Cultivating Dissatisfaction

When we were younger most of us heard an admonishment that we should “learn to be satisfied.” Now there is a wisdom in this. Life does not perfectly deliver and simply coming to accept this as a fact brings forth a certain serenity. Coming to terms with reality is often useful.

But there is a time to throw all this to the winds. We cannot simply settle down and accept the imperfection of everything. There is a time to fight against injustice and mediocrity. There is a time to rebuke and to summon to perfection. Dissatisfaction has an important place in our soul.

Ultimately it is dissatisfaction that helps us set our sights on God and heaven. The fact is that we have a dissatisfaction, a thirst that is so deep that this whole world can’t even come close to quenching it. Our thirst is infinite but the world is finite.

Jesus met a woman from Samaria at a well. She came because she was thirsty. But the Lord taught her, and us, “Everyone who drinks from this well will be thirsty again” (John 4:13). The well of course is this world which can never satisfy us for long. How could a finite world quench and infinite longing? Of course we are dissatisfied. A puny little universe can never hope to fill a God-sized hole in our hearts. And so Jesus goes on to teach her and us, “But whoever drinks the water I shall give give will never thirst for the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

Now of course this text requires a little sophistication on our part. It’s not as though we can simply say, “Since I accepted Jesus in my heart my life is just peachy and I want for nothing.” No indeed, we know well that we still hunger and thirst for many things after meeting Jesus. But notice that Jesus speaks of the truly satisfying water that he will give as “welling up” to eternal life. So like all grace, it starts small and grows in us gradually if we let it. It starts perhaps in subtle ways, and grows at times imperceptibly. But more and more the Lord satisfies us and this world begins to lose its grip on us. Greater serenity and and a kind of stable satisfaction begin to find their place in our hearts. It grows, it “wells up.” I can say, my soul is a witness for the Lord in this truth. I have seen his power to increasingly quench my thirst.

And notice that the Lord says it wells up to “eternal life.” Now the reality of eternal life is often misunderstood. Eternal life does not mean (merely) to live for ever and ever in heaven. “Eternal” does not just refer to the length of life but, even more importantly, it refers to the fullness of life. To experience eternal life is to become fully alive forever. I hope you can also see then that eternal life doesn’t wait until we die. It will be fulfilled in heaven but it can and should begin now. And here too I can say, my soul is a witness for the Lord. At 48, my body isn’t as sound and sleek as it was when I was 28 but I must emphatically declare that I am so much more alive now than I ever was at 28. I am more joyful, more serence, more confident. I love God more, I love my neighbor more, I have seen sins puts to death and many graces and gifts come alive. As I go along I am more spiritually alive than ever before. The water of the Lord’s grace is welling up to eternal (full) life in me. If this is what the Lord has done for me from 28 to 48 I can’t wait to see what I’ll be at 68 and 88!

So, don’t just “learn to be satisfied.” Cultivate a holy dissatisfaction and let the Lord teach you that the world can’t cut it. Everyone who drinks the water of the world will be thirsty again. Notice your thirst, laugh at the world’s pathetic offers and come to the living water, Jesus. Don’t be satisfied with anything less that total fulfillment. And the Lord will get us there in time. But it doesn’t wait for heaven, it starts now.

Listen to your thirst, listen to your dissatisfaction. Do not suppress them. Cultivate them and let them speak: “I hunger, I thirst, I long.” But let the Lord translate for you the fuller meaning of these basic urges. Here is what they really say: My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” It is your face, LORD, that I seek! (Psalm 27:8). So that’s what these basic desires are actually saying, “Give me the Lord!” Maybe those desires aren’t so bad after all. Maybe they are good but somehow misdirected. Maybe it’s not really about sex, or popularity, or a new car or some creature comfort. Maybe it’s about God.

11 Replies to “Cultivating Dissatisfaction”

  1. I think satisfaction and peace are very close… When we are on the right path, doing what we are suppose to (even if difficult and lots of bumps) then we feel peace about what we do, and we get satisfaction from the work–even if not from the results. Like Mother Teresa says–“God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful.” How many know that her quote continues… “However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace.” We may be satisfied…but is God satisfied with us? He may urge us on to do more for him… That’s the hard part–being obedient when we think we feel satisfied and peaceful about what we are doing. If we are ever ready to give it up and move on, then we maintain our peace. Ok that was beautiful to say, BUT I’M NOT THERE! The challenge is to keep our Lord’s face ever in front of us, seeking only to be with him someday…That’s real peace!

  2. Just a quick comment to thank you for writing this blog — I always find your posts to be edifying and inspiring. A friend recommended this blog to me a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been checking back almost daily and each time I am lifted up and energized to try to love the Lord more. Even though I’m many miles away from Washington, you are being a good pastor to me — thanks and God bless! You are in my prayers.

  3. G. K. Chesterton says that we should hate the world enough to want to change it and love the world enough to think it is worth the effort. I suppose it is the same with ourselves and our lives.

  4. What Kristin said! Msgr, this post is a keeper. It was suggested to me by my spiritual director to collect saints’ quotes and reflections that speak to my soul together in a reflection book. Between blogs and everything else available on the internet, I am well into my second scrapbook, and certainly this post is worthy! CULTIVATING DISSATISFACTION is a good, practical way to make sense of things as well as a reminder that it IS possible to start our heaven NOW. Grazie mille!

  5. Msgr,
    I believe we have seen the (as I am former military I use these terms) tactic of Seperation and conquer by our enemies within and outside of the Church and we have let our youth become more influenced by secular societal beliefs because we did not want to offend somebody.

    Secularism uses your beliefs to shut you down. ie: What would Jesus Do. So when we tell our youth Jesus is against Same sex unions, abortion etc the secularists ask them WWJD – is not he compassionate and want you to be happy. The answer is yes, however the means to his happiness is through dedication and love. We shall become irrelevant if we do not start by taking a more vocal stand against those that prossecute us.

    A newely ordained priest asked during his Homliy if we could stand up for our faith if we needed to and the response was a resounding YES, he then asked if we would die for our faith, after all Jesus died for us on the Cross, and the church was silent, sept for a few mumblers I being one of those. However it was at that moment some years ago that I dedicated myself to my new awakening, through deeper prayer, self inflection and meditaion. Today if asked the same question I would stand and shout with all of my voice Alleluia Alleuia yes I would die for my faith,because of prayer and excepting that I alone am untrustworthy, though through the Lord Jesus I become whole, and twice daily I ask Jesus to deliver me to whatever death pleases him, he is my King and I shall except all of the pain and sorrow for reperations of my sins, those in pergatory and those converted sinners.

    After one of my posts Eve gave a link to the Spiritual Combat written in the 1500’s and a favorite of Saint Frances de Sales, I now this explained much to me on my spiritual life and I thank her for sharing.
    Yes I am in a Spiritual combat and it is Joyous. I will link here.

    Thank you Eve,
    God Bless all and be still your heart for he is coming.

  6. Msgr.,
    I also want to thank you very much for writing this blog. I’m amazed at how prolific you are. Your blog posts have inspired me ever since I started reading New Advent a year and a half ago. Thank you for being a passionate evangelist.

  7. Thank you, Msgr. Pope.
    I never fail to be inspired, and educated by your writings. They are always of immense help and I regularly share them with my Catholic friends. Indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven starts now, if only we have the eyes to see. Praise God and may He always bless you and yours.

  8. I have been stripped of everything that the world values (except for decent surroundings). But there is a profound peace and joy welling up in me more and more – not merely a feeling of peace and joy but a substance and reality of peace and joy which is a participation in the infinite. I am already seeing something of the beatific vision that is growing more and more (though it is through a veil and when the bonds of death separate the body from the soul that veil will be gone completely).

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