Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I’ve been married to Trevor, a counselor, for nearly 25 years. We have two daughters, one in high school and one who will be starting college this fall. We also have two dogs, Rosie Cotton and Samwise Gamgee. Our home is in the suburbs of Chicago.
Professionally, I’ve been involved in publishing and media for nearly 25 years. I currently work as an acquisitions editor for Moody Publishers. I’m also an author and a speaker. On the side, I’m a leadership coach, and I love to come alongside people to help them live with purpose and intention and to move forward.
The first chapter of your new book, “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World” is “Jesus Doesn’t Want You To be Satisfied…Yet.” Explain what you mean by this and why it is so important that we understand it and apply it to our lives.
This is a direct challenge to a message I frequently hear from Christian teachers and leaders: “This world won’t satisfy you, but Jesus will.” This is a true statement, but it needs qualification and explanation. When we don’t talk about this in the context of the limitations we live with here and now, we seem to be pointing people toward Jesus with a false promise that claims if we will only follow Christ, we will be completely satisfied—maybe instantly. And sometimes people do come right out and claim that every follower of Christ should be experiencing a deeply satisfying life—without longing or emotional needs—here and now. This extends to sometimes communicating (intentionally or not) that if a Christian doesn’t feel completely satisfied or still feels unsettled in this life, something is wrong and he or she needs to try harder. I want to encourage people to rethink this message, to find freedom in embracing unsatisfaction, and to discover the blessings that come with being unsatisfied.
The fact is, Jesus never promised us a fully satisfied life this side of heaven. He promised us trouble. He also promises his presence, his peace, hope, and the comfort and help of the Holy Spirit. But when we follow Christ, our sinful tendencies are not magically taken away. Our needs are not neutralized. God doesn’t insulate us in some kind of spiritual bubble that cancels all of the effects of living in a world that is in active rebellion against God. We still live with a powerful distance between us and God, without the kind of intimacy we were created to enjoy.
But while our lack of satisfaction might come as a result of sin’s curse, God knows how to turn curses into blessings. The most fundamental way we are blessed is in what Jesus described in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” We are blessed, whether or not we feel like it, because satisfaction is coming. Our name is written on it. And for those of us who are willing to acknowledge and live peacefully in our lack of satisfaction, Christ’s redemption and renewal of creation will be very sweet. Living in the presence of God will be spectacular.
When we buy into the idea that satisfaction is for here and now, we lower our standards below what God wants us to long for. To think this life is as good as it gets is not good news. On the other hand, it is encouraging to remember this is not all there is. This is not the world we were made for, and this is not as good as it gets. That’s good news. That’s blessing.
You also mention in your book that we have the tendency to make happiness our god, or into an idol. Can you explain to us what that looks like in everyday life and how we can avoid it?
In one sense, this is the American (or perhaps Western) way. For most people in our society, the basic needs of survival are met. So we reach beyond them and engage in what we’re all entitled to: the pursuit of happiness. Yet it’s also human nature. We are built to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s actually part of what helped our ancestors survive.
The problem is, whenever we encounter something we enjoy, like happiness, we want to make that our sole experience. But a life full of happiness—and nothing but happiness—is impossible on this earth. And because happiness is merely one element of the human experience, it can’t bear the weight of our expectation. It will never be enough. Plus, happiness is powerful partly as a contrast to sadness, disappointment, anger, even mediocrity. So when we try to rid our lives of those more difficult experiences, happiness loses its luster and isn’t fulfilling anymore.
In everyday life, the idolization of happiness takes the form of giving space only for the expression of positive emotions, moving from one party to the next, doing only what we feel will make us happy in the moment without considering broader consequences. It looks like running away from the deep work we need to do in order to grow or perhaps heal, because we fear the experience of feeling unhappy or uncomfortable. Sometimes it means we miss opportunities to lament, to mourn with those who mourn, or to grieve what grieves the heart of God.
We can avoid it by being self-honest, acknowledging the truth—that we are and will be unsatisfied people—and learning how to live in the “now and not yet,” the dual reality that the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8. We can learn to enjoy happiness when we experience it and to acknowledge it’s not the only thing we will experience—and that’s OK.
It’s important to be honest and authentic about our lack of satisfaction because, for one thing, we have to live with it. We live in a world that lies under a curse, and every single one of us feels the distance between us and God and the life we were originally made for. Ignoring that gap won’t make it go away. Building our lives around happiness will mean we try to avoid a lot of reality. And if we’re trying to avoid the truth of it, chances are, it’s dictating the way live, to some degree, because we’re always stepping around it. When we face into it, we can find freedom, live with greater integrity, and stop distracting ourselves with the effort to find something we won’t find.
What are some blessings that we experience when we admit that we are not as satisfied as we would like to be?
God has us right where he wants us when we are unsatisfied, longing for the better world he has planned. God does not want us to be satisfied in this life, but to experience the blessings that come with intentionally living an unsatisfied life.
Embracing our lack of satisfaction also puts us in good company. As we get real with other people, they will be more real with us. And we can discover that we all have this in common. We can find support and encouragement, and we can help each other come to God on God’s terms rather than with satisfaction of our desires in mind. We can help one another stay focused on the full and complete satisfaction to come.
Living unsatisfied means living with anticipation. People who are truly satisfied don’t look forward to what is to come. And God wants us to live in the hope of what he promises us. Anticipation produces a wonderful mindset that can get us out of bed in the morning.
There’s also a lot of good news here! Acknowledging that we are unsatisfied puts us in position to enjoy the blessings that come with unsatisfaction. My book mentions several others, and it’s encouraging to think about the many good things that come with embracing the unsatisfied life. In general, embracing our lack of satisfaction puts us in a position to receive some of the best gifts God has to offer us. In his grace and goodness, God has taken a symptom of curse and made blessings from it. So while our lack of satisfaction ultimately comes down to a consequence of human rebellion, God still allows us to experience good things in it. When we stop denying unsatisfaction, and embrace it, we can experience these good things.
What are some practical things we can do to deepen our satisfaction and joy in Christ?
There’s no substitute for knowing Christ through prayer and through his Word. The more we spend time reading the Bible, studying it, and considering what it says, the more we will experience joy and fulfillment in our relationship with him. The more we communicate with him, and listen to him, the more we tend to trust him, to go to him with our needs, and to experience his peace. It’s also really helpful to engage in long-term relationships with other people who are seeking to follow Christ, to know him, and to live his way.
At the same time, I feel like these recommendations should come with a disclaimer! The more we get to know Jesus and develop a closeness with him, the less comfortable we tend to feel in this world we live in. It’s only natural—the more closely we align ourselves with our Creator, the less we feel at home in a world that is in rebellion against him. So while these activities can deepen our joy and move us toward greater satisfaction in Christ, they can also sharpen our sense of longing and our feelings of discomfort in the world. But our longings for him are good, wholesome, and sweet. And they will be fulfilled. God will never disappoint us.