Unfulfilled dreams are a fact of life.

Popular wisdom tells us it is better to focus on the fact that a cup is half-full than that it is half-empty. Experience proves this most of the time: my body rolls out of bed more easily when I anticipate a productive day; my marriage works considerably better when I choose to congratulate my wife on the portion of the toast that is not burned.

Still, an important truth often gets sacrificed on the altar of optimism by the priests of positive thinking. The cup is half-full, but it is also half-empty. Why think about this negative side of things? Because spiritual maturity requires that we learn how to live with unfulfillment.

Few truths could be harder to learn in our culture. What makes unfulfillment about as difficult to swallow as cough syrup is the presence of a pervasive and pernicious influence, what we could call the false ideal of the full cup. The false ideal of the full cup ignores the empty half. It assumes all can and should be fullness and perfection. No such eschaton exists, in this life at least, but that matters not. Lies can powerfully direct lives.

The false ideal of the full cup affirms, as its doctrinal foundation, the belief that the most important goal in life is personal fulfillment and the pleasure that will come from it. From many pulpits this creed is proclaimed. The music we hear, the television we watch, the advertising we absorb, the magazines we read—all preach a gospel of self-fulfillment.

Perfect Marriage?

Consider marriage as one example. A girl dreams of having a husband, and her fantasy imagines a perfect one: tender and loving and always sensitive. Add to the picture a couple of kids who easily stand out as the cutest kids on the block, the brightest in ...

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