Do you remember when your parents warned you that if you ate too much before dinner you would ruin your appetite? My Dad had some great expressions like, “Don’t glom that soda,” and, “Don’t fill up on that,” and “Ok, now hold off on the bread until the meal comes.” But did it ever actually happen? I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, in all my life I have never ruined an appetite.
I think Seinfeld does a bit about this (there’s always another appetite coming along…), so I won’t try to compete with the master for your LOLs. But the point is that I think our parents lied to us. You can’t ruin your appetite, because appetite is incessant, insatiable, and relentless. Of course our parents knew this – they had already lived long enough to know you can’t really ruin an appetite. Maybe they were really just trying to prevent us from getting fat.
The ancient Stoics seemed to actually fear the appetites, and advocated suppressing them (along with most emotions) so that the body would not override the intellect and draw them into making bad decisions. Their motto would have been something like, “The head must rule the stomach.” (Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying Stoicism, but let’s move on…)
Today we seem to have the opposite of Stocism, which I suppose for lack of a better term we can call consumerism. Consumerism is a form of selfishness, an idolatry really, in which the self serves the self, with consumption as its goal. It’s fueled by those incessant and relentless little motivational messages that interrupt our TV shows. These motivational messages, known as commercials, tell us what we want to hear: that we’re nearly perfect, and all we need to realize our potential is to acquire a certain product – and not coincidentally the makers of said motivational message are ready to tell us how to acquire said product.
I wrote in Spiritual Blueprint that there are two lies the world wants you to believe. One is that true love is a happy ending, but that’s the subject for next week’s blog. The other lie is that you are basically perfect the way you are. You don’t need to grow, you only need to acquire more. In other words, the lie (which we are so eager to believe, by the way) is that what we are is just what we were meant to be, our only problem is in what we have (or don’t have).
I would argue that the truth is the opposite. Our problems are not solved by having, they are solved by being, or more precisely, by becoming. It’s not that we are all we were meant to be, and we only need to have more things to be happy – no, we could probably be happy with what we have if we would be willing to admit that we are not all we were meant to be, and that there is room for growth. The world wants you to be satisfied with yourself, but unsatisfied with what you have. But I’m saying you will actually be happier if learn to be satisfied with what you have, but with a healthy desire to become better than you are. (Not that I discovered this pearl of wisdom. Guys like… oh, I don’t know… Jesus… and St. Francis… they all said this, too.)
Unfortunately, the companies behind those short motivational messages pay a lot of money to interrupt our TV shows and tell us what our fallen human natures want to hear. And why do we prefer the lie to the truth? Because the lie seems easier. It seems easier to get something than to become something. And I suppose it is, apart from the debt-induced stress. Commercialism is enabled by our desire for instant gratification.
To reject commercialism is to reject instant gratification, in favor of a personal (and spiritual) discipline that learns to trade a short term pleasure for a greater satisfaction later. I’m not just talking about fasting. You may remember I talked about that in an earlier blog (somewhere around Lent, I believe), and I don’t claim to be any good at it. But this is a bigger picture. This is about learning to work on ourselves (scary as that is) and not pretend that just getting the next new toy or having the next thrilling experience will make us happy.
Actually, I’m not any good at this, either. But at least I can tell the lie from the truth. And that’s the first step, isn’t it? From there, it takes prayer and, well… discipline.
I also talk a lot in Spiritual Blueprint about gratitude: counting your blessings and living a life that is motivated by gratitude. One of my own personal recurring prayers, then, is that God will work in me to help me turn my gratitude into discipline.
I recently wrote a song called, Be My Strength. The song begins:
So many gods, so little time
Every shiny thing catches my eye
So many new things they want me to buy…
This song hasn’t been recorded yet, but it’s going to be on a new CD that I’m currently working on. If you’d like to hear a demo version of it, it’s on the “Listen to the Songs” page on my website (first one on the bottom row). But remember it’s just a demo version, so all you Simon Cowells hold off on the critique until the CD comes out.
When our parents said we would ruin our appetites, what they really meant (possibly without even knowing it) was that if we weren’t careful we could get into habits that would ruin our ability to control our appetites. So when we were kids and we were tempted toward instant gratification, our parents (if they were doing their job) tried to help us learn discipline. They tried to teach us that there are some things worth waiting for, but it might take sacrificing something now to get, or appreciate, that better thing later. I could list so many examples of how this might be true in life, but you already know them. You may be able to pat yourself on the back for the times you were disciplined and it paid off. You may regret the times you lacked discipline. If you’re a human being, my guess is that you have had both kinds of experience. So the bottom line is not to dwell on the regrets of the past (or the successes), but to focus on personal growth into the future.
The problem is that we fear growth because deep down somewhere we think that change means a loss of who we are. That’s because we have believed the lie that we are perfect now. But change is not a loss of who we are – if it’s growth it’s a gain, because it’s a movement closer to the people we were created to be.
Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Paul, Letter to the Philippians 3:13-14).