Discovering The Things We Really Want
My reflection in this column begins with a question which will require each of us to do some thinking and perhaps, some serious soul searching: "What do we REALLY want from this life?
Notice that in stating the question I emphasized the word "really." I wrote it that way because I am convinced that the things we really want and the things we think we want are often not the same thing.
We say we want this or that, but when life puts us to the test, it turns out that we really want something else. There is a gospel reading that presents a real illustration of this strange contradiction.
It tells about a man who came running to Jesus, knelt in his presence and said: "Good teacher, what must I do to share everlasting life?" Everything about this scene would suggest that he knew what he wanted.
He came running. He knew where he was going, and was eager to get there. He knelt before Jesus, an indication of humility and a willingness to learn. He asked a specific question. Apparently he had seen a quality in the life of Jesus that he thought he wanted in his own life.
But when Jesus told him how to reach the goal, his face fell; he gave up his search and went back into his own way of living. What he thought he wanted and what he really wanted turned out to be two different things.
That same kind of contradiction can take place in your life and in mine. And it is usually so subtle that we are not even aware of it. We tell ourselves that we are pursuing some worthwhile goal, when all the while we are actually seeking some lesser objective.
The answer to the question is this: The things that we really want are those things for which we are willing to pay the price that it takes to get them. Probably, the greatest accumulation from hypocrisy in human experience lies right at this point.
This hypocrisy, for the most part, is not deliberate, but is nonetheless real. We pick out some noble objectives in life, we tell ourselves and our friends that this is our goal but we never get around to paying the price that it takes to reach that goal.
It is easy for you and me to see this contradiction in the life of the man in our story. He was rich. He was powerful. He belonged to the ruling class. He was what we Westerners would call a successful man. But for all of that, he had not found the fulfillment that his heart so deeply desired.
Then one day, Jesus told him how he could have the kind of life that he thought he wanted. Jesus said, "Sell what you have and give it to the poor... After that, come and follow me." At that point, the man's inadvertent hypocrisy was clearly exposed. He had been telling himself that he wanted everlasting life. But when he learned that that kind of living would cost, he changed his mind.
It turned out that what he really wanted was temporary riches, because that was the thing for which he was willing to pay the price.
That is the only valid test of a person's true goals in life. There is a saying: "be careful what you wish for, because you will surely get it." That is an overstatement, but it is the overstatement of a truth. Within the bounds of reason, you and I do tend to get from life what we really want, because we go after those things. We pay the price to get them.
I challenge myself and the reader to apply this searching test to our own life. It is one thing, and a rather easy one, for you and me to desire some worthwhile goal. It is another thing for us to pay the price that is necessary to reach that goal.
My guess is that all of us would profess a desire for improved character within oneself, and improved relationships with other people. All of us would like to be happy in our homes and enduring relationships with other people. All of us would like to have strength of character and spiritual discipline.
How many of us are putting the needs of other people on the same level or even on a higher level than our own needs. To honestly assess those statements is the only way to determine what you and I really want from life.
Let us now consider one other dimension of our truth. It is this: if you and I want the finer things of life, we must pay for them before we get them. If, on the other hand, we want the cheap and shabby things, we can buy them on credit. We can have them now and pay for them later.
The man in our gospel reading was faced with two choices, everlasting and temporary riches. The first required payment in advance, the second he could have immediately.
You and I are faced with the same kind of choices. If a high school or college student wants an idle and lazy life, he/she can have it right now and pay for it later. But if that student wants to get a good education and graduate with honors, he/she cannot have that today. He/she must pay for it before it can be possessed.
Sometimes we think, take what you want; take it and pay for it. In the light of our gospel reading, I would reverse the order of that sentence. I think God would say to you and me, "Pay for what you want. Pay in advance. Pay in terms of devotion to Christ, and discipline of self.
Then the best things in life can be yours forever and ever.