Why am I not Fulfilled? ©
Paul R. Shockley, PhD
21 November 2015
"Man's sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder."
~ Blaise Pascal
One of our greatest human longings is qualitative fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. We long to make our lives count for something great! As kids we dream big and plan diligently. Our parents and friends who love us best hope much! Yet as we grow older some of us are “awakened” to the real fear/possibility that we might become nothing more than a piece of equipment, a part of an impersonal assembly line experiencing monotony, day after day. The best of us will be extracted from us. Our dreams will be grinded out of us in a colorless context and our frustrations will transform into bitterness. Even though a few rewards or “gold carrots” might be thrown our way, our best years are spent and we are too exhausted to pursue this longing. Thus, many of us work painstakingly in order to possess a life of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. We may even forsake other duties, commitments, and responsibilities (e.g., marriage; promises) in order to intimately experience fulfillment.
We look around and so many people seem to be fulfilled. Their dreams appear to be realized. Perhaps their impact is huge, their significance known. Though past defeats, overwhelming obstacles, and personal struggles are detailed in their amazing stories, they are “living the dream.” But why aren’t we? Why does lasting fulfillment seem to continually elude us?
Many of us are not fulfilled. Lasting fulfillment is foreign to our personal experience. Every bit of effort did not bring about the promise of fulfillment we so long to experience. Even when we thought we found lasting meaning, purpose, and fulfillment, perhaps in a particular activity, a certain achievement, possession of a certain property, a seemingly “beautiful” relationship, or in a network of associations, the void or reality of incompleteness re-appears. We try again, again, and again! The “truisms” or “keys” of happiness given to us even by those who love us best are found to be mere empty promises. Our dreams of fulfillment are crushed. Subsequently, some of us have come to the conclusion that lasting fulfillment is forever beyond our reach. Instead, cynicism and unhappiness have found a home within the deep recesses of our soul.
We look in the mirror and all we see are more grey hairs, wrinkles, and weight to compliment our disappointments. Our youth has evaporated. We close our eyes and reflections of missed opportunities flow like images from the silver screen. Regret hits us like waves upon a seawall as we think about certain possibilities on our historical and personal timeline, and for whatever reason, we did not seize them! Perhaps we thought it would be too costly? Fearful? Indecisive? Failure to let go? Too many formidable obstacles? Consequently, feelings of failure resurface.
Others of us took a chance but lost the wager to experience what we thought would bring about lasting fulfillment. We gambled poorly with the deck of cards given to us. When we were presented with certain opportunities, we made the wrong choices. And even with subsequent opportunities, we find ourselves losing “every hand.”
What has happened? Perhaps we are too impatient. Maybe our poor choices are rooted in pride… we must do it our own way; we just can’t heed the wisdom given to us. It could be that we are just too lazy and are looking for the “instant” path, the “quick fix” to completeness, and thus we consistently chose what is most expedient. Maybe, somewhere deep in our psyche we believe we need to punish ourselves because of certain past decisions. Regardless of the reason (s), our emptiness remains while our regret grows.
Of course, many of us have turned to accolades, the “career ladder,” phenomenal experiences, hobbies, travels, and other activities looking for fulfillment but never finding. Even if we have achieved incredible success, valued by many, respected by the “elite,” the accomplished, and the strong, we still feel this nagging void of incompleteness. And I wonder if some of us use the success we have achieved as “tools” to suppress this lack of fulfillment within while others of us cloak the reality of incompleteness with success in an effort to redirect our embarrassment. Keeping the “daily planner” filled with activities, appointments, and endeavors are really great ways to keep us from thinking about the hear-hole within. Like Blaise Pascal once observed, “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
While we are to enjoy the good things God has given us such as the deep relationships we forge, the work that has been given to us, the homes we have, and the toys we earn, lasting fulfillment cannot be found in anything that is finite and vaporous. All around us things fall apart or are snatched away from us by time, people, or certain forces beyond our control.
But, as evidenced in millions of men and women who have intimately known and lived out a love-relationship with God over the ages, lasting fulfillment has been found in intimately knowing and walking, hand-in-hand, with the infinite and personal God of the Bible. In Him alone can we find the satisfaction, the fulfillment, and significance we long to intimately and richly experience in this life.
But even here we have to be careful. I’ve observed that so many of us believers are still unfulfilled? Why? While there are numerous factors and reasons for this lack of fulfillment such as developing an appetite for a particular activity or vice that is not only contrary to God and His ways, but is also corrupting our personhood (e.g., dishonesty; gluttony; immorality), a particular two-fold problem stands out to me, namely, neglecting the two greatest commandments in Scripture: Loving God from out of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbors as yourself.
In particular, I submit to you that what we are looking for is not found in observing serene scenes of nature sipping on earl grey tea, the pursuit of personal perfection, beautiful people, the achievements gained, or the power obtained, but in living out the two Greatest Commandments as given to us in Jesus Christ in Mark 12:28-34. Jesus, affirming the “Shema” in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, states that we are to (1) agape love God from out of our deep-seated affections (heart), our conscious thought life (souls), our ability to reason, deliberate, and judge (minds), and our emotional and physical bodily powers (strength), and (2) loving (agape) those who come to into our presence, our sphere of influence, and our associations (neighbors). Best described by Christian scholar J. Budziszewski in Ask Me Anything, to agape love our neighbors is to commit our will to their true good.
Yet, why are so many of us unfulfilled?
On the paths I have tread, I’ve met some really fantastic people who have diligently sought to obey the First Commandment, namely, loving God with every ounce of their lives. They are amazing people! They are diligent in their private devotion to God. They know what it means to consistently, carefully, and reverently study the Scriptures. Their delight found in God through the Scriptures is both amazing and convicting. One could feel the hard callouses on their knees from years of humble prayer. They understand the major doctrines of the Bible and are able to see how major Bible themes relate to one another in the most coherent and dynamic ways. And their personal acts of private and corporate worship unto God, their practice of spiritual disciplines in daily living, and their humble disposition out of the grace they have received demonstrate incredible trust.
Yet, even with all the knowledge they have acquired from diligent study of God’s Word, exegetically, historically, and systematically and the cultivation of a wide array of the spiritual disciplines, they are still incomplete. Something is still missing. Something still nags them. But it is not something I only hear in their authentic moments of confession; it is something I’ve experienced too. What’s the problem?
While we are great in directing our love unto God in private and corporate devotion or worship (vertically), we have not done so well in directing that agape love to the people who come into our sphere of influence (horizontally). We have ignored the cries of others. We have turned ourselves away from the heavy burdens people are carrying. We have refused to give up what has been given to us (e.g., energy, time, and resources) in actions of love because we are afraid it might cost us too dearly. So focused on our personal worship to God, people only experience the silence of God through us. They don’t see God through our presence. They don’t hear from our voices the Scriptures of truth in love and love in truth. They don’t experience God through the relief we can offer in view of the resources and blessings God has given us. We may even see the need, but leave the “responsibility-opportunity-privilege” to others using some excuse like others can do it better than me or that God did not give me a “people person” type of personality. Thus, lasting fulfillment still evades us.
Others have followed the Second Greatest Commandment with incredible enthusiasm (horizontal). They are the first to surrender their privileges, resources, and time. They anticipate, meet, and exceed their neighbor’s practical needs. Their love is ever so practical and ever so genuine. They give till it costs them with no expectation in return. They take in what the most pious might ignore. Their giving is sacrificial; their consistent surrender is greatly admired; their servant-leadership skills are ideal.
Even though these actions of loving one’s neighbors have yielded tremendous results, still, there is this emptiness that evades them too. Why? They are not doing a good job of pro-actively developing affections for God (vertical). They do not consistently meditate on the Scriptures. Their prayer life is quick at best. Their spiritual disciplines unto God are lacking. To be honest, they serve God, but they serve Him out of orthodoxy and not out of fervent, intimate love. This is an all too common experience for many of us. We serve God, but we do not intimately pursue God in a love-relationship. Unhurried time with God is inconsistent if not marginal.
What can we do?
I have discovered as I have watched those who have found lasting fulfillment that when both commandments are actualized in their lives, both vertically and horizontally, in moment-by-moment spirituality, the qualitative experience of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose emerges and will even become more fulfilling as spiritual maturity grows with obedience especially to the “little” choices made in life. Viewing the two Greatest Commandments as two signs of the same coin, the fulfillment we have been looking for is nutritiously experienced when we agape love God and agape love others in a balanced, holistic way. In fact, this relationship is symbiotic. Out of my love for God, I am fueled to love others. Out of my love for others, I am fueled to love God. In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between two commands whereby the doing of the first command should undergird the second command and the doing of the second, undergirds the first. The desire to make it our ambition to delight and serve God should lead us to love others genuinely, practically, and in a self-surrendering way (1 John 3:16-17). People in my sphere of life are too increase even it if means I decrease-all in the moment-by-moment details of daily living. For the actualization to take place in view of both commands, I am to yield myself to God in the choices I make pursuing what will give God the most glory in my daily experiences. He gives me the strength to do so; self-discipline is insufficient (Galatians 2:20).
Our love for God is to be matched certain characteristics that touch others in the most significant, life-changing ways (horizontal): love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. People see Jesus Christ in and through our frail and vaporous lives. As we behold God, we love others. As we love others, people behold God in and through our lives. Obedience to this two-fold command will not only generate a type of fulfillment, meaning, and significance that other ways cannot, but will also lead to a certain maturity that will generate a legacy worth leaving behind.
Consider these words from the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:13-26:
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Where should we start?
Our two-fold obedience to the Greatest Commandment, namely, loving God and loving others, is necessary in order to experience lasting fulfillment, meaning, and purpose; both commands are dynamically related and progressively build upon one another, changing you in the most healthy ways. Those virtuous changes will impact the lives that come into your sphere (s) of contact. But this obedience must first flow out of an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You need to make a decision about Jesus Christ.
When you place your trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose bodily from the dead, you enter into an eternal and intimate union with Jesus Christ. In his classic work, Grace, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, one of the co-founders of Dallas Theological Seminary, puts it this way (pg. 225):
To the Christian, Christ has become, in the divine reckoning, the sphere of his being, and this reckoning contemplates all that the Christian is and all that he does….
A sphere is that which surrounds an object on every side and may even penetrate that object. To be within a sphere is to partake of all that it is and all that it imparts. Thus the bird is in the air and the air is in the bird; the fish is in the water and the water is in the fish; the iron is in the fire and the fire is in the iron. Likewise, in the spiritual realm, Christ is the sphere of the believer’s position. He encompasses, surrounds, encloses, and indwells the believer. The believer is in Christ, and Christ is in the believer. Through the baptism with the Spirit, the Christian has become an organic part of Christ as the branch is a part of the vine, or the member is a part of the body. Being thus conjoined to Christ, the Father sees the saved one only in Christ, or as a living part of His own Son, and loves him as He loves His Son (Eph. 1:6; John 17:23).
Therefore, let us sum up everything by saying that flowing from our union with Jesus Christ, obedience to the two greatest commands is not only possible, but is also necessary if we want to make our lives count for something great. Let us ask God in prayer right now to so work in us that we will not only obey these two related commandments as we walk through the daily grind of life with all of its ups and downs, perils and pleasures, but that we will also practice them in His strength with a larger purpose in mind, namely, to glorify God in all of life (Phil. 2:12-13). If we will do these two things, all as expressions of worship to our glorious God out of gratitude for the grace we have received, a life of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose will be our personal experience, our becoming, and an ultimate reward.
Dr. Paul R. Shockley
21 November 2015