s portrayal of her main characters.  Kate Marshall, a young widow, still grieving the three-year-old sorrow of losing both her husband and son in a boating accident, glimpses a boy who looks and sounds remarkably like her son.  Her suspicions haunt her until she, against her own misgivings, searches out a private investigator, and, thus, a cadre of male protagonists join the story, their office banter, “I’ve got your back” camaraderie,  and quiet competence whisking the plot along to its satisfying and surprising conclusion.

I have had very little exposure to the genre of Romantic Suspense — but, truthfully, what is more suspenseful than romance?  Add to this the agonized longings of a mother to be re-united with her son, factor in the dangerous process of uncovering the secrets of another person, and set the cast of characters in a very believable world where what we think and believe about God, about love, and about other people shapes the course of our lives, and the result is a book that I am eager to  recommend to the women in my church as well as to their high-school age daughters.

Irene Hannon’s protagonists are not flat “good guys.”  Rather, they are punctual, compassionate, moral, competent, hard-working and dedicated individuals who, also, at various times in their lives, make impulsive decisions, experience lust, exhibit impatience, suffer from fear, selfishness,  insecurity,  and addictions.  Her descriptions defy cliche:  for example, Connor Sullivan, P.I. has eyes, “dark as obsidian; they searched, discerned and reassured . . .”    And as Kate begins to trust Connor professionally, she begins to notice how “those dark eyes warmed like the volcanic origins of the black glass whose color they mirrored.”  Poetic imagery such as this  takes “tall, dark and handsome” to a whole new level.

Because in our fallen world no one is all wrong and no one is all right, Deceived gives us three-dimensional characters who  act out their need and brokenness according to their acceptance or refusal of God’s grace.

Because the Word of God is living and powerful, a chance encounter with Ephesians 4:31,32 in a pizza joint during the day triggers a  middle of the night spiritual wrestling match between the antagonist and the God He has misunderstood.

Because God is at work even when He chooses to remain anonymous, small miracles happen, and this truth is most satisfyingly demonstrated in Deceived.

I received this book free from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.   The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

 

On Mission with Jesus, Seeing through His Eyes

Unshockable Love by John Burke:  A Book Review

John Burke is a pastor with the heart of an evangelist.  He has endeavored to pattern his ministry after Jesus’ three-year stint on this planet.  Jesus saw the masterpiece, the exquisite work of art, within everyone He encountered.  Their sin was foreign matter — mud — obscuring the value of their true identity, clearly visible to God the Son.  With this as the bedrock under Burke’s ministry at Gateway Church, he presents the results in this, his third book, seasoned liberally with real-life stories.

Relevant works of art and photographs at the beginning of each chapter in Part 1 anchor the illustrations they support.  Listening, asking before telling, remembering that we are in the age of mercy:  none of this is new, but when was the last time I asked anyone a truly probing question?

What do you hope for in life?

What are your heart’s greatest desires?

What is your spiritual background?

Because believers do not know the answers to these questions, we do not know the hearts of the people God brings into our lives, and much of our missional activity is more pharisaical than Christ-like.

An appendix defining terms used in sharing the Gospel and helpful tables allowing Scripture to speak out on leadership and the predestination/free will controversy support Part 2, which is, essentially,  a manual  for building disciples.  Compassion for the unbeliever’s need of Christ seeps through the cracks of every page without diluting the practical, boots-on-the-ground battle plan.  Burke calls the ministry team a Network and diagrams The Wave of Impact that a Network can have through meaningful relationships.

What makes Unshockable Love more than a commercial message for Gateway Church or just another manual on evangelism is the same quality that makes it impossible to read this book without examining your own heart.  The truth of Scripture is presented as if Burke is looking at it for the first time, and writing off the top of his discoveries.  On Galatians 5:1:

People change when they willingly follow God’s Spirit in a moment-by-moment way.  God doesn’t run over your free will; his Spirit works with your willingness.  If this is how people change . . . then we need to be people who help others to willingly trust and follow the Spirit of God.  That’s our only job, not fixing or changing people, but encouraging them to see why God is good and that they can trust his Spirit to produce great things in them.

Some books on evangelism and outreach seem to have been written as documentaries, preserving under glass a method that worked somewhere at some time.  Unshockable Love seems to have been written because there was a truth, bubbling in the core of a pastor’s heart, that had transformed his ministry and his life.  If the church of Jesus Christ will tap into Christ’s heart of love and demonstrate the attitude of Jesus and the actions of Jesus, we will impact the world.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Family Tension and Reconciliation — Amish Style

The River by Beverly Lewis:  A Book Review

Beverly Lewis transports her readers to the world of her Amish characters where everyone wakes up in the cozy bedroom of a sunny farmhouse with birdsong and the smell of bacon in the air.  The dinner tables are set with fresh-baked bread and a hearty dinner that surely includes gravy and mashed potatoes, polished off by a slice of apple pie piled high with whipped cream.  Still, this is no Pollyanna-ish world of perfection, and it is kept from being so by the author’s skillful portrayal of family tensions, personal regret, and the kind of conflict that only religious differences can enflame.

Eight years before the story begins, Tilly had left her Amish roots behind.  We find her married to an Englischer, the mother of twin daughters, and happily inhabiting a world in New England that is much farther removed from her Lancaster County home than geography would imply.  When a call from her older brother alerts her to the failing health of her father and an upcoming anniversary party for her parents, she and her sister Ruth (who left the Plain life shortly after Tilly)  make the agonizing decision to return to the family homestead for a visit.  Tilly’s shiny red car is not the only thing that sets her apart from the Plain life.  However, she realizes upon returning that the stiff and sometimes frigid relationship with her father has not thawed with the passage of time.

Running through her Eden Valley homeland, the Conestoga River is an ominous and poignant backdrop to Tilly’s memories of home and to her homecoming.  Still grieving over the drowning death of her baby sister, the whole family carries this pain and the disappointment of Tilly and Ruth’s departure like a dark weight.   Aging parents, locked doors, secrets, the reappearance of an old beau, and the tenderness of renewed relationships with family and friends make for an emotional reading experience and create a heart-felt bond between reader and characters.

A particular strength of this tale is the positive and refreshing way in which Beverly Lewis describes Tilly’s and Ruth’s departure from the Amish faith and way of life.  Still in a vibrant relationship with God, they portray the truth that God is at work in people, and is not tied to any denomination or organizational structure, no matter how cherished.  Recognizing God’s right to lead our loved ones in ways that we may not understand, but that are ultimately for their good and His glory, is a path away from heart ache and toward respect and family harmony.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.