(Un)satisfying substitutes

I have been reading a book (which I will write a post about once I finish it) that has made me think a lot about what is most important to me. Most of us tend to seek God’s blessings more than God Himself, and thus make idols out of whatever it is we seek instead of God. They can be perfectly good things, but they aren’t worthy of having first place in our hearts.

It’s hard for me to say what has first place in my heart, because I don’t seem to be very consistent about it. There was a time when praise for my achievements was my primary motivation in life, but I’m pretty sure I’ve grown past that. (Besides knowing it wasn’t a healthy focus for me, I was helped by the fact that as an adult I simply didn’t get the same kind of positive feedback all the time that I had as a young person/student.) There have been times I have been ruled by my desire for pleasure (mostly from food and reading books).

I do some things out of a sense of duty, and others because I know that in the long run I will be better off by doing them (e.g. working – at home or the office – even when I don’t feel like it). I do some things, such as volunteering at church and Cub Scouts, because I want to be the kind of person who uses her gifts and abilities to serve others. I do some things because I am asked to and I don’t like saying no.

I have known since I was a young Christian (in my teens) that we are to “do all things to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). While that has sometimes guided me as to what to do (or not to do – one cannot act selfishly to the glory of God), I can’t say that it serves as a strong motivating factor for me.

It’s a rather nebulous concept, as I can rarely if ever tell if God is actually being glorified by what I do. (Even if someone praises God because of what I do, that same person might be one who praises God no matter what, so was it really anything to do with what I did?) And I have to admit that I simply don’t feel as concerned for God’s glory as I no doubt should. I’m self-centered and think about how my behavior affects me, even if I put it in terms of how it affects my relationship with God.

The author of this book I’ve been reading suggests that beneath our varied motivations, there is one common theme, whatever it is that truly holds first place in our hearts. It might be feeling good about ourselves, or it might be having good family relationships. Whatever it is, if it is anything other than a desire for God Himself, it will come between us and God, and will in the end be unsatisfying.

I tried to think what it might be for me. The best I could come up with was “feeling satisfied.” Sometimes my appetite is for physical food, and it’s not easily satisfied. It tastes good, but surely more of it would taste even better, and I eat more and somehow it doesn’t taste as good, and I’m left still unsatisfied (and waiting to get hungry again so I can enjoy the good taste again).

Sometimes I look for satisfaction in intellectual stimulation. Winning a string of games of Freecell, solving a difficult crossword puzzle, reading books and learning new things – these all provide a good deal of satisfaction. Unlike food, these pursuits generally leave me feeling pretty good about myself (except when I’ve stayed up too late doing them).

Sometimes I look for satisfaction in relationships. I want to enjoy friendships with people I feel comfortable with, to work together and have fun together and to trust one another well enough to let our real selves show. I’m not good at developing such friendships, though, and I value them more as an ideal than an experienced reality.

I find some satisfaction just in functioning as a reasonably capable adult. I work a full-time job, I take care of my family, I pay the bills (mostly on time), and I am active in the community. I can make decisions that need to be made (except when I’ve gone too long between meals), and I can adjust to new and sometimes difficult circumstances. That’s more than could be said of my mother for a large part of her life, and there is satisfaction in having developed a self-reliance that she never had.

But sometimes nothing seems to satisfy. And that’s a good thing, because that’s when I’m most aware that all these things, even the good ones, can never satisfy my deepests need and longing, which is for God. I try to remind myself, as I enjoy God’s blessings, to thank Him for them so that my focus is on Him instead of just the blessings. But when things are going well (as well as they ever do, anyway), it’s just so easy to let my focus slip away from Him and just enjoy the blessings.

One Response to (Un)satisfying substitutes

  1. Margaret says:

    Pauline, I relate to so much of what you say. I recently asked myself a similar question, and came up with “feeling good.” Which does sound awfully selfish and shallow. I say that I want God to be glorified, but it is so hard to imagine Him being anything but glorified. I tell myself that I should have spent more time reading my Bible instead of doing that puzzle, but on the other hand God did give me this brain. And as for blessings, years ago I told God that if He ever allowed me to have a reliable car that wouldn’t be always breaking down, I would be ever so thankful. But after a decade and a half of driving reliable cars, it is so easy to take them for granted.

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