The Dawn Of A New Day

Is it ever possible to be satisfied, to be fully self-accepting, to be content? Don’t we carry around some notion of perfection rumbling in our heads—to which we never quite measure up? Always another thing to do before we can rest, another rung to climb before we are accepted. Why are we such restless people? Isn’t there some deep longing to find a resting place? Or is it just me?

Nietzsche reminds us, that after we discover that God is dead, we lose a resting place. That’s his image. We discover we “will never pray again, never adore again, never again rest in endless trust.” In fact, “there is no avenger for you, no eventual improver; there is no reason any more in what happens, no love in what will happen to you; no resting place is any longer open to your heart. . . .”

Perhaps the Rolling Stones caught this same mood:

When I’m ridin’ round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signin’ that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl, who tells me
Baby, better come back maybe next week
Can’t you see I’m on a losing streak . . .
I can’t get no satisfaction, no satisfaction
No satisfaction, no satisfaction

This is the haunting chant of our time. We try, yes, we try, telling ourselves how cool we are, how busy, successful, more beautiful, more worthy—“ridin’ round the world . . . doin’ this and . . . signin’ that”—but then, there it comes again, we know, just know, that we are on that perpetual “losing streak.” That’s our incessant self-talk. We’re far from satisfied. We’re not content.

There’s got to be another way. I recently finished Ann Voskamp’s stunning new book The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into The Abundant Life. She aims us in a new direction.

Who doesn’t need key people who free us from the old courtrooms where judgment and the scales of perfection have felt like millstones around our breaking necks?

I’ve lived in those courtrooms. I’ve faced those “scales of perfection” that never seem to tip my direction, despite all the good things I enjoy. I know what it feels like to try harder, do more, break my neck to find acceptance and satisfaction.

Is it possible to break free from all this? Voskamp continues:

How long had I felt perfectionism like a soundless strangle? Perfectionism is slow death by self. Perfectionism will kill your sense of safety, your self, your soul. Perfectionism isn’t a fruit of the Spirit—joy is. Patience is. Peace is.

Joy? Patience? Peace? I vividly remember some years ago our then-pastor—the wonderful Blake Wood—preaching about anxiety. He used that familiar passage in Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul just flips Nietzsche and Jagger on their heads. Can’t find satisfaction, any resting place? Well, Paul argues, remember “the Lord is near.” That changes everything. Up against any kind of self-loathing, self-condemnation, all the mistakes, hurt we have given to others, hurt we have received from others—up against all of that, we can just stop worrying about everything. You can be released into joy. Yes, just rejoice. Be thankful in your prayer. Your “gentleness,” rather than restlessness, will then become known to others. Amazing.

Paul concludes with one of his amazing discourses on spiritual formation. Try every day, all through the day, to think in a radically different way. With much practice, we can actually reshape our minds and hearts. Here’s the way he puts it:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Think on these things? Is that the cure for all this never-being-satisfied? Just meditate on what is true and just and pure and pleasing? If we can do this, Paul contends, we will become gentle before trying circumstances, peaceful in this tumultuous world, content before our own constant tearing ourselves apart inside.

Is this really possible? Well, I’m banking on it. I need to learn better how to practice all of this—but the promise is out there like a rose-tinted sunrise. It is the promise of a new day. I can do this, I begin to say to myself. I can do this.