Thursday, April 8, 2010
The Curse of Abundance
Am I corrupting my children?
Recently one of my daughters came home from school and announced that she was hungry. I told her that she could have some fruit, or veggies and dip, or the vanilla yogurt that she likes. She was very displeased with these options. I was very displeased with her displeasure. In my standard scolding tone I informed her that having three choices of what to eat was nothing to turn one’s nose up at, and that furthermore, one of those options was in fact a category with six options within it. (Through unusual circumstance, we happened to have an excess of fruit in the house. I impressed this upon her by providing the list.) With great resignation and some irritation, she announced that she would suffer an orange.
Dissatisfaction is the curse of abundance.
On another occasion, with my other daughter, I found myself going through the morning “What Do You Want for Breakfast?” routine. Cold cereal? No thanks. Oatmeal? Cream of Wheat? Nah. How about some eggs? Fried? Scrambled? I could make an omelet… Nothing sounded good to her. “What else do we have?” was the question hanging in the air.
It occurred to me later on that by constantly presenting options and asking her to weigh them in her internal Desirability Center, I was training her to focus on her preferences, to keep on exercising the “want” muscles. And over time, this was resulting in more wanting, as well as a belief in the existence of The Magical Food that is so delicious, so wonderful, so special that it actually can fulfill all of one’s desires. I don’t know what it is, and neither does she, but hope springs eternal that if I can somehow speak its Name then she will recognize it and exclaim; “Yes! That’s it! That’s what I want!” So there we were. Me training my daughter in how to want, and her unable to revel in the astounding goodness of simply sitting down and having a hot meal appear before you that you didn’t even have to prepare for yourself, much less milk the cows and bake the bread.
From here it is a straight line towards the yearnings for The Magical Toy (adults: gadget) that is endlessly fun, The Magical Job that fulfills all your vocational and financial desires, and The Magical Spouse. Whatever you have now may well be good, but belief in the Magical will always invite you to wonder if there might be something – or someone – better.
How far our lives are, in the land of plenty, from the life Paul lived that led him to say; “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” and “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” (See Philippians 4 and 1 Timothy 6.)
Those of us who want to be followers of Jesus should be mindful of two things: abundance and purpose. Constant abundance becomes invisible to us as we get used to it. We need to see people who have actual needs or we’ll lose sight of how much we have to share and instead fall victim to our endless wants. And the purpose of God in the world is something much broader and much deeper than fulfilling our desires. If we are not devoted to that purpose, it will be no surprise if we end up devoted to our preferences.
I know I have a need to see my abundance and to renew my purpose. And as a parent, I need to help my children find this life as well. The Land of Plenty, it turns out, can be a tricky place to live.