The Endless Pursuit of Satisfaction: Part 2
Do you ever have the thought “If only I could _________ then I’d be content”? “If only I could be ten pounds lighter, afford to live in that neighborhood, get married, land that gig,” etc. For me, it’s been weight. If only I could weigh “x” pounds, THEN I’d be confident in myself, happier, content, satisfied.
A few years ago I finally reached my goal weight, after rigorously working out and controlling what I ate, but even when I finally “arrived” I still looked in the mirror with disappointment.
Greg Billington is an Olympic triathlete who competed in the Rio Olympics back in 2016. In an interview with NPR following his loss at Rio, Greg shared a statement that could be true of many of us who have achieved a life-long goal only to be met by dissatisfaction, “Currently nothing fills that void. It’s just a little empty part and that’s OK for a little while, as long as it gets filled before it starts to fester,” he says. If you’ve ever achieved a significant goal you know that even when you arrive, satisfaction is fleeting. Then it becomes the next if only.
Are you familiar with Saint Augustine? I’ve heard the name my whole life and there was a private high school in my hometown called Saint Augustine where all the kids who got in trouble in public school went. Until a few weeks ago. In research for this post, I was introduced to Saint Augustine through a guy named James K. A. Smith.
Before discovering faith in Jesus, Augustine was a man on a mission to be somebody. He traveled to Milan from his home in Africa in pursuit of education and status in society. He was a man of ambition, who believed that once he rose to success in politics he would find contentment.
In God’s kindness and mercy, and through a long, painful process, Augustine surrendered his life to Jesus. Although he knew Jesus, ambition still lived in him. However, there was a shift. Smith writes “Augustine never stopped being ambitious. What changed was the target, the goal, the how of his striving. What do I love when I long for achievement?”
Augustine saw ambition as part of the human condition and if you refer back to the Garden in Genesis 3 you’ll find his observation to be true. In the garden story, Adam and Eve had just been given incredible responsibility, and feeling the weight of that, Satan presented a way to shortcut the process. But as anyone who has tried to cut corners before has found out, the cost is far greater than they ever imagined.
“Augustine imagines the human condition like that of the [immigrant] in search of not just the security of a home but for peace, rest, joy. One of the distinguishing markers of the happy life found in God is a joy and delight that could not be achieved otherwise-a rest and contentment that stems from being found. The “authentic happy life”, Augustine concludes, is “to set one’s joy on you, grounded in you and caused by you. That is the real thing and there is no other.” Those found by God find in Him “the joy that you yourself are to them.”
The point Augustine is driving home is simple, when we seek satisfaction anywhere besides God himself, we’ll find ourselves disappointed. That’s why even when I reached my goal weight it wasn’t enough and why Greg Billington experienced a bit of a crisis when he realized everything he’d worked for in life was coming to an end.
So, whether you’re ambitious to be a country music star, a CEO, an olympian, or like me, just in better shape, I’ll leave you with the same question Smith asked: What do you love when you long for achievement? The answer to that question might be the greatest window into the condition of your soul.