Be honest about your own life.
Model what it means to acknowledge difficult emotions, unfulfilled desires, and frustration in the Christian life. You sometimes feel discouraged. You have questions for God. Your relationships are not all you imagine they could be. You are not all you could be. Along with your hope in Christ and empowerment in the Holy Spirit, you still live the human experience. As appropriate, let your group in on this. You’ll give them permission to be honest about their own lives, too.
Challenge the easy answers.
Try not to let your group get away with pat answers, clichés, or the sayings of popular religion. Ask them to explain the things they say. Encourage them to point the group to Scripture passages illustrating their ideas about God and about the Christian life. Request examples from their own lives, especially if you are already modeling honesty and authenticity. You can really encourage them to think more deeply and to notice the way their own lives don’t always illustrate the ideas that might easily roll off their tongues.
It’s no wonder we’re all seeking satisfaction. We were made for a better world! We were made for a life in which our good, God-given desires would always lead us to God’s good gifts. Our unmet longings remind us of what we lost when humanity turned away from God. Although our desires sometimes lead us to seek fulfillment in destructive ways, it’s not wrong to desire a more satisfying life in every way. Seeking to rid ourselves of longing is a way of giving up on what God offers us, both now and beyond this life. So encourage your group to acknowledge their longings and to consider how their desires can pull them toward God, his good gifts, and his promises for the future.
Study the people in the Bible.
The entire Bible is full of stories that contradict the idea life in relationship with God is easy, usually happy, and truly satisfying. Consider the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs, whose lives were full of hardship, recurring sin, and the discomfort of being at odds with everyone around them. Read about God’s prophets, who grieved over God’s messages and endured insults, rejection, and abuse from their listeners. Consider the church fathers—Peter, who pushed his readers to crave more rather than be satisfied with spiritual baby food, and Paul, who sometimes longed for death. Consider Jesus himself, who definitely did not set an example of living a fully satisfied life on earth.
Boldly tackle the tough stuff.
When church leaders avoid addressing difficult subjects, they might think they are creating a safe space for others. Instead, they are sometimes bypassing the very things people most need to talk about within the context of the gospel. For people who live with trials—mental illness, addiction, questions of gender and sexual attraction, abuse, and other serious challenges—those experiences can be the source of their deepest dissatisfaction and their most profound spiritual questions. When we are courageous enough to acknowledge these questions and tackle them in light of God’s Word, we shine light into dark places and encourage people to come out of hiding.
Remember the curse.
Life in this world gives us plenty of opportunities to remember why our lives are not satisfying. Yet so often when tragedies happen, Christians throw up our hands like everyone else, and ask, “Why?” Or, we gloss over disasters and try to put a positive spin on them, murmuring platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason.” We may not be able to explain why people do the things they do, or why God sometimes intervenes to protect some people while others fall victim to evil. But we do know why bad things happen: We are made in God’s image, we have rebelled against him, and we live under a curse. Because of human sin, the whole world is groaning under this curse—followers of Christ included. When your group members expect life to be deeply satisfying, they don’t know how to make sense of their most painful experiences. When you help them understand how sin affects our world, seeing evidence of the curse can strengthen their faith rather than undermine it.