I’ve sometimes felt a nagging sense that I should be doing something more in life--not necessarily something different, but something more. That I’m not reaching my full potential. Am I simply an overachiever? Incorrigible malcontent? Why, no matter how much I try to live in the present and maintain a thankful attitude, can I not seem to shake this “other” something?
I used to feel that this restlessness, this insatiable hunger for something greater, was a flaw in my personality or a mark of how far I still had to go in my spiritual evolution. But something I read recently gave me new insight into this.
In April I attended the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, MI, where I had the pleasure of listening to some of my favorite writers discuss how their faith informs their art. Luci Shaw, who was a dear friend of Madelyn L’Engle’s, turned out to be one of the highlights of the conference for me. I picked up her book, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit. In it she addresses the shadow side of faith and art. She quotes psychologist and theologian Gerald May:
“We have this idea that everyone should be totally independent, totally whole, totally together spiritually, and totally fulfilled. That is a myth. In reality, our lack of fulfillment is the most precious gift we have. It is the source of our passion, our creativity, our search for God. All the best of life comes out of our human yearning—our not being satisfied. Certainly Scripture and religious tradition point out that we are not to be satisfied. We are meant to go on looking and seeking.”
Never before had I thought of that nettlesome sense of internal dissatisfaction as a precious gift, that the best things in life might in fact come from it. Our pervasive hunger and search for something more is perhaps the strongest evidence that there is something more, that our life’s purpose is perhaps to find, connect, and unite with it. Luci Shaw’s poem “What We Say We Want” beautifully speaks to this longing for what she describes as a “supreme and burning intimacy”:
What do we say when
that hunger harrows our bodies?
I desire you. But it’s not
that, or not only that.
Desire is the word we use as an excuse
for all the pain, a white flag
dropped into the battle that rages
between urgency and fulfillment.
A time of exhaustion comes
when nothing is left to want;
or when what we still want
is too large to name.
I’m not suggesting we should wallow in our restlessness or dissatisfaction. These uncomfortable emotional states can be the very impetus we need to seek a positive change in ourselves, in our world. But nor do I think we should grow impatient or weary when “hunger harrows our bodies.”