Article  Christian Living

How an unsatisfying life leads to spiritual freedom

I’ve been writing a lot about the topic of my newest book, Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World. I’ve been talking about various reasons that embracing our unsatisfied condition is the best way to live. But I haven’t really addressed this question:

How does being unsatisfied produce spiritual freedom?

After all, many of us orient our lives around seeking freedom through satisfaction. We figure if we could only put all our emotional and spiritual longings to rest, we would find the freedom that comes with total peace.

The problem is, our emotional and spiritual longings will not be completely met until all our needs are met. And our needs won’t be met until we live in the world we were made for (Rev. 21:1-4). So while we live in the here and now, the quest for total satisfaction is a futile chase. We can find, and know, the Source of true satisfaction, but we will continue to live in longing as long as we still live in need of his final redemption—of us, our fellow human beings, and our injured and bleeding world.

Acknowledging and accepting truth brings freedom (John 8:32). Because our best efforts can’t produce total satisfaction in this fallen world, freedom comes with giving up the chase and embracing our unsatisfied condition. It comes from renouncing our demand that God take away our longings and accepting his desire that we remain aware of those longings and the ways they point us toward him. It comes from laying down the quest that has occupied so much of our time, energy, and focus, letting it go, and learning to live in anticipation of God’s rescue.

Here are some of the faces of freedom that can come from embracing our unsatisfied lives:

Freedom from pretending: When we embrace our lack of satisfaction, we can stop acting as if we’re spiritually satisfied when we’re not. No more going to church with an ear-to-ear grin when our hearts are broken; no more trying to convince ourselves we have all that our souls want and need. It’s a wonderful and freeing thing to live with honesty and integrity.

Freedom from isolation: You and I aren’t the only ones who haven’t figured out the secret formula for total fulfillment and peace. We all live unsatisfied for now; we’re in this together. And when we accept and acknowledge our lack of satisfaction, it can motivate us to become more connected with and encouraged by the people around us, especially the church.

Freedom from futility: We can stop pursuing something we won’t find. We can say goodbye to the kind of discouragement that comes from trying one answer after another, only to find ourselves back where we started. Letting go of our own quest for satisfaction through anything other than our God and his future promises can liberate us into a new way of life.

Freedom from disappointment with God: When God doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s easy to believe he has let us down or to assume our expectations were too high. But the truth is, most of us expect far less of God than he actually has in mind for us. Asking him to satisfy our deepest longings through our current circumstances is like asking a doctor to treat cancer with pain killers. There’s great freedom when we stop expecting God to satisfy us completely here and now and realize he has something much better in mind and in motion (1 Cor. 2:9).

Freedom from the pressure of performance: Many of us are trapped by the belief that true satisfaction will come if only we can be good enough, get close enough to God, or find the right spiritual practices. The truth is, as long as there is distance between us and God, we will feel that distance. As long as we are living in a world cursed by rebellion against God, we will suffer the effects of corruption. When we embrace unsatisfaction, we can let go of trying to do everything we can invent to make this life totally satisfying; we can stop pursuing more and better interaction with God in the belief that we’re missing something. And instead, we can come to God through Christ, rest in him, and find a new kind of freedom.

Freedom from spiritual consumerism: We are consumers by nature and by culture. We want what we believe will make us happy, comfortable, and gratified. In many ways, our lives are built around acquiring what we are convinced will bring us what we crave. When we believe God offers complete and instant satisfaction to those who come to him, it only makes sense that we will approach God as consumers. Consumers come to God for what we believe he will do for us, rather than because he is God. Accepting our unsatisfied condition, and realizing God actually wants us to live with longing and anticipation, will free us to come to him on his terms (Matt. 5:6).

Freedom to live for something else: Ironically, living in pursuit of our complete satisfaction can be one of the least satisfying ways to live. Eventually we’ll discover that we can never have, feel, or enjoy enough of what we think will satisfy us. Putting ourselves at the center of our lives will always produce disappointment and emptiness. On the other hand, when we seek our satisfaction in God, while recognizing that we are limited in our ability to know and enjoy him now, we can orient our lives around the only one who will never disappoint us. Life can be a purposeful adventure when we lift our eyes from our own deficits and join God in his plans and purposes (Psa. 90:14). And he is more than enough.

So embrace your unsatisfied condition, and make your life about something and Someone else. You will find anticipation and yearning can make a lot of space for hope and meaning. Accept the freedom God offers you, and live in hope of the ultimate satisfaction his work will produce in you and his coming Kingdom will provide.

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