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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Finding Fulfillment

Ryan's post on Happiness and Molly's post on Friendship got me thinking: where do we find fulfillment. Several nights ago I read these words of C.S. Lewis, and they struck a chord that resonated deeply:
Nothing brought Lewis more enjoyment than sitting around a fire with a group of close friends engaged in good discussion, or taking long walks with them in the English countryside.

"My happiest hours," Lewis wrote, "are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs - or else sitting up till the small hours in someone's college rooms, talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There's no sound I like better than ... laughter" ...

"Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life, If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, 'sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near friends.'
-Nicholi, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, p115.
This is the kind of life I want to live. But where does one find the time? And how does one make "old friends"? The older I get, the more I feel the weight of life's "busyness" - the more I desire to reorient my routine, to figure out how to actually create the kind of breathing room that relationships require.

When it comes to questions like "What do I want to do in the future?" or "Where do I want to go?", I find that my answers are changing of late. The center of gravity in my decision making process is increasingly shifting towards the persons (and I use that word intentionally, because it includes God) I want to spend my life with, rather than the places I want to go or the things I want to accomplish.

I'm not saying that my motivations are perfect or even noble - just that they are changing. Perhaps the urgency of age is getting to me. I realize that if I want what Lewis is talking about, I'm going to have to get intentional about pursuing it. Is this the early stages of senility? Or perhaps a glimmer of wisdom?

I find myself increasingly disillusioned with materialism. What I really desire is a reality that can only be found in relationship. And I want that in both life and ministry.

This is affecting how we think about planting a church. We find ourselves looking for team members, not on the basis of their theological orthodoxy or even their skills and gifting (although these things are important) – rather, we find ourselves seeking people with whom we share a deep relational commitment (Lewis would probably say 'a mutual sense of Agape').

We are looking for friends who desire community to join us in a great adventure. Scary? You bet. But this is where the action is, and I have a sneaky suspicion this is where Joy is to be found. This is what the church is meant to be - a community on the edge, living beyond itself, depending on another, and especially on Christ.

At the end of the day, relationships not only bring the most satisfaction in life, they also carry you through the hard times. Of course, relationships with others are never ultimate (in fact, others will always fail you). Nevertheless, relationships can still be very good - the best ones point us to the Ultimate Relater, the only one in whom we can ever find complete satisfaction, the only one who will never leave us nor forsake us.

What surprises me is how many people readily acknowledge their thirst for meaningful relationships, and yet how few are willing to challenge the status quo by reorienting their lives in a different direction.

Many seem to recognize the dangers of being driven by the desire for fame, fortune, career, success. Yet very few seem willing to turn their back on it altogether in order to pursue something more meaningful. Yes we want relationships, but we are reluctant to give up our comforts, our consumerism (the very things that isolate us from others).

At the end of the day maybe we are like Frodo and his Ring - we long to be rid of it, but we are loathe to actually give it up. It is our 'precious'...

Nicholi illustrates the situation well:
I often ask my classes whether or not, from their observations and experience, people around them are happy. Invariably, they answer no.

Invariably, I express surprise. I point out that, compared with most people in the world, they possess everything - youth, health, intelligence, abundant food, clothes, a comfortable place to live, education, a promising future, etc. What in the world cause them to be unhappy?

The typical answer is lack of meaningful relationships.

The students point out that everyone around them appears to be consumed with their success. When I ask what they think their collegues consider success ... the answer is "fame and fortune."
-Nicholi, p98.
If the answer is so obvious, why is meaningful change so seldom realized? Why do so many people go through life feeling unfulfilled? What would it take to shake things up?

I'd love to hear what you think...


At 4:10 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Christian - I don't know if you realize it... but this is a HUGE topic you have opened up. And I'm so glad you did!

Fulfillment, eh? Right! I crave fulfillment... I have PURPOSE and I even have GOALS. And, I think I have a specific CALLING. But many times the completion of the purpose and goals and calling don't really bring FULFILLMENT. Experts tell us that this is the very reason WHY we have so many "aholics" be it sex, booze, drugs, food, etc. Because we DO find a sense of fulfillment (short term, mind you) in whatever our drug of choice happens to be.

I think that's because our drugs of choice are TANGIBLE, or "real" where as our relationship with God and even sometimes other people is not viewed as "real" or "tangible."

People are draining. People are needy. People are selfish. God knew that and that's why we are all stuck here together - to discover HOW to REALLY LOVE each other in spite of our selfishness and needyness and drainingness. (See 1 Peter Chapter 1 for more.)

Fulfillment, for me at least, must be a CHOICE. I have to look around at my life - and make a CHOICE to be GRATEFUL for all that God has blessed me with and the calling He has appointed to me - and then, on the heels of that gratitude, CHOOSE to be fulfilled.

I need a cookie.

At 4:33 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Dandy Kat. Good comments, and I think I agree w/ the direction you are headed, but I'd like to play devil's advocate a bit (don't you hate it when people do that?) and see if you can flesh this out a little bit more.

Specifically, how exactly does one choose to be fulfilled?

What I mean by this is that if someone tells they feel sad, depressed, unfulfilled, etc, and you simply say "just CHOOSE to be happy, upbeat, filfilled, etc" some might think you're begging the question.

So can you flesh this out a bit? What does it look like practically speaking? Are we simply talking about the power of positive thinking here? Or is there something more than that? (and if so, WHAT?)

(Here's a hint as to how I might answer this - Molly's comments on sex)

At 5:38 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Recently a friend said "I have been reading the Psalms for awhile now, and its becoming clearer... Life has sucked for a long time!". I think this issue, especially the way that Lewis writes about it is central to what Amy and I are experiencing as brand new parents with less than ample sleep and difficult circumstances financially, with work, in marriage...
What is any of this for? Friendships rise to the surface. Our closest friends here in Philly have been a couple with as much mess as ours, and we can laugh and cry about it together.
Thanks for writing down a little truth for me to take to sleep tonight.


At 6:00 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Interesting that you put it that way, Matthew - over the years, one of the themes that keeps emerging as we struggle to make sense of the universe is "Life is really hard".

I know this may not be the case for everyone, but I increasingly suspect its the norm for most. That's why stories like Krissy's resonate with me - because it reminds me of my own story to some degree.

Given all this hardness and pain, the one place we continue to find meaning and joy (for us at least) has been in deep relationships with others - both friends, and Christ.

You are exactly right: friendships rise to the surface, they matter most.

One of the things that is hard to convey to our non-Christian friends, is that there is something qualitatively different about the friendships we share with fellow followers of Christ.

At any rate, thanks for sharing. You guys are in our prayers.

At 9:47 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger rs said...

I wonder if one of our problems here is cultural? Have we believed the lie about how our culture defines fulfillment? I think our culture defines fulfillment as basically synonymous with success. If that is true, how often do we make the same mistake as Christians when we think about being fulfilled in our calling?

A way we can test this is by evaluating how fulfilled we fill when we think we have failed. I don't know about you but when I fail to speak truth in someone's life when God has given me an opportunity to do so, I don't feel very fulfilled.

On the other hand, the Scriptures have an awful lot to say about fulfillment. Maybe not always explicitly, but the themes are there. Israel was to find their fulfillment in God, but they were always looking elsewhere.

With sin on the scene in this world, I question whether we will ever have true fulfillment. After all, we are pilgrims. On the other hand, we do experience it. I think fulfillment and happiness are quite related. When we are happy, we also feel fulfilled. When we are unhappy, we do not feel it so much.

I tend to feel very fulfilled when I've put forth my best efforts. But in the end they are never enough. Especially when it comes to my "righteous" acts. At the end of the day, we need to find our fulfillment in the fact that we don't have to measure up. Someone did that for us. The Christian life is a constant re-orienting and re-minding ourselves and each other of the Gospel and in those moments of belief--we are fulfilled.

At 9:51 PM, October 26, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Beautiful...and challenging, Christian. I've been looking forward to this post all day since we talked about it in the cafe today. Whatever God may do with us in the future, your friendship has already been a treasure to us.

It's just...why do you have to go and resonate with our hearts on SO many levels? This post is just one more brick in that wall!

At 4:48 AM, October 27, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

You know, I'd be interested in hearing where all you folks who read this find your fulfillment.

For me, work (software engineering) can be fulfilling. I think that's what charlesdog is getting at over here. There is definitely satisfaction in a job well done - I think that's because God designed us to work (even before the Fall, Adam was meant to tend the garden).

The problem is, work can easily become the thing which we define our own worth. The fact that I can do good work (often better than others) - that can become a source of pride, of self-validation.

I don't think work viewed in this light can ever be fulfilling, because ultimately, we will always fall short (eg. you always could have done your work better). Or your company gets sold. Or goes under. In the case of software development, what you pour your life into is often outdated and irrelevant in a matter of months (years if you're lucky). Not very "fulfilling" if the longevity of your work is part of the equation for fulfillment (the guys who built the pyramids have us all beat here).

So work can be fulfilling, but most of the time that fulfillment is pretty fleeting, at least in my experience. (To J in Boise - I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about this).

So if work is generally unfulfilling, where else do we find our fulfillment? I know that I am increasingly finding myself valuing the time spent with friends - over dinner, over cigars, chatting at the coffeeshop about the little things. The other day, I met 2 young women at Barnes & Noble - one raised Christian, one raised Jewish, neither real involved at this point in organized religion. But they had stories, and they had lots of questions, comments, thoughts, etc - and I had a very fulfilling time talking with them, thinking out lout about the reality of my faith.

At the end of the day, that's work too, I suppose. What did Jesus say? My work is to do the Father's will - and for us as the church, that means mission. Not mission in the door to door sense, but rather mission in the "live your daily life sense" - all the things I mentioned above (dinner, conversation, talking about our spiritual convictions and questions) - all of those things may qualify as "mission" when they are done with the right motivation - as a "work" to the glory of God, flowing from gratitude in who he is and what he's done.

So I guess what I'm saying is that maybe we really ARE meant to find fulfillment in our "work" - I'd just define that "ultimately fulfilling work" as "living an ordinary Christian life in community and fellowship with one another" (of course it might be extraordinary to actually find Christians living that way).

This is what we look forward to exploring in the context of a church plant.

At 5:52 AM, October 27, 2005, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Now, see Christian - you used the words "find fulfillment." That is why I believe it all comes down to a choice... I am NOT saying, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" as if we can "mantra" ourselves into a state of giddy joyfulness... But a lot of Christians (and humans) think that fulfillment is the NATURAL end result of our jobs or tasks or whatever... and it's not. Just as you must "find" your fulfillment in your work, all of us need to "find" or "seek out" or "choose" to be fulfilled in what we do. It does not happen naturally.

And, as I said, this finding of fulfillment can only come about to the degree we elect to be grateful for all God has done, and continues to do, for us. Trust me - I am NOT there... not to the level I want to be at least.

And I agree that life is very difficult - and full of twists and turns we'd never expect... AND - our God is totally in control of it all and has only our best in mind...

this is a great thread - hope more reply!

At 10:46 PM, October 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christian- Since you asked me to comment on this as a "working woman" here are my thoughts:

If you can be content, do you really need anything else? For example, I work 40+ hours per week at a job I love. I'm good at it and I love the fact that I learn something new everyday. In fact, it humbles me to realize how MUCH I have to learn. I also love my time away from work. Time spent with my husband and time spent doing the things I would be doing if I wasn't at work all week.

However, this doesn't mean that I couldn't be content doing something else. I think about having a family all the time. Not necessarily in a "longing to have one in order to be fulfilled" way. More like wondering what it would be like. My husband doesn't want one, so I've learned to push it to the back of mind. Not easy when everyone around you seems to be starting one! But I think that we can train ourselves to be OK with things the way they are. I have to. If I'm not on the same page as my husband is then life would be quite miserable.

I'm reading a book right now where the author jokingly calls people like us DINKS. Double Income No KidS. I had to laugh at that. I guess I don't really care what the neighbors think if we don't have kids and drive new cars!

I really like what dandykatalog said, "Fulfillment, for me at least, must be a CHOICE. I have to look around at my life - and make a CHOICE to be GRATEFUL for all that God has blessed me with and the calling He has appointed to me - and then, on the heels of that gratitude, CHOOSE to be fulfilled."

We all make choices and we try to follow where God is leading us. I am contempt with life and fulfilled with the Lord.

~your "working woman" sister in Christ


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