"Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there's something greater out there for me? I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, it's gotta be more than this. I mean this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I mean I've done it. I'm 27. And what else is there for me?" -- Tom Brady
"The central fallacy of modern life is the belief that accomplishments can produce deep satisfaction. That's false, because your desires are infinite and always leap out ahead of whatever has just been achieved." -- David Brooks
Thirsty For Success
I ripped open the envelope, having waited weeks for it to come. "Hello Luke, we received your application and want to thank you for applying..." Come on, come on, where is it? I scanned down the page until I found it: "We'd like to invite you to be an intern for the upcoming Spring semester." Yes! Could you believe it! I was going to Washington DC!
And so I packed up my bags and fly back to Washington DC, excited at what this opportunity could bring. I walked through Union Station and caught sight of the Capitol for the first time. Unbelievable! This was it...I'd made it! As I settled in to my apartment three blocks from the Capitol, I was confident that this opportunity would finally answer my lifelong longings for success and significance.
But it didn't. I got everything I ever wanted...I wore a suit and worked in an office building. I went to meetings with politicians in the Senate buildings. And I spent my nights at fancy events listening to policy experts and professors. But it all felt so empty. And lonely. And pointless. How did an opportunity that checked all of the boxes of what I thought I wanted still leave me so unhappy?
That's the trap of human achievement. Each of us look at the world around us and think, "If I could get this experience or that thing, then I'd really be happy." We don't say it out loud, it's more of a subconscious feeling. You think of your dream job, dream person, or dream possession, and put your hopes on those things for your satisfaction. We complement these big desires with smaller ones like a better apartment, a more exciting life, or more likes on your social media posts, trying to use all of these things to fill the emptiness we feel in life.
Our Unquenchable Thirst For More
This attempt at trying to find happiness through your possessions or achievements isn't anything new. In Luke 12, two brothers fighting over an inheritance come to Jesus for advice. After telling a story about a rich man and his desire for more and more, Jesus gives them a warning: "Watch out! Be on your guard against every form of greed, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." It's easy to let this verse slip by, since greed in our culture gets associated with money and rich people. Greed is a problem for pro athletes and Wall Street bankers, not normal people like us. But when Jesus uses this word for greed, he isn't talking about having lots of money. The word Jesus uses means "thirsty for more," and addresses the rich man's unquenchable thirst for more, not his barns full of possessions.
Jesus rejects our culture's belief that greed and riches go together, and calls you to examine your underlying motives for what you have and what you want. Are you still thirsty for more, no matter how much you have? Are you thirsty for more pleasure, more comfort, more beauty, more status, more recognition, or just more Instagram followers? While these thirsts looks different for each person, they are the subconscious desires that drive your life. Sadly, much of our economy is driven by this thirst for more,
While it looks different for each person, these thirsts for more form the subconscious desires that drive your life. But as we get more and more of what we think will satisfy us, yet still remain thirsty, we rarely stop to ask whether the things we’re consuming can ever satisfy us. Some people have more than others, but you will rarely meet another person who thinks they have enough. Society tells you that if you can get that lifestyle, which is always 25% more expensive than your current one, then you'll finally enjoy life.
The Mirage Oasis
But it doesn't work. If it did, after all, wouldn't you be happy from all the previous things you got that you thought would make you happy? Not only does this lie not work, but it also makes you forget every previous time it failed you. If accomplishments or possessions or status really brought long-term satisfaction, why did the ones you got in your past bring more lasting satisfaction? Your closet and garage are full of things you thought would satisfy, but now they're a few years old and out of style and you're ready to try again. Your thirsts enslave you, causing you to go through life acquiring more and more, while hoping that next round of stuff will be able to do what the last one couldn't.
Everybody, at different times, believes this lie. It motivates you in school, thinking that the right grades, internships, and leadership positions signal impending success. It motivates you to take the prestigious job, thinking that others will then give you the respect you want . It motivates you to date the prettiest person you can, thinking you'll feel valuable and wanted by the people around you. It motivates you through all of life, as you look to use the things around us to fill the feelings of insignificance we all struggle with in various ways.
The Answer to Your Thirst
So what's the answer to this non-stop thirst that we all struggle with? In John 4, Jesus meets a woman who, like all of us, has been searching for something to satisfy her. Jesus tells her she needs something different than the temporal things of this earth, that she needs a living water. He tells her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give him will never be thirsty again. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” She's intrigued, and wants the water, but isn't sure how this living water works. "How do I get it?" she wants to know.
While it's easy to say all the right things about Jesus being your living water, if you're honest, Jesus doesn't seem like much of a thirst quencher in your twenties. The boss promoting you, that guy wanting you, your social status increasing, those are some of the things that we believe will make the thirst go away. And it will for a few weeks, but then it will come back, and you'll be right where you started, looking for your next hit. Except now it'll take more and more to fill you up; a more exotic adventure, a better-looking person, a bigger paycheck, all to make you feel satisfied, like you have done enough to warrant your existence.
The gift of living water that Jesus offers to both this woman and to you is Himself. It's a relationship with him and His Father, paid for by Jesus dying a death of thirst on the cross. Your relationship with Him gives you the unconditional love, respect, and acceptance that you're trying to use all of your possessions and accomplishments to get. To do that, put down all of the other things you are trying to use to fill you soul, and drink deeply from Jesus, the only thing that will satisfy your deepest longings.
"For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." --Jeremiah 2:13
"Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" --John 7:37-38