Moving Out of Moretopia

I was having lunch with a close friend a few days ago and the conversation turned to spiritual topics and we briefly discussed the mystery of prayer in light of the fact that God is sovereignly in control of all things.  After resolving that paradox between bites of my tuna sub and a bag of salt and vinegar chips we moved on to a more challenging issue – how to move out of Moretopia.  We didn’t use those exact words but in essence that is what we were discussing.  I think it was John Ortberg that coined the term “Moretopia” – that utopian place that exists only in our minds where we will be satisfied when we get just a bit “more”.  It was JP Getty I believe who when asked what it would take to satisfy him now after he had amassed his amazing fortune quipped, “Just a bit more!”

Having been raised in the affluent West most of us live, move and have our being smack dab in the middle of Moretopia.  I’ll be happy when….my grades are a bit more impressive; my social life is more exciting; my next boyfriend/girlfriend is more beautiful, more intelligent and more sensitive; my job pays more; I have more stripes on my shoulders; my kids achieve more; my husband loves me more; I have more exciting sex; I have more square footage in my house; I have more comfortable furniture; I have a more model-like physique; I achieve more business success; I have a more luxurious/sporty car; I am a more talented and notable artist, musician, athlete;  I receive more recognition from others; I have more free time; I have more financial security; I live in a more beautiful place; I have a more technologically impressive computer, cell phone, ipod, or blackberry; I have a more understanding boss; I climb three more rungs up the corporate ladder; I have more children; I have more free time without children; I have a more exciting vocation; I have a more notable impact on those around me; I have a more inspiring church; I fly a more imposing and impressive aircraft; I am more intelligent, more athletic, more beautiful than I am now…ad nauseum, ad infinitum!  The list is endless because Moretopia is a very big place…and it borders expand the closer we get to Christmas as we face the constant bombardment of glossy catalogs and beautiful surgically and photographically enhanced models telling us that they have the key to endless bliss in Moretopia.

Yet, life in Moretopia is hard because there is always…well… more.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to a life of joyful contentment…yet for many of us that seems about as achievable as a naked ascent of Mt. Everest.  How do we move out of Moretopia?  As my friend and I talked about our journey of faith a few ideas began to run through my mind.

The journey has to begin with desire –  we have to want to move.  That sounds obvious and elementary but I think it is the most difficult step and a step usually accompanied by a certain amount of pain.  As we talked it became clear that in both of our lives God allowed us to experience a painful loss in order to begin the process of ripping our roots out of the soil of Moretopia.  We often lament our losses and grieve our grievous circumstances…as we should.  God does not call us to be stoics – read the Psalms if you don’t believe me.  We exist on a fallen planet with fallen people and there is plenty to cry about.  Yet, if we are not careful healthy grief can quickly morph into self-pity when we forget both the character and promises of our Lord.  No loss is enjoyable but hidden within every loss, discouragement or disappointment lays a potential catalyst that can spur us to move out of Moretopia.

The Lord is not opposed to our finding satisfaction and joy.  In fact, I believe he is more concerned with our satisfaction and joy than we are.  Yet, he realizes that what will provide us with the deepest and most enduring satisfaction are not the experiences, trinkets and souvenirs that we accumulate in Moretopia but a growing experience of his presence that results in what the Old Testament calls “fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11) and what the New Testament calls “life to the full” (John 10:10)  Our Lord is not even opposed to our enjoying life here and now.  The old wizened Paul who had learned to be content tells his young protégé Timothy that God has richly provided us with everything for our enjoyment (I Timothy 6:17).  God is not a stoic killjoy!  However, we run into trouble when we attempt to find “fullness of joy” and “abundant” life primarily in the “everything” that God has provided for us and not in our relationship with the Provider himself.

Once we decide a move from Moretopia is actually a good thing how do we go about making the transition? I don’t have a “one-size-fits-all” answer.  Much depends on how thirsty we are –  on how dissatisfied we have become with Moretopia (Psalm 63:1-3).  This thirst tends to increase as the years of our lives go by and the luster of the world wears off.  When the Lord blesses us with a thirst that can’t be slaked in Moretopia, we can then begin to move to Him in order to have our drought ridden souls quenched through the refreshment He gives in prayer, solitude, thinking deeply about his Word, genuine honest connection and communication with other thirsty former Moretopia residents, whole hearted worship, serving those with needs, living life simply, etc. etc.  All those practices that many call the “spiritual disciplines” which makes them sound about as appealing as “drop and give me 40!” Yet, as he begins to quench our thirst we find increasingly that the disciplines are not burdensome but a path to enduring satisfaction and deep joy in him.  The disciplines are not an end in themselves but only the pathway that leads us to the only one who can satisfy our souls’ thirst.

So as we come to the end of another year and spend some time reflecting back over what has happened in 2006, my prayer is that God has given you much to enjoy richly and that even in the losses, disappointments and unfulfilled desires of the year he has blessed you with a thirst that will be quenched as you begin that long move out of Moretopia into the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts,
Thou fount of life, Thou light of men
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to Thee again.

Bernard of Clairvaux

Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in.
Aim at earth and you get neither.

C.S. Lewis