By Amy Simpson
Each time I’ve changed jobs, I’ve walked out the door believing I had left most of the unhappiness in my life behind . . . only to find myself in a new organization just as imperfect and insufficient as the previous one.
That could only mean one thing: I was the biggest problem behind the frustrations in my career. When it came to serving as my own boss, I discovered I was perfectionistic, demanding, critical, and sometimes indecisive. I was also humbled.
Being my own boss has been very good for me, partly because I enjoy what I do. But beyond that, God has used these circumstances to reveal a lot about me—most of which still needs to change.
He has managed to pry my ambitious fingers loose(-ish) from the controls of my career. And he has helped me grow to a place of greater balance, in which I turn to my work for satisfaction and identity less often.
The truth is, no matter how successful my career or how fulfilling my work, it will never satisfy my soul. In those moments when I place my hopes in my professional accomplishments and use them to define my identity and my happiness, I am always disappointed.
I am growing in my understanding that God has far better purposes for me than simply devoting myself to building my own kingdom. Why should I settle for less?
Something is wrong if we feel deeply satisfied, or believe we are satisfied, in this life. Show me those who are completely satisfied in their intimacy with God, who do not long for much more, and I’ll show you people whose knowledge of God barely scratches the surface, who have nearly lost sight of heaven, who have forgotten the first song their soul ever learned to sing, who are much too easily pleased.
As we look toward a better world, we exercise our faith in what we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). And what is visible to us now, we see as a hazy reflection in a mirror, knowing that someday we will see face to face and our knowledge—incomplete and unsatisfied for now—will then be complete (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
It’s hard to live with faith in what is unseen, yet that is what makes our faith sustainable. It’s what produces a faith that can survive, and even thrive, when life is really hard.
Many people, caught up in the pursuit of satisfaction—perhaps even cognitively convincing themselves they are completely satisfied—face a crisis of faith when they run into a brick wall called human life.
It’s like the reality check that comes with leaving a sheltered environment for the “real world,” as my family did when we moved from a rural town to the city.
The community we left was part of the real world, but it was a place where kids could be sheltered from some of life’s harsh realities. I remember the first day of ninth grade, when my parents took my sisters and me to our new school to register.
When we told the principal where we had moved from, she actually sat behind her desk and laughed as if it were the funniest thing she had heard in at least a month. This was not a reassuring introduction.
And after leaving the principal’s office, it didn’t take long to realize I was going to need some new knowledge and skills (like figuring out how to open a locker, understanding that some staircases were reserved for going up and others for going down, and dodging fights in the hallways). I was forced to adapt to an environment very different from the one I had been prepared for.
This kind of shock is inevitable as we go through life. Everyone is affected by the imperfection of human society, the unpredictability (and sometimes tragic predictability) of human behavior, persistent longing, the ridiculous choices we make, the resounding consequences of choices made by someone who came before us.
When our understanding of God and ourselves necessitates being satisfied by what we can access now, we will try to make the world’s circumstances fit that theology—and we will fail every time.
We may grow bitter over perceived injustices from the hand of God (who doesn’t seem to be holding up his end of the bargain), become obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior to make our illusions achievable, feel overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance, or retreat into a comfortable spiritual coma called denial.
The belief that life in this world, in right relationship with God, is as good as we need it to be is incompatible with actual life in this world. It’s unsustainable in the face of reality and in the light of what lives in your heart and mine.
AMY SIMPSON (@aresimpson) is an author of numerous books, including Blessed Are the Unsatisfied. She is also a contributing writer, speaker, and leadership coach. She also serves as a member of the board for Minds Renewed, a national consortium of Christians who serve those impacted by mental health concerns and addictive disorders.