Now that summer is here, I have to do my grocery shopping with both of my boys instead of just one. Besides the obvious fact that it’s much easier to run errands the fewer children you have, I’ve learned something else from observing my kids.
When I push the cart through the aisles and Henry, my five year old, sees something that tickles his fancy, he gleefully draws my attention to it. He admires it, wonders aloud about it, and then puts it back. Sometimes he asks me how much it costs, and when I tell him, he either says it would be good for his birthday or for Christmas, or that he’ll save up his money for it.
On the other hand when William, my seven year old, comes across something that he wants in the grocery store, he has a different reaction. He will ask me to buy it now. He will beg me for it. He will fixate on the item and try to think of reasons to persuade me. He won’t let it go. This usually results in some firm limits on my end, and crushed disappointment on his end. He does not like to hear “If you want it, you can save up for it.” or “If you want it, wait for Christmas or your birthday.”
I would like to say that I handle my own desires in the same way as my youngest. I would like to say that I am patient, that I am happy to admire without owning, that I am content with what I already have. I would like to say that I am willing to work hard for what I want.
But too often, I have the same attitude as my oldest. I see what I want – achievement, opportunities, “success,” or actual material things – and I fixate. I think about how much better my life would be with The Thing, and I want it right now. I could save for it and work really hard for it, but it’s easier to throw a tantrum than it is to be patient.
Here’s the problem with our desires: every time we get something we want, we want more. Our eyes are never satisfied. We get a rush of pleasure from fulfilling a desire, but then set our sights on the next thing; we move on to bigger and better, and we trap ourselves in a cycle of more-more-more. This is as true for the clothes in our closet as it is for our status at work (or online!)
Our desires in and of themselves aren’t a bad thing. We are wired to want; there’s no switch we can flip on and off. But how can we channel our desires in a healthy way? How can we develop contentment?
Evaluate the object of your desire
In the Bible, God told king Solomon that he would give him anything he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom, and it pleased the Lord that this was his request instead of wealth, riches, or a long life (1 Kings 3:10).
I don’t think that wishing for a bigger paycheck, more vacation time, a larger house, or material blessings is wrong or sinful. But when we believe that attaining these desires is our purpose in life, when we wrap our meaning and value and worth up in them, we make these desires into our idols.
And Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we could live comfortable, easy lives in our mansions.
Evaluate the reason for your desire
In the book of James, we learn that a big reason for strife and dissatisfaction in the Christian life is a result of our selfishness. We use prayer to ask God for things that will benefit us. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
Do we want a bigger house as a status symbol of our wealth? So we can fit more pretty stuff inside? Or do we want more space as a way to bless others?
Do I want more readers on my website so that I can bring glory to myself? Or so that I can point more people to God?
These questions can reveal some painful truths about our motives if we are honest with ourselves.
Adjust your perspective
The truth when it comes to many of our desires is that we already have enough. (And I’m assuming here that most of my readers are from a first world country, have a decent job, and a place to live.)
When we turn our focus on what we do have, we are more likely to feel contentment and gratitude. We can see more clearly that we have what we need to live our lives for Him.
Jesus showed hospitality without owning a house at all. Surely our small living room is enough. Jesus spoke and taught a ragtag bunch of misfit followers; I do not need a large platform to be faithful to my calling as a writer. God showed his great love for me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; I do not need more cute clothes to feel liked and accepted, I am already His beloved.
When I take stock of my blessings and humbly recognize that I didn’t do anything to earn any of it… only then will I be content in a world of want.