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What really satisfies

| Monday, February 8, 2021

When it comes to breaks, and especially long breaks like the one we just had, there’s always a strange progression in my attitude toward them. And I suspect I’m not the only one. The whole cycle has about four phases.

The first phase starts about a month into school, when the monotony of homework and classes really starts to kick in. At about that point all the way through finals week, you can’t wait for break to begin so you can go back home and relax. If only you didn’t have all this work, you think to yourself, things would be pretty nice.

Then break finally begins, which marks the second phase. Finally — freedom at last. The excitement reaches its climax here. With so much time, the possibilities are endless. While this attitude consumes the beginning of break, it soon begins to fade away. Boredom slowly creeps in. Sure, it’s fun to have a lot more time to yourself, but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Things didn’t turn out the way you hoped. You missed something along the way. At this point, something strange begins to happen. You increasingly understand that you actually want to go back to school again, not just because your friends are there but because classes sound much more exciting than what you’re doing right now. That’ll make you happy, you say. That’s phase three. The whole cycle ends with the return to school and another phase of excitement and possibility until it soon devolves into phase one, and we begin all over again — and ignore what we might have learned along the way.

Now, I say all this not because I believe this is a unique phenomenon but because it’s not; it is an example of something universal in human experience. It is the failure of our circumstances to continually excite and fulfill us. While they may seem to do so for a time, they inevitably fail us in the end. But why is that? Why don’t they satisfy us? Simply because they were never meant to. That is why they must fail. A pear may be a very delicious fruit, but if I make it the foundation of my diet, things won’t go so well for me. These things are at best signposts, not the road itself. This reality, that we “find in [ourselves] a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” to borrow from C.S. Lewis, can only mean one thing: “that [we were] made for another world.” But not just that: “our hearts are restless until they rest in [God]” (to use a famous quote from Augustine). This is no small realization, and certainly no small demand.

But we should also keep this in mind: We fling all our hopes and longings from one excitement to another not only because we seek fulfillment but also because we want our cheap ideas of happiness to be the real desire of our hearts and the thing that can fulfill us. As weird as it sounds, it’s true: We would rather live by our own rules, even if they were subjective and arbitrary, than acknowledge and accept the objective purpose of our lives given by God, which remains true no matter our opinion. We want to have fulfillment, joy and meaning on our own terms. But we find God getting in the way. He won’t allow it. He can’t. Jesus called Himself “the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), not one possible and equally-fulfilling style of life you can pick if you feel like it. Life’s not a game. You can waste it precisely because our lives do have an objective purpose, one that’s real, that puts demands on your life, that must be followed or we miss out on what life really was all about. And Jesus claimed to be just that source of real life. Jesus is effectively telling us that the buck stops here. It’s either Him, or nothing. Him, or a wasted life. That’s hard to hear. “Will it really mean no difference,” Lewis asks, “whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whiskey or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a dying man in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?” Jesus’ words, too, resound in our ears: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

God cannot allow you to enjoy rebellion as much as true life itself. Only a monster would allow such a thing. Because God is good, He works in our pain, in our emptiness that we feel when we try again and again to find our hope in anything other than Him. He beckons to us to “come to [him],” we “who are weary and heavy-laden.” And He, and only He, “will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Does that mean we can’t enjoy great things in life like family, learning, art, the beauty of nature or even just a break from classes? Quite the contrary. In fact, the Christian perspective allows one to appreciate these things in the fullest way possible by not over-inflating their importance but by enjoying them for what they really are: welcome blessings. While one can and should be thankful for these things and desire them, their rule over one’s life begins to melt away. Circumstances and earthly “thrills” become less and less the determiner of their happiness until its power shall at last be broken completely when the Christian takes their first step into eternity. That walk, that reliance on the grace of God and the work of Christ, is a life worth living. It’s the only one that is.

Andrew Sveda is a sophomore at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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