Jason has a job, a house, and a dog named Dora who adores him. There's food in his refrigerator, socks in his drawers, and water in his pipes. There are people who would kill to have a life as good as his, but he can't shake the feeling he's not living it to the fullest. Despite his good fortune, Jason feels discontent plus guilty for being so.
There is angst in feeling like we're not experiencing life to its fullest. Pictures of globetrotting friends make our lives look underlived by comparison. Seeing the grand adventures of other people, our everydayness feels at times pitiful and often insufficient.
The average middle-class American has a higher standard of living than the King of France a few short centuries ago. But for all the progress we've made in material well-being, we have remarkably little help to offer when it comes to the longings of the soul.
To make matters worse, there appears to be a cultural rejection of discontentment. In today's world, dissatisfaction is synonymous with failure. The psychologist hands you a gratitude journal, the mystic guides you through meditations, and the Church gives you Psalms of thanksgiving. In this world, we are allowed to have problems only so long as we're trying to solve them.
What if our denial of discontent is actually making us more miserable? Dissatisfaction has a dignified place in the spectrum of human emotions, and when we fight it, in a sense we're fighting a central part of our humanity. In attempts to squeeze more out of the lemons we've been given than the lemons can comfortably deliver, we give our souls arthritis--where its default condition is aching for more.
"We are not fulfilled persons who occasionally get lonely, restful people who sometimes experience restlessness, or persons who live in habitual intimacy and have episodic battles with alienation and inconsummation. The reverse is truer. We are lonely people who occasionally experience fulfillment, restless souls who sometimes feel restful, and aching hearts that have brief moments of consummation." - The Fire Within
Indeed, this side of eternity is not enough because it cannot be enough. The well of infinite desire in the depths of our souls can never be quenched by anything short of infinity. From this perspective, we could rewrite the serenity prayer as, "God, grant me the serenity to release the life I'll never have, courage to live the life I do, and wisdom to know the difference."
Paraphrasing Ronald Rolheiser, we all, in some capacity, die virgins. Whether married or celibate, there will inevitably be aspects of our lives that remain unconsummated, incomplete, and unfulfilled. Dreams unachieved, ideals unreached, and tensions unresolved.
To accept the limitations of life on this side of eternity, then, isn't morbid but life-giving. It is precisely when we accept that our life will always be limited and our symphonies never finished that we are free to enjoy whatever we do have as the gift that it is.
For more on this topic, I highly recommend Forgotten Among the Lilies by Ronald Rolheiser. Here's a favorite excerpt: "This book is for those who struggle to make this life, such as it is, enough. It is for those who ache to be outside themselves, with their headaches and heartaches forgotten among the lilies. It is dedicated to those who struggle with restlessness, guilt and obsessions, who struggle to taste their own coffee and who struggle to feel the consolation of God."
Cover Photo by furkanfdemir