This is the third post in a series on desire and following Jesus.
Enough is enough. Except when it’s not. We can want more when we have enough. This is one way that desire can lead us down the rabbit hole.
We’ve all wanted the occasional second piece of cake or the extra helping of meatloaf. And while acknowledging healthy limits of food and drink (and exercise and work and I Love Lucy episodes) can present a challenge, this post is not about moderation and proper portion.
It’s about the insanity that sets in when “more” becomes your life’s purpose.
We can want more precisely because we are getting what we wanted. Let me put that another way, getting the very thing we’ve been chasing can compel us to want it all the more desperately.
Addictions provide a clear example of what I’m talking about. Recovering alcoholics avoid “the first drink” like the plague.
The reason is simple. The first drink doesn’t quench an alcoholic’s thirst. It creates a desire for the next drink. And the next one. And the next one.
Most people aren’t addicts. So, the alcoholic’s experience may seem irrelevant to you.
But have you ever thought about wanting a larger salary? A bigger house? The latest car or iPad or laptop?
Most of us have to admit that our salary covers all of our needs and a great many luxuries.
As Andy Stanley once put it, my house is so big I have a room just for our cars (it’s called a carport), and some of us have an empty, extra room just in case someone might show up and want to use it.
I have tons of friends whose iPad now seems to them like papyrus and ink because the iPad 2 has come out.
We all know what it’s like to want more precisely when we are enjoying enough (or maybe even more than enough). In the Bible, that’s sometimes called craving.
Craving is exactly what beset the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert between escaping through the Red Sea and finally arriving in the Promised Land. The Psalmist puts it bluntly:
But they did not stop their craving, though the food was still in their mouths. (Ps. 78:30; Book of Common Prayer)
The Hebrews had been slaves in Egypt. Nothing in their past had prepared them to survive in the desert. They entered the desert utterly dependent upon God for sustenance.
He gave them manna to eat each morning. Their job was simply to collect enough to feed them for the day and to trust that more manna would appear the following morning.
With the exception of manna collected in preparation for Sabbath rest, any manna collected in excess of daily needs would spoil by the next morning.
God was teaching the Hebrews a healthy spiritual posture. Rely upon God’s provision today. Trust in God’s provision for tomorrow. Peace and justice will follow.
The alternative is to grab what we want because we assume that we won’t get enough if we don’t. This may seem sensible and realistic. But it leads to misery.
Once we abandon our faith in God’s reliability, we begin to focus increasingly on the fact that we could always have more.
More money for retirement. More recognition at work. A higher GPA at school. Another pair of shoes or piece of jewelry.
Yesterday’s applause fades so fast that we begin wanting the next standing ovation before the curtain closes and worry that we’ll never be on stage—whatever stage that may be for us—again.
Craving is the anxious awareness that the satisfaction of the moment is fleeting mingled with the fear that we will be left unsatisfied in the future. And so we scramble to get more. Contentment has left the building.
Paradoxically, contentment does not derive from knowing when enough is enough.
We begin to experience contentment by recognizing that we are creatures in deep need. We need God’s love, his forgiveness, his mercy and his provision. And contentment comes to full flower when we see that we have all these things.
God already offers what we most deeply desire. He offers us himself in his Son Jesus Christ. The Cross is the enduring sign of God’s self-offering to us, even when we reject him.
We simply have to receive it. The only thing standing in our way is us. So long as we grasp and grab for ourselves what we want, we can never receive it freely. And the very thing we most want can only be given as a gift.
Our desires can also become destructive when we pursue the wrong object of desire. But that is for the next post in this series.