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Finding Fulfillment in Life

  • Dr. Gary Smalley The Smalley Relationship Center
  • Updated Nov 11, 2010
Finding Fulfillment in Life

People, places and things are the gifts of life, not the Source of life …

—Gary Smalley

From different painful experiences that I have been through, I've learned that I was looking for love, peace and joy in all the wrong places. In other words, I had spent a lifetime looking for a sense of significance and security. But I was looking for that in the wrong location. Since then, I've learned that we all have similar goals in life. If our lives were like a cup, each one of us would love to fill it with wisdom, love, joy, and peace. We'd like to have our lives overflow with positive emotions and genuine fulfillment in life. At a very early age, we begin to look for what we think can fill up our cups with these positive qualities. Unfortunately, most of us look to one of three sources, or all three, for the fullness of life we really want. Yet, like a mirage, these sources shimmer with fulfillment, but only bring dust to our souls.

Source #1—Looking to PEOPLE to Fill Our Cups. The first place many of us tend to look is to people. We think: "If I am to really have my needs met and be happy, I must have another person in my life." However, those who look for people will ultimately find that they cannot fill our cup. Others can be frustrating and irritating and drain away as much emotional energy as they give—or more. Friends can be a tremendous source of help and encouragement at times, but even they can disappoint us over the long haul. We can look to friends as the source of positive emotions, but at times they, too, can punch holes in our emotional lives. Tragically, some people will have an affair to try to "fill their cup." The sweet taste of stolen waters may seem to fill up one's life, but it's actually like drinking ice-cold saltwater. The burning aftertaste of sin can burn huge holes in our cups and leave us emptier and more miserable than we ever imagined.

Source #2—Looking to PLACES for Fulfillment. "We need a home! That's it, we need a place with a beautiful view and trees that are the envy of the neighborhood. If only we had the right place to live in, our cup would be full." How many of us have echoed these words? Or perhaps, a vacation or a new office with a window—these certainly would fill our cup to the brim. Then we buy that special home or go to that remote island, live in it for a short while, and suddenly our life begins to go wrong. In part, that's true because the bigger the home, the more items to repair around the house. We can install a swimming pool in our yard, a fireplace in our living room, or buy a mountain cabin, but the yard, living room, or cabin won't keep us full. Why? In part because, no matter how pretty or fulfilling places look, they don't fit inside our personal cups. Instead, they all have sharp edges that cut holes into our lives. What's more, the people we share them with are the people who drain our cups! But if people and places don't fill up the deepest part of our lives, where do we turn to finally find love, peace, and joy?

Source #3—Looking to THINGS for Fulfillment. How about more money so we can buy more things? Many of us feel that, if we just had more money, we'd be happier in life. But study after study of people who "strike it rich" show this isn't the case. The more money we make, the more wisdom we must have to handle it. Now, I know many of us wouldn't mind learning that kind of wisdom. But to receive money, we normally have to pay a personal price. Thomas Carly once said, "For every person who can handle prosperity, there are a hundred who can't handle adversity." Money alone, and all the things it can bring, can't fill our lives with the kind of living water we desperately want. I've met people throughout the country who have little money and are miserable. And I've also met those with lots of money who are miserable. I've known people who have mountain cabins and third cars who feel fulfilled. And some people I know barely have bus fare, and they also feel fulfilled. Most people who depend on "Things" to fill up their cups end up looking for the one "perfect" job that will be the ticket to all their dreams. All jobs have work in common. And work doesn't always keep our cup full. It can drain us because of the people we work with, the place where we do our work, and the equipment we must use. Some of us try all our lives to acquire a key to a certain washroom in the company, or parking spaces with our names on them. When we receive them, however, what do we have? Are we finally being filled with wisdom, love, peace, and joy? Hardly. Just the opposite is often true.

Coming Up Empty In Life …

At some times in our lives, we run headlong into an inescapable fact. Life is not fulfilling. It's actually often unfair and exhausting. We can never pour enough people, places, or things into our personal cups to keep our lives filled and overflowing with the contentment we want so much. No wonder so many people leading lives of emotional desperation consider suicide as a way out. By focusing on people, places and things, we miss the positive emotions we want, and are saddled with the very negative emotions we've tried all our lives to avoid! This is true of hurt feelings, worry, anxiety, fear, unrest, uncertainty and confusion because we are depending on a person, place, or thing for "life."

We all face the temptation to look to people, places and things to fill our cups. We're all selfish in wanting others to cooperate in meeting our needs right now. But those who are wise realize there is a pathway to freedom, away from that unfulfilled feeling.

Seeking First the Source of Life …

Matthew 6:33 clearly shows us our Source of life. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." In my life, when God is in first place, He promises to meet all my needs. I try to love God with all my heart. In other words, He's the highest priority in my life. When I focus on Jesus Christ as the sole Source of my life, an amazing thing happens. Because He loves me and actually possesses the wisdom, love, peace and joy I've always wanted, He alone can overflow my cup. That's exactly what He promises to do for His children: "This love … surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). Can you be any more filled than full? Absolutely not.

If I ever start to feel worry, fear, hurt, or any other negative emotion, I thank God for them. Then I pray and ask forgiveness for focusing on something that is less than Himself. Finally, I ask Him alone to fill my life. Psalm 62 says that we are to wait and hope in God alone. He's our rock, our salvation, our rear guard, our hiding place. He's everything we'll ever need! Nothing on this earth compares to knowing Him (Philippians 3:7-9).

Copyright 2005 The Smalley Relationship Center.