Recently I shared in a sermon that I’ve developed an unusual habit related to the search for satisfaction and contentment. When I begin to use a new bottle of shampoo in the shower, I look at the bottle and think “What will my life be like when this bottle is empty?” This quirky practice was particularly pertinent to me years ago when I was deeply dissatisfied with my current employment. I was looking for a way out, and the musings about the future helped me to cope, I suppose.
I suspect you are not that different from me, although you probably don’t use shampoo as the prompter of your thoughts about the future. But I’d be willing to bet that you, also, are looking toward a distant goal, circumstance, or acquisition that will bring you a certain level of satisfaction or contentment…when you will say to yourself “Now, I’ve finally reached it! I’m happy/content/satisfied/pleased with life and I need nothing more!” We humans seem to be wired this way.
I can relate this to the recreational pursuits in which I am involved. My health and life circumstances have prompted me to consider whether it is time for me to give up hang gliding. Way back in my pre-teen years I dreamed of free flight and the ability to soar like an eagle with no power but the wind and the rising air keeping me aloft. In the past 10 years I’ve had the wonderful privilege of achieving that goal. I’ve experienced all of the milestones I hoped to reach with the exception of flying cross-country over distances of more than 10 miles. It’s been very difficult for me to post my equipment for sale online, however. I fear losing something, like if I did continue to fly I will discover a deeper level of satisfaction that I’ve already experienced. But I know those thoughts are only fleeting. If I went out and flew today, and managed a cross-country flight of 50 miles I would be thrilled…but I still wouldn’t be completely satisfied.
Allow me to push this a little further. Several weeks ago my wife and I visited our son who lives on a boat in a marina outside Charleston, South Carolina. I had let it be known that, for my birthday, I would love to go sailing. Well, Jeff managed to arrange a sailing outing on a 40 foot yacht with a friend in the marina. The day was glorious! We had so much fun, and now I’m considering exchanging my horizontal wing for a vertical one. I can picture purchasing a used sailboat, learning to sail, and exploring the far reaches of Buckeye Lake, which is just over the hill in my backyard.
My Dad has preached at me for decades “There are two great days in a boat owner’s life: the day he buys the boat and the day he sells the boat.” And I think he’s probably right. But this thing is nagging at me. I can predict I will probably make the exchange of sails, and I will probably enjoy sailing for a good while on Buckeye Lake. But it won’t be long before I reach a level of dissatisfaction. I will want a bigger lake, a bigger boat, and more adventure. The satisfaction will only last for a season. Why are we humans like this?
Several thousand years ago, the Israeli King Solomon explored the full reaches of satisfaction while living on the earth. In the book of Ecclesiastes, he explains that he conducted a grand experiment. Because he had unlimited resources at his disposal, he decided to try everything to discover whether achieving every pleasure this life had to offer would bring him the full satisfaction for which he was searching. You can read the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes to see what he discovered. At the end of his experiment he said:
And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 ESV)
Why is this? Why will we never find full and final contentment in anything we pursue this side of eternity? I believe the things for which we seek are not attainable without a relationship with the source of all things, the Almighty God. Only He is eternal. Everything else is temporary. He has ordered the universe and our lives so that we will only be fully, ultimately, eternally satisfied with Him as the source.
So how should we relate to the things of this world? Is it wrong to enjoy possessions, relationships, and accomplishments? I think not…as long as we use these things as portals through which we glorify God. When we experience joy in a recreational pursuit, in a loving relationship, or in a fulfilled goal we should not let our satisfaction rest ultimately in that thing (because it can’t). Instead, we should view it as an opportunity to thank God as the supreme source of all good things.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
(James 1:17 ESV)
God is the creator, everything else is created. By relating to the things of this world in the way I’ve described above we will maintain this important distinction. We will give God the glory He deserves while looking forward to the ultimate, final, and full satisfaction for which we all seek.