What did you do during quarantine? Since we all had to act like hermits during the coronavirus pandemic, I decided to tackle my closet. As I sorted through much-loved outfits and unworn clothing, I tossed out rejects, sewed on missing buttons, and rediscovered favorite items that had been buried in the tangled mess of clothes.
Finishing this job boosted my sense of accomplishment. So, as the stay-at-home order lingered, I used the time shut up in my four walls to complete more projects I had successfully avoided for years.
Organize my music collection. Check.
Finish an online course I had started years earlier. Check.
Shampoo carpets. Check.
Update my website. Check.
Tidy the basement. Check.
And every time I checked off another project, I got a small rush of satisfaction. The little check marks seemed to validate me. They said, “See, you can accomplish something.”
Truth be told, I often look to finished projects and little check marks to bring me satisfaction. I tend to think, If I can just complete this task, finish this project, accomplish this important goal—then I’ll be content.
Unfortunately, satisfaction always seems to disappear quickly. So soon after I achieved a goal, I tackled another to get the affirmation of a completed project.
It turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way, In fact, this phenomenon is so prevalent that psychologists have given it a name: arrival fallacy, the false belief that arriving at a certain goal will guarantee happiness. So we work for years to get the promotion, save for weeks to buy that new handbag, spend months renovating our kitchen to match our dreams. We tell ourselves, “I’ll be happy as soon as…” But even when we’re sitting in our new corner office, hooking the new bag on our arm, or entertaining in the dream kitchen, we don’t feel the elation or fulfillment we believed would come.
So should we abandon our goals? Psychologists say no. But they have noticed that the joy we expect to come when we complete an objective actually happens while we’re pursuing that goal. Our lives have added purpose when we work toward a meaningful outcome. It turns out that the joy truly is in the journey.
The arrival fallacy can apply to our spiritual lives as well. For years, I struggled with contentment. I berated myself, After all these years of following Christ, shouldn’t you be better at this contentment thing? Shouldn’t you be more satisfied in God?
Then I read a quote by Augustine:
“The whole of life of the good Christian is a holy longing.”
This quotation gave me a new perspective. While I still wrestled with contentment, Augustine helped me see that this is normal. Satisfaction always lies just out of reach because we simply can’t find it in this broken world. God fixed in our hearts a longing for him that cannot truly be fulfilled until we arrive in heaven and stand in the presence of the God of love.
We could feel despair when we realize that true contentment must be postponed until eternity, but remember the lesson from the arrival fallacy? Joy doesn’t happen only when we complete a goal or arrive at a desired outcome. Joy occurs while we journey toward our objective.
Psalm 84 talks of the holy longing we all feel. In verse 2, the psalmist writes:
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Our hearts and souls, even our bodies, yearn to be in the presence of Love with no pain, no sickness, no difficulties coming between God and us. Unlike a secular arrival fallacy, however, we won’t be disappointed when we finally reach the ultimate goal of heaven.
And the psalmist recognizes that joy can come even before those deepest longings are fulfilled. In verse 5 he writes:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
The Hebrew word translated as blessed can also mean happy. Happy are those who trust in the heavenly Father. Happy are those who journey toward God. A heart longing for God will have joy even before reaching the final destination. With each twist in the path, we can discover a bit more of God’s love. With each bend in the road, we gain another view of his grace.
Can we expect complete satisfaction here on earth? No. Because we were made for heaven, we won’t find total contentment here. Our hearts will always hold that holy longing. But we don’t have to despair because when our hearts are set on pilgrimage we can find gladness during our life excursion. Christ satisfies us with his presence, fills our souls with his peace, and sates our hungry spirits with his love.
As a result, I don’t keep searching for a future date when all my desires are realized here on earth. But I can live fully today when I recognize the ache in my heart as a holy longing for God, because when I embrace my yearnings and set my heart on pilgrimage, I find blessed happiness along the way.
I call this enough-for-now living.
Discontent is woven out of a belief that I don’t have enough and a continual need for more. But enough-for-now living is constructed out of a holy longing and a deep trust in God’s provision. This kind of living gives me an eternal vantage point, from which I can more easily recognize the quest for contentment through the accumulation of more as the fallacy it is.
I begin to realize my closet doesn’t need extra clothes.
My handbag from last year will do just fine again this year.
My home doesn’t have to look magazine-perfect before I invite people into it
My validation doesn’t come from completed projects and a line of checked boxes on my to-do list.
Enough-for-now living helps me base my worth in the love God has for me—a love that sacrificed his only Son for me so I can spend eternity with him. It makes it easier for me to find contentment in what God has already given. It makes it easier to live fully today. Enough-for-now living improves my chance of finding joy in the pilgrimage toward heaven.