NEW Interview with Amy Simpson, author of “Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World”

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

amy simpsonI’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.

Amy’s website

Amy’s Twitter

Anthony Bourdain and the Pursuit of Happiness

Here is what Wikipedia tells us about Anthony Bourdain:

Anthony Michael Bourdain (June 25, 1956 – June 8, 2018) was an American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition. He was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world by many commentators.

Just this past week Bourdain committed suicide while shooting an episode for his show, “Parts Unknown.”  I had heard of Bourdain before his death but I did not know much about him. Even though I did not follow his career closely it still makes me incredibly sad anytime I hear that someone has committed suicide. One of the things that prompted me to write about his death is that I read on social media people asking questions like this, “Bourdain seemed to have it all. He had wealth, fame, and was able to travel all over the world. Why would someone with so much going for him commit suicide?”

I won’t pretend to know the reasons that led Bourdain to end his life, but what I do know is this, the stuff of this world is not enough to satisfy the human heart. One man who had everything he ever desired came to this sobering conclusion:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. -Ecclesiastes 2:1

Three thoughts I want to communicate. First, if you are struggling with depression, or if you are contemplating suicide, please get help. Talk to someone. A trusted friend. A pastor. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. I don’t have all the answers but I would be happy to listen to you and encourage you. You can reach me at (856)-904-7092. Or, michaelw@newlifeefree.org.  I have gone through seasons of depression my self and I know it is a bad place to be.

Second, talking to a friend is a great idea, but it is not the final solution. Our souls have been designed to find satisfaction in God alone. An old friend, or an excellent counselor, is not going to be able to heal the pain that you feel in the core of your being. You need to know that God knows all about you and loves you. Not only does he love you he desires to be in a relationship with you. Knowing God will not remove all pain and suffering from your life, but genuine comfort is found when we realize that God is there with us through all of the ups and downs of life.

Third, we need to keep our eyes open all around us for people who are struggling. Be proactive! If someone close to you seems to be down invite them out for a cup of coffee. Ask them how they are doing. Take chances. It’s OK to get in their business because you are doing it out of genuine concern.

What People Aren’t Telling You About Happiness

Isaac Watts wrote the famous hymn “Alas, And Did My Savior Bleed” in 1707. Due to the fact that I have been in the church all of my life I have probably sung this song hundreds of times. Here is how the chorus goes:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

OK, either Isaac knew something that I don’t or there is something seriously wrong with me and my faith. What I can say for sure is that this idea of being happy all the day does not line up with my personal experience.

We all want to be happy and joyful.

All of us want to be happy. All of us are seeking after something that will fill up the empty spaces of our life and make us feel complete. This pursuit is what leads people to accomplish great things like going to college, advancing in their career and raising a family. The pursuit of happiness also leads people into addictions and bad relationships. This hit will ease the pain. This person will finally be the one. Every step we take in life is a step, we hope, that leads us towards greater joy and happiness.

We were told that only God will make us happy.

At some point many of us are told that only God can make us happy. So we head off in a new direction. We leave behind the things that have failed to satisfy us in the past and make our way towards God.

Unfortunately we were not told that even when we have God that there will be many times where we are struggling, hurting and feel like something is missing.

These days I am increasingly disturbed by the fact that we are telling people half truths about happiness and joy. Yes, I still believe that joy is found in Christ. The part that we are leaving out is that this happiness and joy is incomplete. It is true, we have found the greatest treasure of all in Jesus Christ but our souls are still encased in a human body that is strongly impacted by sin. Our joy is only a fraction of what it will be one day.

“We want. Life leaks. Desires are disappointed. And God, our Father, remains eternally good.” -Jen Pollock Michel

Here is why I believe this is such a big problem. We are making promises about the Christian life without the support of God’s Word. Think about it for a moment. The saints in the pages of Scripture went through valleys of all shapes and sizes. The Psalms are filled with men and women who had a deep intimate relationship with God yet at the same time went through seasons of serious heartache, sorrow and depression (Psalms 42-43).

I can say that Jesus is my greatest source of joy. I also need to be painfully honest and say that I live with a haunting sense in my soul that I am still not complete. Every single day feels like I am in one intense spiritual battle. There is an ache that I live with that I wish I could just make go away. Some days I truly wonder if I have the strength to keep going.  If we are not open about how we are feeling I believe we could cause others to question the authenticity of their faith. If we look around and everyone seems like they have it all together then something surely must be wrong with us, right? Perhaps we have combined the American Dream with the gospel and created something that is bound to disappoint and disillusion everyone who comes into contact with it.

If you love Christ but still sense in your heart that there must be more you are right. You are not odd. You are not alone. You are a normal Christian person. Being discontented with life is not always a bad thing. We long for a new body free of pain and disease. We long for relationships that are completely safe and true. We long to be rid of our ever present sin nature. Finally, we long to be home. I am talking about home in the best sense of the word. Home with God.  Let’s rejoice that one day our joy will be full but until that time let’s temper our unrealistic expectations with these words from the Apostle Paul, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:22-23

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” -CS Lewis

Searching for happiness?

Life Explored is an informal and relaxed seven week course. It’s for anyone who wants to find contentment and happiness in life. It’s run by ordinary Christian people local to you and is completely free. You don’t need to know anything about the Bible, and you won’t be asked to pray or sing. You can ask any question you like, or you can just sit and listen.

Whoever you are, whatever you’re thinking, Life Explored is a place for you to discover the greatest gift in the the universe.

Thursday evenings. 01.26.17-03.09.17. 7:00-8:15 PM. New Life Church-1530 N Hwy 20, Watertown, SD.

Questions? Call 605-886-1977