The Importance of Becoming Curious at Mid-life and Beyond

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why, indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the pre-schooler’s mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’s present-day followers back into the habit of Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

The middle years and beyond provide a multitude of opportunities for curiosity and questioning, but it’s easy to miss the moment. Set in our ways, we get grumpy about the unknown and set our feet in cement when we should be “setting our faces like flint” in the direction of spiritual practices that heighten our curiosity and our wisdom.

I’m thrilled to be writing about this over at The Perennial Gen, a thriving online community for men and women in the second half of life.  Join me there?

The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.

Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

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 Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, 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.

By grace, becoming more curious,

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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.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field 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.

Every blessing,

The Marks of a Sinner’s Saintly Story

Story has a way of capturing the imagination. Biography brings theological principles, life lessons, and spiritual wisdom to life as I bear witness to the grittiness, lived-out in a transformed journey. Poor choices and besetting sins become cautionary sign posts that might just keep me from going over the same cliff.

Karen Wright Marsh shares 25 open windows into the lives of saintly sinners who have loved God and served Him imperfectly throughout history. Her chief means of conveying Truth happens on the campus of the University of Virginia at the Bonhoeffer House where she presides over a weekly gathering called “Vintage.” There, she shares the lessons she has discovered in the flesh and blood that once belonged to historical brothers and sisters in the faith.

Vintage Saints and Sinners: 25 Christians Who Transformed My Faith is a collection of these conversations with the historical details reinforced by bracing accounts from Karen’s own winding pilgrim life. She makes it clear that a saintly title does not disqualify a believer from struggles, nor does it make one immune to the slippage that plagues us all.

What these 25 historical figures (spanning some 16 centuries of church history) have in common is the faithfulness of their search for Jeremiah’s “good way” and their dogged determination to walk its restful path. What characterizes the life of a sinner who has “stood at the crossroads” and chosen the path of a saint? I’ve been challenged by four characteristics that recurred throughout Karen’s biographical sketches:

Settling into Belovedness

Author and professor Henri Nouwen found himself caught in a cycle of work, depression, insomnia, and doubt that left him wondering if anyone would listen to his wisdom if they knew how much he struggled. His pursuit of significance ended with his embrace of the truth that, as God’s child, God’s favor already rested on him. He learned a willingness to hear God’s calling him “beloved” as the loudest voice in his head and heart.

John Wesley’s following life was one of “fighting continually, but not conquering,” (114) until he felt his heart “strangely warmed” by the spirit and entered into a life with God that was characterized by relationship rather than rules.

Twelfth-century monk, Aelred of Rievaulx delighted in relationships as a youthful extrovert, but found his heart’s desire to be fulfilled only by the knowledge of God’s love for him which infused meaning into all other human relationships.

Sinners who long to be saints will let go of their bent toward doing and turn their hearts toward a glorious being that rests in the knowledge of their own belovedness to the God of the universe.

Embracing the Strangeness

Flannery O’Connor, well-known for the portrayal of “large and startling figures” in her writing, lamented the fact that “people who believe vigorously in Christ are wholly odd to most readers.” (45) Her awareness of the total “otherness” of God led her to pray:

“Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.”

Only one of many followers who chose a non-traditional life style, Francis of Assisi walked hundreds of miles, dressed in rags, and lived hard-and-inconvenient because he heard the voice of God calling him to a non-traditional path.

Modern day saints are called to life of radical forgiveness as the norm, and “strangeness” may abound in varying degrees in the following life. Karen Wright Marsh examines her own commitment to WWJD with new eyes because of vintage saints and sinners’ example in embracing “the joy, the risk, the wholeness of taking Jesus at his word.”

The Brilliance of Practicality

When I picture medieval saints who committed themselves to a monastic life, the phrase “cutting edge” does not leap to my lips, but then, Julian of Norwich ratcheted her own vows up a notch and became an anchoress, enclosed in a small chamber within the church for the remainder of her lifetime. (Anyone else feeling claustrophobic right now?) Narrow of room but wide of life, one of Julian’s three windows in her little nook faced onto the streets of Norwich where she was able to provide counsel and spiritual insight to those who walked the streets of 14th century England.

Ignatius of Loyola approached the faith-life with a strategic confidence that would rival the Pentagon, and approached all decisions with the brilliant question:  “What will bring the greatest glory to God?” (164) This lifts the heavy burden of looking for X-marks-the-spot answers to our requests for God’s guidance, and emboldens the believer to take risks, leaning into a trust in God’s ability to work through Scripture and the wise counsel of friends, family, and mentors.

Risking the Forbidden

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer had settled into a comfortable pastorate in England as an escape from Nazi Germany, or if he had simply played it safe and taken a post in a German university while waiting out the war, we would probably never have heard his name. Instead, discerning the Nazi danger, he founded an illegal seminary, joined the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, and was, therefore, executed by the Nazis. Of course, the two years between Bonhoeffer’s arrest and execution were overflowing with gorgeous writing that has shaped the church with its theological insights.

The Christian life of Amanda Berry Smith began with a bold prayer:

“I will pray once more, and if there is any such thing as salvation, I am determined to have it this afternoon or die.”

Her passion to know God and to share His love with the world propelled her into a life of risk. A former slave with no formal education, she traveled the world and preached to large crowds. When she encountered protesters, she knelt in their presence and prayed. She contracted malaria as she traveled by canoe in Africa, and succeeded in founding an orphanage for African American girls despite the challenges of living as a woman of color in pre-Civil Rights America.

Sinners who long to be Saints for God’s glory will trust for grace in the midst of fear, asking God for “the strong love that casts out fear.”

Following the ancient tracks of these 25 pilgrims has been both encouraging and disturbing. Each stands alone as a memorial to a significant and exemplary life, but taken together over time, they reveal the mysterious complexity of the following life and God’s creativity in receiving whatever raw material is offered to Him — and spinning it into gold. As I stand at my own crossroads and look; as I pursue “the good way” and put my feet on the path in front of me, I’ll rest in the Truth that God has long been in the business of transforming sinners into saints and He knows the unique contours of the road this sinner needs to travel.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, 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.”

Additional Resources

For more information about The Bonhoeffer House or Karen Wright Marsh’s ministry through Theological Horizons, click on over to their website.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field 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.