The Discontentment, Dissatisfaction and Discomfort Of Dwelling Within Our Limits

It's difficult to reside contentedly inside the borders of our limited knowledge. So difficult, in fact, that we are a people marked by our levying of robust judgment and strong opinion on matters of which we have little understanding. It seems to be an ignorance that's too blissful for us not to embrace, one that comes with the enticing hope that simply talking as though we have knowledge will somehow demonstrate it to be true. 

There are many wonderful blessings that come with age, and one of my favorites is the freedom to stand more quietly on the things that I know without always feeling the need to noisily reach for those things that I don't. Age has a painful, yet beautiful way of defining the boundaries of our limitations with a clarity that no longer compels us to cross them the way they do in our youth. Time tends to be the most effective instructor in teaching us to know what we don't know. Few understand that better than parents of young children who suddenly find themselves smiling empathetically at the mother of the screaming toddler in Target instead of scowling at her for distracting them from the tiring task of choosing which crock pot to list on the bridal registry. 

At age 55, my limitations of knowledge are coming with a level of sweet contentment that I had to fight harder to possess when I was 33. I'm happier and more satisfied with the mysteries of life, enjoying an ever-increasing measure of confidence in the goodness of my sovereign God. It's His sanctifying work of grace in me, grace that He lovingly has woven into the tapestry of my life through hurts and trials that have left me too depleted of wisdom to lay claim on my own understanding let alone on that which resides beyond its borders. 

But God is far from finished with His instruction, and I still find myself fighting to remain content residing within the parameters of my sovereignly-ordered life. While my thirst for an understanding of parenting, politics, and people may be finding a more peaceful existence, I still find myself itching to explore beyond the fence. At this stage in my life, that itching has been coming in the form of a thirst for meaningful influence. With more of my life behind me than before me, I find myself increasingly concerned with not wasting it. It's a good desire, but a desire that can far too easily lend justification to selfish pride. In my desire to meet needs before me, I can miss meeting needs beside me; and in my yearning to serve beyond the scenes, I can fail to serve behind the scenes.

God used the wisdom of a good friend to convict my heart about my yearnings to minister beyond the borders, and my spirit has been repeatedly humbled by his expressed truth: 

"The seduction of ministry is powerful. The feeling of being a channel through which God’s energy flows toward others is indeed intoxicating. It may not be as shallow as wanting to stand in front of people for the sake of being seen, but it is worse. It is profoundly narcissistic to crave usefulness to the point that we are unhappy with God when we are not useful. The disciples came back to Jesus rejoicing that even the demons submitted to them in Christ’s name. Jesus flatly told them not to rejoice in this. Period. Rejoice, instead, he said, 'that your names are written in heaven.' In other words, rejoice in what God has done FOR you; do not rejoice in what God does THROUGH you. To celebrate and find significance in what God does THROUGH us turns our focus on the channel of God’s power, not the God of power. The times will come when we don’t see God doing much through us, but it should never affect our joy or embitter us. When the Hand of Providence shelves us for reasons we cannot explain or control, it should not upset us. It should, in fact, relieve us. We are being harbored in our Father’s acceptance, a place of placid quietness. We are receiving a break from the relentless seduction of Christian usefulness that never ceases to beguile us into the roiling darkness of self-love and taunt us with our failure."  Bob Bixby; Redeemer Church 

As long as I'm on this earth, my struggle with wanting to venture beyond sovereignly-drawn lines will always be with me. And in its own personalized degree, it will be with you, too. That's because the borders that have been set around our finite lives don't just limit insight, they limit influence and they limit intimacy. They are borders that don't just limit relationship, they limit friendship and they limit fellowship. In other words, they aren't just borders that isolate us from forbidden things, they are borders that isolate us from good things. We were made for more than what is found within the sovereign ordering of our present lives, and part of our natural desiring as image-bearers is for that which rests beyond our earthly reach. 

I spend my life counseling people whose discontentment with living behind the ordered parameters of their life has sent them searching for contentment beyond them. Being certain they saw the glimmering promise of something good, they slipped across the border to lay hold of desired treasure. But treasure that resides beyond our rightful reach, no matter how valuable, is never attainableNever ever. It's ability to be secured is only a mirage. An illusion. Even in the fantasy of our own mind, we can never lay hold of any good gift that resides beyond the boundaries of our God-ordained lives. And the reason I say good gift is because security, and beauty, and pleasure, and intimacy are indeed good gifts. But they cease to be good when we have to violate fences and God's law to secure them. 

I understand the desire that sends people searching beyond their rightful reach. I can relate to their hunger and thirst for more. It's an understanding that drives me to my knees with desperate pleas for grace, an understanding that drives me to saturate myself with the Word. We do great harm when we give the impression that living joyfully within the boundaries of our God-ordained lives means feeling satisfied and content. Living as a follower of Christ in this broken world inevitably comes with a measure of discontentment, dissatisfaction and discomfort, a measure that is as varied as our personalities. Some of us may feel the rawness of our fallen condition more strongly than others, but our personality isn't a litmus test of spirituality. We have great power to discourage sincere hearts when we suggest the struggle with negative feelings is in itself an indication of not making God and His Word our treasure. 

I struggle with an intensity of emotion of every kind. I have a vivid and colorful imagination that reality has a very difficult time matching. I feel disappointment frequently. As long as I can remember, I have struggled with a yearning to live in a way that's bigger than my limitations. It results in a measure of discontentment, dissatisfaction and discomfort that can sometimes feel significant. But without one ounce of hesitation, and with every ounce of conviction that I can muster, I can proclaim by God's grace that Christ has proven Himself supreme enough to be my contentment in the midst of the discontentment; that Christ has proven Himself sufficient enough to be my satisfaction in the midst of the dissatisfaction; and that Christ has proven Himself sovereign enough to be my comfort in the midst of the discomfort. 

I can tell when my desire to experience life beyond the borders is seeking to erode my conviction and commitment to live fully and passionately behind them. I experience a restlessness in my soul that finds it increasingly difficult to offer genuine praise and thanksgiving for my redemption. It's a restlessness that I know is paving the way for the entrance of a spirit of ingratitude that doesn't set its mind on Christ and doesn't find its boast in the Cross. It's paving the way for a spirit of ingratitude that neglects God and His Word, a spirit that focuses on self and feeds off the flesh. There is good reason why I am intentional about waging war against that spirit and passionate about keeping it in check.

Ingratitude is what always leads us to slip across the borders of our God-ordered lives. It's why the first line of defense in spiritual warfare involves an intentional pursuit of Christ that fastens ourselves to the Cross and fixes our eyes on Him. When we consume our mind with the glories of Christ and the Cross, our heart can't help but to overflow with praise. And when our heart overflows with praise, it opens itself up to the pouring in of grace that enables us to wait for more. Praise to God is what opens our heart to the pouring in of grace that enables us to wait for our full redemption when everything will finaly be as it was meant to be. 

It's not wrong if you are a tired parent who, in the monotony of the seemingly mundane, is desiring more. It's not sinful if you are a hurting missionary who, in a foreign land far from family and all that is familiar, is desiring more. It's not wicked if you are a single adult who, in a struggle with relational emptiness and sexual frustration, is desiring more. And it isn't evil if you are a needy spouse who, in the middle of an unhappy or unfulfilling marriage, is desiring more. It's not even wrong if you're overwhelmingly blessed with no particular struggle and yet you still find yourself desiring more.

Our desire for more becomes a sin problem when it's a desiring that robs us of a grateful heart that sings praise to God for all that He has abundantly and gloriously given us. It becomes sin when it's a desiring that robs us of the joy that shouts to God for His redemption of our guilty soul. And it becomes sin when it robs us of the belief that we serve a perfectly just and holy God who only gives us good things. Not as we deem good, but as He deems good. 

The reason it becomes a problem when our desiring steals our praise and thanksgiving is because it's a robbery that closes our heart to the appropriation of grace. When our heart closes it starts to harden, and the inevitable discontentment, dissatisfaction and discomfort that come with living within the bounds of this earthly life start taking the lead. Our feelings hop in the driver's seat, take the wheel, and head straight for the border. The heart that slips across the border for treasure beyond its rightful reach is always, first and foremost, an ungrateful heart. What debtors we are to grace. Grace that is greater than our sin! 

I love Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to enjoying a sweet time with family and friends, a time of singing praise to God for His glorious and marvelous grace. And because of Christ's work of salvation and sanctifying grace in my heart, I look forward to a week of praise that I pray reflects the immeasurable gratitude that I continually hold in my heart. Does that mean I always feel content and satisfied and comforted? Sometimes yes, but many times no. But because of Jesus Christ, my Good and Sovereign Savior, I'm okay with that. Especially when I'm holding a non-fat peppermint mocha latte with whipped cream in a plain red Christmas cup.