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.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase,  Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Every blessing,

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Musings — November 2017

This has been a year of complicated math. With one son having spent a snowy spring semester plowing through an online Technical Math II class (every bit as bad as it sounds) and another presently working his way through geometry, we have had some fairly intense conversations around operations and theorems, but it’s also been a year of family members coming and going, being added and subtracted from the membership. We’ve welcomed a new daughter-in-love and a new baby granddaughter. We’ve said goodbye to my mother.

On My Nightstand

In this season of pluses and minuses, I’m working my way through a small treasure of a book on my Kindle that is teaching me a new math just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holidays in which we think and talk and even sing about peace and joy. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremy Burroughs is challenging me to add contentment to the holiday equation with stunning wisdom such as this:

“A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.”

This is not the message that is showing up in my inbox from Amazon everyday (or in my mailbox either with its daily shipment of multiple catalogs), but the truth is that there is hardly anything I can add to my life without it leading to a desire for more. So . . . Burroughs suggests subtracting from our desires to bring them into alignment with our circumstances.

As a Puritan man firmly planted in the 17th century, Burroughs’ temptation to discontentment certainly would have been different from mine or yours, but even so, he felt the reality of it and apparently, even in his day, “the world [was] infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have.” For those with advanced math skills, he moved on to examining “the proportion between our hearts and our circumstances” urging believers to bring them into alignment.

What strategies in fostering contentment are working for you as we fly headlong toward the Christmas season?

On the Radio

At some point in 2017, the only classical radio station accessible here in Midcoast Maine disappeared from the airwaves, so we are rejoicing in the expansion of Maine Public Radio’s signal to include us here on the fringes! This won’t be relevant news to anyone except Maine readers, but 96.7 FM is now pumping lovely sounds into our lives each day, giving us one more reason to be thankful!

 

On the Blog

It’s been great grace to enjoy the hospitality of friends at (in)courage, The Perennial Gen and SheLoves Magazine this month:

Faith Going Forward for The Perennial Gen encourages readers in mid-life to jettison anything that slows our growth and keeps us stuck in our safe and familiar habits — whether it’s cleaning out a closet or establishing new and healthy habits, there’s always room for improvement here.

For All Who Have Chosen Wrong Roads addresses regret with the good news that, used well and with its sharp edge pointed toward the task at hand like my favorite garden hoe, regret can be a salutary thing. It can be the gift that sends me in search of a better plan.

DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc., has a blogging ministry called (in)courage which is formed around a community which shares the life-giving tools to equip women right in the midst of the chaos. They graciously shared my story about the first Thanksgiving my husband and I celebrated together, a season of celebration and lament that continues to shape the way I give thanks each year. You can read it for yourself here.

I reviewed four books in the month of November. If you’re looking for reading material as Christmas gifts — or for your own heart — you can get a preview by clicking on the titles below:

Fiercehearted is the expansion of Holley Gerth’s manifesto that the true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites readers to throw off the burden of self-focus and to find worth and belonging within the larger context of an obedient following that is all about Christ, His purposes, and His glory.

I was thrilled to share the story of fellow Mainer and fellow Redbud Meadow Rue Merrill. Her international adoption of a severely disabled daughter is a story of faith and disappointment; loss and redemption. Redeeming Ruth is a valuable resource for anyone who is learning to trust God’s motives and struggling to live well in the tension of pursuing a dream while holding it loosely. The unfolding of Ruth’s story rebukes the notion that God is made visible only in happy endings

I’m ever intrigued by personality inventories, and Alice Fryling’s Mirror for the Soul is a guide to the Enneagram that encourages a slow and careful pondering in order to understand one’s type and what it means for spiritual formation and transformation.

Coming to the end of Jayber Crow, the discussion group concluded that, among many other things, Wendell Berry wrote a book about love. Our friend, the “married ineligible bachelor barber,” reflecting on the benefit of sacrifice, concluded that the good he derived is this:

“I got to have love in my heart.”

In this season of serial celebrations and rubbing shoulders with our once-a-year friends and relations, it behooves us to frame our hearts in the direction of loving well and with no strings attached.

Around the Table

Every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my patient husband makes an early foray into Christmas shopping with all four sons, and he’s done it since there were only two tiny boys, so it’s quite the tradition in these parts. Meanwhile, I make pies, peel vegetables, and prepare for the Thanksgiving feast in lovely peace and quiet.

This has been our first celebration without all four of the guys present, because the two married sons synchronized their inlaw rotation. Even so, we filled the seats with family and friends and gave thanks with gusto, another opportunity to adjust my expectations and to find contentment within the gift of my present circumstances.

I hope you’ll share in the comments about your own season of Thanksgiving and how you are bringing contentment forward into your celebration of Jesus’ birthday. Blessings to you and thank you for the encouragement of your friendship here in this gathering.

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Image courtesy of Unsplash by Hedi Alija

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Wreathed in Contentment

A toddler-sized pair of skates wired to an evergreen spray and adorned with a bow — that’s the best I can do!  But not everyone is craft-challenged like I am, and Sarah O. Maddox has made a practice of hanging a beautiful wreath on the door of her home no matter what the season as a symbol of contentment, a sign that her heart has said yes to the gift of that particular house in that particular location — a sign that her heart has said yes to God.

In You Can Learn to be Content, a book that incorporates both memoir and devotional inspiration, Sarah describes her discovery that she had an uneasy relationship with contentment, and then shares her journey toward living in the light that Isaiah speaks of:

Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.  (Isaiah 50:10)

Hebrews 10:35-38 reminds believers that the root of discontent is a mindset of doubt and fear, admonishing us not to “cast away our confidence” in Him.

While there’s nothing wrong with having an eye for improvement, Sarah shares three common obstacles to contentment that steal our joy:

  1.  Unmet expectations lead to disappointment, frustration, and regret, and “when the circle of regret becomes [our] resting place, contentment flees out the door.”
  2. My response to others gives them power over me.  Poet Fran McDaniel shares this wisdom:  “Choose not to be offended; rather, seek to understand.”
  3. The truth is that “what’s down in the well may come up in the bucket!”  When under pressure and plagued with uncertainty, walking in the way of contentment has to be a conscious choice that comes from within.

From Jehoshaphat’s prayer in the midst of what looked to be a losing battle, Sarah encourages her readers that even when we feel powerless in the battle for contentment, the answer is to look to God for guidance.  Peppered with examples of her own struggles through perplexing circumstances, she shares homely wisdom from her museum of memories:

  • “Because God wants you to trust Him, He will see to it that you have to.”
  • “God:  Vacate and let me occupy.”
  • “A contented woman is not dependent on anyone else for her satisfaction.  She has not made her house, her financial situation, her husband, her children, or her friends slaves of her expectations.”

Psalm 62:5 gives words for the heart of the woman who desires contentment in her bones:

“My soul,
Wait silently for God alone,
For my expectation is from Him . . .”

With this wisdom, even in the midst of changing circumstances, the woman who believingly follows Jesus Christ can live with a heart that is wreathed in contentment.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.