As parents know, it is generally not good for children to get everything that they want, often because what a child wants may actually be harmful to them in the long run. The child who requests candy for three meals a day would eventually learn that having only sugar is bad for their stomach and teeth. Parents also know that they cannot give in to everything that their children want because it has the potential to make them spoiled - they could begin to think that they are entitled to their demands and become child-like tyrants. Ironically, we assume that since we are older and more mature the two pitfalls from getting everything we want no longer exist. In fact, as adults, we actually have these and a much bigger pitfall that awaits us if we give into our heart’s desires.
As children get older and begin to receive an allowance everything changes; now they can buy the candy that they want with their own money. Many of us are just like that kid in the candy store. We may not be swimming in money, but for the most part we buy the food we want, the clothes we want, and some of the entertainment that we want. It’s our choice because it’s our money. For some this leads to getting the food we want when we want it, which has contributed to the obesity epidemic. For others it puts us on the never ending treadmill of just one more electronic gadget, one more piece of clothing, or one more piece of furniture. We become adult-like tyrants, unsatisfied and needing just one more.
The bigger pitfall is that if we want something too badly we can ruin it if we actually receive it. The person who longs for a child can ruin that same child if they try to make the child into something that he or she was never made to be. Parents can make a child the center of their life, and the child will fall apart under that kind of pressure. The parents will either over discipline him/her to make him/her perfect or will under discipline him/her out of fear of seeing him/her upset. This is done with dating relationships to job promotions and to all aspects of our lives because we are longing for something more than what is in our life, and we think it may be found in these relationships or achievements.
That which we most long for is something that we cannot achieve or earn or deserve; it is only something that we can receive. Frederick Buechner put it this way, “Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God.” Buechner goes on to call God our “beloved enemy” because God is the one who will fight with us, like a loving parent fights with a child in a store, to convince us and show us that what we think we want is not here, but is somewhere else.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Most of us don’t deny ourselves of much. We may bear the burden of not always having everything that we want, but rarely do we (or at least myself) forego something that we want. And yet Jesus says that our attempts to save our lives to find satisfaction in our own means is the very reason why we will lose our lives.
The alternative is realizing what we have in this world is always a gift. Our money, our time, our skills and talents, are all gifts given to us by God. We are not owners of these things, but mere stewards charged to use them responsibly. God has even hardwired humans to live this way. Studies have shown that those who give their money away generosily are happier than those who do not, and I would imagine that it is the same with those who view their time and talents that way as well. We deny ourselves some things because of the joy that we can receive in giving to another. Our model for this is Jesus, for the joy set before him, he endured the cross. Jesus did the ultimate denial of himself for the joy of giving his life for the sake of the whole world.