How Much Does One Need to Be Satisfied?

joy filled woman smiling lying in field resting in Jesus

The ups and downs of pandemic life birthed a global epidemic of discontent, causing many to question their existence, purpose, and place in the world. Can you relate?

I’ve questioned just about every aspect of my existence–who I am, why I was created, and what I am to do with the rest of my life, to name a few.

As I considered each of these questions my discontentment only blossomed. So many hopes had found their end in the graveyard of my expectations.

It would seem these misplaced expectations birthed a restless heart. And this discontent, like a bad itch, craved relief and would chase down anything that promised a satisfying scratch.

AN ITCHY EXISTENCE

Sandwiched between my father’s death and the birth of my granddaughter this summer, an old story written by Leo Tolstoy in the 1800s found its way into my itchy existence.

Tolstoy is best known for his acclaimed novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But he also wrote other stories, including one short story titled, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” 1

In it, he tells the tale of a man named Pahom, who experiences a prick of discontentment when he overhears his wife arguing with her sister over whose life is best – her life as a peasant or her wealthy sister’s life in the city.

Pahom responds to the women’s chatter.

“It is perfectly true,” thought he. “Busy as we are from childhood tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”

Not only does Pahom overhear the women, but so does the Devil, who is hiding behind the stove.

And the devil accepts Pahom’s dare.

“All right,” thought the Devil. “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you land enough; and by means of that land, I will get you into my power.”

Thus begins Pahom’s quest for enough land. He manages to buy and develop more and more land, yet he is still not satisfied. One day a passing trader tells him of a vast and fertile land owned by the Bashkirs where for 1000 roubles, he bought thirteen thousand acres.

The trader shares its location with Pahom, who leaves his wife to tend their estate and sets out with a servant to satisfy his dream. Upon arrival, he negotiates with the Chief of the Bashkirs for the most expansive parcel he can acquire.

The Chief declares, “Our price is always the same: one thousand roubles a day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours.”

Pahom is amazed.

“But there is one condition: If you don’t return on the same day to the spot whence you started, your money is lost…You may make as large a circuit as you please, but before the sun sets, you must return to the place you started from. All the land you cover will be yours.”

The following day, Pahom sets out from his chosen starting place, running to mark as much land as he can muster, setting pins in the ground at every turn. As sunset approached, his legs began to fail, and he longed to rest.

“Oh dear,” Pahom thought, “if only I have not blundered trying for too much! What if I am too late?”

He throws off everything encumbering him and, with only a spade for support, he runs as hard as he can toward his goal.

“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.” He gathered his last strength and ran on.

It wasn’t until he neared the end of his run that Pahom wondered about God’s perspective of the situation.

“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach that spot!”

Pahom’s legs gave way beneath him, and he fell forward and reached the cap with his hands. The Chief exclaimed, “Ah, what a fine fellow! He has gained much land!”

Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead! The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.

The tale concludes with these final words, “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”

It is easy to read this story and shake our heads and click our tongues in pity the way the Bashkirs did. But it was difficult not to see Pahom’s bent in my own heart. The discontent, the striving, only considering God at the end of a foolish run toward false satisfaction–I am Pahom.

THE ORIGINAL ITCH AND THE END OF STRIVING

And so were Adam and Eve who, in the garden, turned from God and sought self-satisfaction apart from Him. Even way back then, God promised a fully satisfying scratch for the itch brought on by this turning. He would deal with the serpent, the Devil, and bring restoration to His creation.

God’s heart for us and His creation has always been compassion. And only God could provide the salve needed for our strivings to cease for all eternity.

Psalm 46:10 calls us to cease striving. Amid the ground moving and shaking in unsettling ways, this Psalm paints a picture of God’s people dwelling in an immovable place.

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved.”

In this place, the place God created and dwells — strivings cease.

To cease striving is more than mere stillness. Rapha, the Hebrew verb used in this verse, means hang limp, be feeble, be in a state of lacking power or force, with a focus that the muscles have lost their muscle tone to flex and so respond to a situation.2

Another way of expressing this end to striving is to — let go of rigidity and pretense of strength and surrender all self-effort on the good ground God provides.

THE GOOD GROUND GOD PROVIDES

How much real estate does one need to satisfy the soul-deep itch of the heart, let go of control, and experience authentic rest?

Perhaps as much land as Noah’s dove needed. Let out of the ark during a globally transformative season, the dove flies in search of dry, fertile ground to birth a fresh beginning. It returns after its second flight with an olive branch in its beak and, having discovered what it desired, flies away once more, never to return to Noah’s ark.

Another dove points us more precisely to fertile soil upon which rest is found, and new life is birthed. In Mark 1:10-11 we see the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, touch down on Jesus as if to say, “This is the promised good and fertile land upon which your rest will be found.”

“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’”

How much land does a man need? The amount of good and fruitful ground God promised His people from the beginning. The promised land, a promised physical ground in the Old Testament, might be what comes to mind at first. But that promised land is also a metaphor pointing to our rescue found in Jesus alone. His death on the cross provided the forgiveness of sins our striving hearts need to find rest and dwell securely in God’s eternal Kingdom.

Jesus is the spiritual fulfillment of all God’s promises. “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20, NLT)

When this world leaves you in a state of dissatisfied questioning, remember who you are and whose you are. You are God’s creation, and He made you to love and bless you. And you, my friend, are the spitting image of your compassionate heavenly Father who has given you all the good ground you could ever desire or need to be fully satisfied.

The great God of Heaven, who came to earth to bring healing and restoration to His beloved, is always a giver of good things to His children. He offers more than all the land you can weary yourself attempting to mark off. He offers a limitless, eternal Kingdom of Grace — all you need do is receive it.

It is time to stop running and put down the pins used to stake your claim in this world. In Jesus, good ground is offered to all. Because of Him, we aren’t left to balance precariously on a tiny plot of land and strive to build our own expansive kingdom.

How much land does one need? Only Jesus–the ground upon which all our strivings find their perfect and final rest.

1 How Much Land Does a Man Need by Leo Tolstoy
2 Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament)

2 thoughts on “How Much Does One Need to Be Satisfied?”

  1. Yes, yes. Godliness with contentment is great gain for we brought nothing into the world we can take nothing out. In this life is the classroom to learn contentment. Great writing.

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