“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:14 ESV)
I am not satisfied. I think I have been satisfied perhaps four or five times in my life. It is a yearning for life, a hunger for what is beyond my immediate experience. I am told that, as a toddler, I would ask immediately after breakfast, “What is for lunch?” More than an indictment of my mother’s oatmeal, it was a reflection of a deep yearning that could not be satisfied. When I met Jesus in college, I had a wonderful year of being satisfied with God that washed over my hungry soul. But, slowly this honeymoon receded and my hunger returned, tempered towards earthly satisfactions, but heightened for the things of God. I still hungered for better friendships, gourmet meals, a bright future for myself, but now I also hungered for the tangible coming of Jesus’ Kingdom—seeing the sick healed, the Good News preached to the poor, the hungry filled, and justice roll down like a mighty river.
I justified my soul condition when I read examples in the Scriptures that the prophets, the apostles, and even Jesus were not satisfied. They saw God’s future for his people and God’s earth which gave rise to their burning, creative, lack of satisfaction. Over the subsequent years of marriage, ministry, parenting, and aging, people could always count on me for zeal, passion, new ideas, and vision for the future. But, I could also be counted on for being hard to satisfy, for having a hard time relaxing, for being weak in gratitude, and for always yearning for more.
Two years ago, my gut was injured by three successive infections I picked up eating free-range in the Ethiopian countryside. The worst symptom is a chronic stabbing pain in the center of my body that my mind usually interprets as, “Something is wrong! You are not ok. You are sick.” It is between hunger and an electrical shock. The specialists tell me they cannot cure it, that there is no pain medicine for it, and they hope it will go away with healthy eating and rest. They say it could be three months, three years, or it might never go away. During some weeks I have been bed ridden with flu-like symptoms. But most weeks, it has been an annoying guest that takes my focus, keeps me from enjoying anything, and is with me from the moment I wake up until the moment I sleep.
A few months back, a friend asked me, “If the pain was saying something, if it was a message to you, what would it be saying?” I knew the answer immediately. The pain is shouting from the center of my being, “I am not satisfied!” It is as if the volume level on the dark side of my lifelong yearning has been turned up to 11 with no respite. It’s exhausting and it steals all the pleasure from life. I saw that even without this semi-disabling condition, I have far more yearning than gratitude or satisfaction. I have deep yearnings for the character transformation of my soul, for higher quality friendships, for the thriving of my children and grandchildren, for the healing and transformation of the church in America, for the mission of our partners in Ethiopia, and on and on.
Copyright: Konstantin Chagin / 123RF
This reflection has made me turn to the Lord, not only for healing from the illness and pain, but for the healing of my soul. One of the great promises of Scripture is that the Spirit will satisfy us. Jesus uses the language of living water that quenches lifelong thirst and bread from heaven that will satisfy us like no earthly bread is able to do. Now that I cannot escape a constant feeling of dissatisfaction, I am happily driven towards Jesus’ promises and the presence of his Spirit who satisfies.
I have resorted to taking communion on a daily basis. I consciously avoid all negative media. I have scoured the spiritual formation literature for disciplines of gratitude, peace, and joy. I have recommitted to Christian meditation practices. At first it felt like trying to put out a four alarm fire with a garden hose. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, my level of satisfaction in God and the wonderful life he has provided has risen. It may be a chicken/egg situation, but my health has improved since I have given myself to practicing satisfaction. I feel like I am in Jesus’ remedial soul training, but I am practicing being satisfied just as I am, with him.
Reflection questions :
- Do you tilt more towards gratitude and joy or to zeal and dissatisfaction (complacency is on a whole different scale)?
- If your pain (body, emotion, or soul) was speaking to you, what might it be saying?
Mark Phifer-Houseman has been married to his best friend and hero, Gayll, for thirty-two years. He has been enthralled by Jesus since sophomore year in college. That pursuit led to twenty-four years of ministry to college students and eight years as The River’s staff director. He currently serves as a leadership trainer and coach, primarily among under-resourced leaders in the Global South.
Notable accomplishments include: clinging to Jesus while disabled for fourteen years with chronic neuropathy and following Gayll’s leadership in adopting their four children from Ethiopia in 2003. He loves to see young people come alive to God and boldly follow their calling, communities living out the radical love of God, and families and churches thriving (including his own). He's a podcast addict: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, and Radiolab are a few faves. He's certain that food in the age to come will be mainly Ethiopian, Indian, Korean, Chinese, and Mexican (not necessarily in that order). He has been led astray by dark chocolate.