The Problem of the Perpetually Dissatisfied

The Problem of the Perpetually Dissatisfied

Scripture passage: Jeremiah 2:4-13

Glenn Hinson believes that God made us and placed us on this earth to pay attention to two things: the world itself, and God. We are here to observe and appreciate and cultivate the beauties of the created world, and to notice and respond to the hurts and needs of people around us. And, we are here to love and appreciate God. The problem we have, says Hinson, is that we tend to get so absorbed with ourselves, and so distracted with the glittery, superficial, fast-paced aspects of the world, that we forget about God — to our own detriment.

If an analogy would help, he offers the suggestion that we’re supposed to be like amphibians, able to move freely in both land and water. But we get so enthralled with what’s up on land, that we neglect to go back and visit the water, and as a result our soul (or spirit) dries up.

The prophet Jeremiah would agree with Hinson’s assessment. Jeremiah looked back on his people’s history and was heartbroken to see that they had so far forgotten God that they weren’t even looking for God anymore. They were dissatisfied and restless, and they didn’t even know why. They tried other so-called gods, or made their own gods, but none of their efforts held water. Their souls were dried up.

This is Jeremiah 2:4-8,11-13…

Jeremiah remembered that God had brought his people through situations that no one otherwise could have survived. But instead of remaining grateful to God, and turning to God for every need, the people had indulged themselves without limit, and forgotten the source of their existence. They had exchanged the fountain of living water for a well so flawed that it was always empty. Instead of being satisfied with the goodness all around them, the people had gone after things that did not profit. They had exchanged their glory for something worthless.

According to many observers, people are no different today. “We eat more food, acquire more possessions, pile up still greater wealth, indulge in more and more extreme pleasures, thinking a little more will assure the ultimate happiness,” confesses one writer, “What happens, however, is that acquiring a little more only whets the appetite for more and leaves us still more unsatisfied.”

“Desire and acquire” might as well be our motto, this student of our culture declares. We are looking everywhere except to God, and we are damaging our own health, not to mention the well-being of many others, in the process. The good news is that in spite of our confusion, God still loves us, and is trying to throw us a lifeline. Insights and revelations occur at improbable moments. A movie fan recounts how God used a line from the film “Out of Africa” to awaken her awareness of what is necessary. In that movie, Meryl Streep plays Isak Dinneson, a Danish citizen who spent much of her life in Africa because she deeply loved the people and the landscape. At a certain point in the story, after been away, Dennison returns to the land she loves most and is greeted by her chief steward. “How are you?” she asks him. “I am well,” he answers. “And you?” “I am well enough,” she replies.

“Well enough.” It hit the watcher like a lightening bolt. “Well enough.”

“What if…” she thought, “what if we lived out of the premise that whatever we have is enough?” What if our perspective was that, in the words of a famous philosopher, we have enough health to find some pleasure in work; enough wealth to support our needs; enough strength to battle with a difficulty and overcome it; enough charity to see something Christ-like in our neighbor, enough patience to toil until a little bit of good is accomplished, enough grace to confess our sins and ask for help in leaving them behind. Not the most imaginable health, wealth, strength or patience, mind you, but enough. “Enough IS enough,” declares Elizabeth Canham, “And when enough is set in perspective, it is revealed as abundance.”

Marilyn McEntyre learned this lesson from an elderly friend who was always telling her, “Honey, you can afford to let that go. You can afford to wait awhile. You can afford to forgive. You can afford to be gentle.” What Marilyn finally realized was that her friend was trying to remind her of the love that God had lavished upon her. A full articulation of the friend’s refrain would be, “We who are richly blessed by both material abundance and by the riches of faith, who have access to peace that passes understanding, who are held secure in a love that will not let us go, who know ourselves to be heirs to a kingdom, can afford to look carefully, caringly, and kindly upon what is squalid, struggling, angry, confused, or in pain. We have enough. It is time to share.”

God loves us. That in itself is enough. Perhaps it should be obvious, but, as with the ancient Israelites, we still succumb to distraction and dissatisfaction. Some people find that in order to maintain the sacred awareness of having enough, they have to deliberately choose, from time to time, to give up what they have. For thirty years, Gunilla Norris has occasionally chosen to fast ( to deliberately not eat anything) for several days at a time. The reason she does this is as follows: “When I fast, I can see how much I have moved away from dependence on God’s presence in my daily life. I can see how much I need to feed on forgiveness and mercy, how meaningless and tiring my self-appointed importance has become. I fast because I need to rest from the false notion that I can nourish myself. I fast to become more open to being fed by God.” Norris seems to have discovered for herself the truth expressed in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, and shall supply all I need.”

She defines fasting as “voluntary restraint” and suggests that one could fast from noise, radio, television, or conversation; from rushing; from complaining, explaining, or demanding; from gossip, overwork, or impulse spending — all as a way of becoming more aware of God’s holy purposes. “When we empty ourselves,” she explains, “it is so that God might fill us; so that we might allow God to determine our worth; so that God’s love might be our ultimate justification.”

Elizabeth Canham reiterates that in our culture of bigger, better, faster, and MORE glamorous, efficient, sexy, or powerful, “choosing not to be discontent is “an ever-growing challenge.” She suggests that we keep before us words of scripture, such as the passage from Hebrews, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for God has said I will never leave you or forsake you. So we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.” We might also consider Paul’s testimony in Philippians 4 (for how it contrasts to the prevailing attitude of our culture), “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and being in need. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

Jeremiah’s diagnosis, that God’s people have a terrible tendency not to be satisfied with what God has given us, and a serious ability to be distracted from the source of our survival, is consistent with what we see around us and sometimes (sadly) within us. Thankfully, God is reaching out to us, through scripture, through spiritual disciplines that we might take up, and through ordinary life events to try to bring us back to the living water that can truly quench our thirst, and to a contented way of life that is as concerned for others as for ourselves.

The principle that “with God we have what we need” applies to every situation — even to the despair that some might feel over the state of the world. When discussing environmental concerns, or worries over injustice, disease, poverty and systemic violence, it is common to hear (or to feel) something along these lines: “I want to do something, but I’m just one person. I don’t have any power. I can’t have an impact. The mess is so big, and I’m so small, that I just feel paralyzed.” Veronica Goska explains why that kind of thinking is wrong. Veronica has an illness that causes intermittent bouts of paralysis. Some days, she cannot move her limbs. Some days, her eyes shut down and she cannot see. But other days, she can walk, and she can see. “The difference,” she proclaims, “is epic.”

When she can walk, she travels to school by foot along a railroad track. In the springtime, turtles often get stuck between the bars of the track. Many of them starve, dehydrate, or get squashed. But when Veronica walks along the tracks, she picks up every living turtle she finds, carries it to a wooded area, and releases it. “For those turtles,” she says, “the little power I have is enough.”

“I’m just like those turtles,” she goes on. “When I’ve been sick and housebound for days, I wish someone, anyone, would talk to me. To hear a human voice say my name, to be touched — that would mean the world to me. One day, an attack hit me while I was walking home from campus. It was a snowy day. I struggled with each step, wobbled and wove across the road. I must have looked like a drunk. One of my neighbors, whom I had never met, stopped and asked me if I was okay. He drove me home.”

“He did not hand me the thousands of dollars I needed for surgery. He did not take me into his own house, or clean up the mess in my house for me. He just gave me one ride, one day. I am still grateful to him and touched by his gesture. I have lived in the neighborhood for years, and so far he has been the only one to stop. The problem is not that we don’t have enough power. The problem is that we don’t use the power we have.”

Jeremiah’s plea is that we stop searching in the wrong places for what we already have. We have the love, the grace, and the power of God. If we don’t acknowledge it, celebrate it, live it, and share it with the world, no one will. Not only do our lives ultimately depend on keeping our center in God, the health of the world depends on it as well. When we have God, we have everything we need.


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