Many centuries ago, when someone came to the door of a Christian monastery in the Egyptian desert, he was greeted with the question, “What do you seek?”
If the man was lost or tired or thirsty, the answer to the question would be easy: “I need directions” or “rest” or “water.”
But perhaps the monastery itself is the destination. Then the answer is more difficult. What did he hope to gain by coming out into the desert? If his whole life is a reaching out into darkness for something, what does he hope his fingers will find? God? Or something else?
Most of us, if asked what we seek even in our day-to-day lives, would be baffled. We’re too distracted to ask ourselves this question and perhaps that is why we are distracted. It is a disruptive question.
Yet, every day is one more step toward someplace, and it is reasonable to ask where that is. Perhaps we are only meandering toward nothing in particular, blown around by changing winds. When we’re honest with ourselves, we will sometimes find we are not going in any particular direction, and even if we are, that the place we are going to is not a place we can go, or that it is not a place we can stay.
We seek things like attention, respect (or worse, respectability), fame, money, control, to be wanted, or to go back to a time we think we understand. Our lives take on the character of the things we seek. When those are the things we seek, it is no surprise that we are so anxious, confused, and fragile.
All of those things can be taken away so quickly, so easily, and then we are left with nothing. And even when we get close to what we seek, it all feels tenuous, and we become deeply insecure. We are at the mercy of our ever changing circumstances, unable to be happy because we cannot get what we seek, or because we are afraid to lose it.
For Christians, the way out of this problem is to seek what does not change, what cannot be taken from us by time and chance. What we seek, or try to seek, is to be with God and to be like God. That is our true north, the goal we try to move toward with every step.
We seek to be with God, not just after death, but in the present. God is always present to us, but we are not always present to God — the Christian should be with God in every moment of her life. We also seek to be like God inasmuch as this is possible. We want to live as God lives, to think as God thinks, to will what God wills, and do what God does. When this is what we seek, these other desires slowly lose their appeal.
We no longer need to seek the attention or approval of others; we have this in God. We no longer need control; we are freed from the illusion that we are in control of our lives. We no longer want to go back in time; we recognize that while there are dangers in our time there are also opportunities, and we do not want to waste these opportunities by spending all our time fretting over the dangers.
When this is what we seek, we will not avoid being affected by change. We will be stable. We will not be undamaged by tragedy or horrors, but we will outlast these things. We will not know the future, but that will not make us anxious. And though we will see uncertain times, and perhaps even feel God’s painful absence, we will attain what we seek, or rather, what we seek will attain us.