If there were only one lesson that I could teach my kids, it would be about finding real fulfillment. That’s not an easy lesson to teach, though, as it’s taken me a lifetime to learn it. In fact, I still continue to struggle with it sometimes.
When I was younger, I arrogantly thought I could find fulfillment by asking myself, what can I do? What can I do that I will enjoy? What can I do that will make others respect me? What can I do that will make money? What can I do that will make girls want to date me? You see, when faced with a decision, it was always about me and what benefited me. What could I do for the greatest gain with the least effort? However, I eventually learned that living that way didn’t lead to fulfillment, and it certainly didn’t lead to happiness. It only led to grief. Not because of my inadequacies (though I have a few) but because what I was seeking was never lasting. My personal satisfaction and contentment were always temporary. I might find enjoyment for a moment, but it didn’t last, and it always ended in hurt, depression, anger, or self-loathing. I was always chasing something that was always just out of reach. It was a struggle that took almost thirty years to learn.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t care about others at that time. I cared about my family, friends and met my wife during that time, but I was always the most important thing. It was about my empowerment, my pleasure, and my wishes. Nevertheless, as I grew (and came to Christ), I started to understand where true fulfillment was (or at least I thought I did). Satisfaction didn’t lie in fixating on my wants and desires. It lay in supplying for the needs of others. It wasn’t about what benefited me most but about what seemed like the right thing to do. So where before I asked myself, what can I do? Now I wondered, what should I do?
Changing that one word changed my entire outlook, I found some fulfillment that I hadn’t had before, but at the same time, it still wasn’t enough. Something was missing. Even though I was thinking of others, I was still seeking the approval of others. This was my measuring rod as to if I was on the right track. As a result, I made poor and inconsistent decisions. At best, what-should-I-do thinking always leads to wasted time, energy, and money on people and pursuits that are fruitless. At worst, it leads us to question if life has meaning and whether there is a God in control.
I came to the realization that if what-can-I-do and what-should-I-do thinking weren’t where I found fulfillment, then was fulfillment even possible? I discovered it was possible, but instead of asking what can I do or what should I do, I needed to pray about what does God want? To a non-Christian, this will sound very close to what should I do. What should I do and what does God want might sound like the same thing, but they are not. Just like what-can-I-do thinking, what-should-I-do thinking is based on man’s judgment, whereas what-does-God-want is discerned through submission to God (reading his Word, praying, and listening to the Holy Spirit).
When I started seeking what God wants, when I started actually putting God’s will ahead of my plans, then that was when everything finally changed. I stopped caring about others’ approval and simply found fulfillment (peace and joy) in living in accordance with God’s will. You see, fulfillment isn’t the result of outward circumstances (success, accolades, or even our good deeds). It’s a result of God living in us. Maybe Proverbs 14:12 says it best.
There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.Proverbs 14:12
We can rationalize all kinds of stuff. But, unfortunately, if we aren’t seeking God, then what seems right is just a distraction from our true calling. We are exchanging the immeasurable fulfillment we have in Christ for the lesser fulfillment we believe we can obtain on our own.
In reality, the Devil doesn’t have to get us to do anything horrible. He only has to get us to focus on the wrong things and miss out on the plan God has for us. When the Devil does that, he has won, and we don’t even realize it. So how do we guard against this? We must pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In this, we must bring every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). This verse isn’t just about our obviously sinful thoughts. It means we need to bring all of our little thoughts and decisions before God throughout the day, even the small, seemingly unimportant ones. It’s about being attentive to what God wants from us in every moment and submitting even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to us or conflicts with our plans. Ultimately our only true fulfillment in this life is in seeking God’s will for our lives. In that, and that alone will we will find the purpose he created us for.