Like many Millennials, I sometimes think about Hamilton. When I do, it’s almost always the very short phrase from the song “Satisfied,” that goes, appropriately: “I’ve never been satisfied.” That’s it--just one short phrase, musically repeating in my mind.
When I met my husband, the phrase in my mind extended to include the further lyrics: “You’re like me. Never satisfied.” I remember thinking throughout our year of dating that one of the truest and most immediate similarities between us was our underlying drive. I don’t think he saw it right away because I tend to mask mine more, but I knew it immediately, and it’s what made me first know to hold onto him. I felt instinctively that this mutual lack of satisfaction made us fundamentally compatible. After all, it’s what made him choose to pursue architecture and music, what made me move to New York and Boston and become a director, what keeps us both up at night, typing and painting away. But it’s more than that.
This lack of satisfaction is my truest and oldest companion. I remember lying awake at night, staring at the twin red lights of electric towers over the distant rooftops, trying to make up a reality that would satisfy me. I pretended the towers housed magical twin sisters, spinning beside their lights. It would be years before I read my first George MacDonald story, but my heart already knew his same obsession with, and was utterly convinced of, the unseen.
It was with unimaginable relief that I read the words of C.S. Lewis, years later, from his famous passage in Mere Christianity that describes his desire for something that nothing in this world can satisfy:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
I was suddenly able to give a name and direction to the longing I’d always felt, and suddenly able to find cohesion in the writers I held most dear—McKillip and LeGuin and Chesterton and Tolkien and all the others who so firmly believe that there has to be more. These days I lump Lewis and Chesterton with others like Christian Wiman and St. Augustine in a fellowship of those who, like me and Hamilton, will never be satisfied; who understand the fundamental unrest of living in a world that marries the depressing mundanity of gas stations with a God whose glory is inconceivable. But more on that later.
My lack of satisfaction has always been a point of angst for me, and I struggle with the question of how much I am allowed to feel this way. I went through a very long period as a teenager, as I started to get serious about my faith, in which I felt guilty for the fact that I was so restless. It is indeed a fine line, because it’s so easy to confuse drive and a spiritual awareness of the already-not-yet with plain old malcontent. I do feel that my impatience and tendency to always look to the next thing are often excuses for a heart that seeks fulfillment in every place besides it’s true place--as St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in [God].”
However, true rest is not a possibility yet, and though the call of the Christian is to quiet her heart and seek contentment in the Lord, it is a lifelong battle. Recently, I have been thinking carefully about this never-ending restlessness and how it is as natural to me as breathing. Whereas in the past I have constantly told myself to stop seeking, and to find rest, I am wondering if perhaps, as so many of my favorite writers and musicians and artists and thinkers have shown, this restlessness, if approached thoughtfully, is actually a good thing.
It is certainly a good thing when it comes to being a creative. In fact it is impossible to create without it. The hallmark of an artist is not someone who finds placid contentment in the things she sees, but one who has a constant desire to interpret, comment on, or question the world. At a recent talk I attended, I heard poet Sarah Chestnut speak about the “I must” impulse of the artist—the constant voice that challenges one to create, not for renown or gain but simply because there is a fundamental urge to do so. I believe this impulse is God-given, and as creatures made in his image, it must be part of his character as well.
I am now beginning to believe that this quality does not stop with artists, but that it is something all Christians are called to. By the very fact of being sojourners, we are not permitted to find full contentment in this world, and Lewis goes on to say this in the rest of the Mere Christianity passage:
I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.
This sentiment is echoed consistently in the words of Christian thinkers from Bonhoeffer, to the apostle Paul, to my personal favorite, Rich Mullins, who was a poet of constant yearning. My soul has been encouraged time and time again by these and many others who have gone before, and it is time I stopped feeling frustration with my lack of satisfaction, and started embracing it as the Holy Spirit reminds me that this world is not my home.
Of course, the temptation remains to confuse the feeling with dissatisfaction in what God has given me, or a desire to fulfill my yearning with the work I do on earth, rather than in the only true satisfaction: God himself. But if God is who he says he is, and the world we see only a microscopic crack in the wealth of his character and glory, and if it really is true that we have been offered the ability to know him and become like him, how can we cease to be constantly searching, desiring, and creating in our thirst to drink from his bottomless well?
It was this that Bruce and I spoke of on our second date, sitting in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, surrounded by Monet paintings. Though I didn’t know it yet, I think that was the moment my heart became his. As Lewis says, we are all called—not just husbands and wives, but every person in the church—to remind each other of the holy lack of satisfaction that is, ultimately, a wild and important gift.
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Eugene H. Peterson
The Devil in the White City
Peter A. Pitzele