A post by Jennifer on the blog "Et tu?" inspired me to think about our never-ending search for satisfaction and the purpose of the season of Lent. She writes:
"I'd forgotten about this until now, but up until a few years ago, almost every time something exciting or good happened I would feel a tinge of depression. No matter how great or exciting the situation, for some reason I could never quite feel fully happy about it. Just as my happiness would be about to reach a crescendo, something would make it fall flat, like when a singer just barely misses the high note. I didn't generally struggle with depression in this time in my life; it was just that for some odd reason whenever something particularly good occurred, it would trigger a vague sensation of despair somewhere deep down inside."
When I was at Harvard, I was in a Christian a cappella group called Under Construction, and as part of our semesterly concerts, we always put on a little skit, divided up into four scenes, that was intended to provoke thought about some aspect of the Christian faith. In the spring of my junior year, we wanted to explore the thought experiment, What would it be like if you got everything you wanted?
The skit centered around a person named Kevin (played, conveniently, by me) who dreamed of being a boxing champion. It followed him through his training to his gold medal victory in the Olympics and subsequent celebrity. In the final scene, Kevin, who has now turned pro, wins a bout to become the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world. After all the celebration, Kevin sits alone in the middle of the stage, looking at the ground. His coach enters, beaming with pride.
"Congratulations, Kid," he says. "You did it. You're the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world. You're the best there ever was. You worked hard -- you should be proud of yourself. You've got everything you ever dreamed of."
Kevin, who hasn't looked up through all this, turns his head and asks, quietly, "So . . . what do I do next, Coach?" Fade to black.
This seems to be the position we always end up in whenever we finally get whatever it is that we are sure will finally make us happy, content, fulfilled, satisfied. Whether it's a good education, a good job, a good family, wealth, fame, prestige, security -- it always leaves us wondering, Is this really all there is? Why do these things never satisfy us like we hope they will? Is there anything that can perfectly fulfill these deepest desires of our hearts?
The things of this world cannot finally satisfy us because we are not made for this world. God created us, and only God can satisfy us. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, addressing God, "You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
Only in God can we find the fulfillment of all our desires. And that is part of what Lent is all about. It's a time to remember that all our attempts to find fulfillment apart from God are ultimately futile, a time to turn to God and to turn away from all the things that keep us from Him and His perfect, infinite, intimate love. Lent is a time to really take to heart Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also." (Matthew 6:19-21)