Blessed Wanting

There’s a pen and ink drawing of an old building I saw a decade ago that I would like to have. I’m not going to identify it more specifically, for fear that someone will get it for me. Wanting – and not getting it – is one of the touchstones of my life.

What is my right relationship with the material things of this world? Ubiquitous advertising and social norms would say that things define me. I had a close friend who talked of engaging in contests predicated on the basis of, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” I didn’t say it to him, but I wanted to add “what?” to the end of that phrase.

Materialism is as pervasive and unquestioned in our world as racism was in the 1800’s. I use that comparison deliberately, because materialism and racism both produce similar benefits and costs. Some people get more because others get less.

The links were easy to see with slavery. The plantation mansion was built on the backs of unpaid labor.

The links today are less obvious, but still pervasive. Our contemporary connectedness lets me see globally, if I choose to do so. A simple yardstick has been around for a long time. “Live simply that others may simply live.” That’s a straightforward message that is utterly counter-cultural and extremely difficult for me to live up to.

More than a billion people in the world are hungry. Millions of malnourished children die each year. I live in a house heaped with things I don’t need and struggle continually not to gain more weight.

The antithesis of my lifestyle would perhaps be those monks who own nothing and wander about with begging bowls. If those around them feel they are worthy, the monks will be fed. But they go through life with no assurances past the present moment. And need none.

I on the other hand pile up wealth and possessions to guard against any conceivable contingency. In the process, I also leave little room for what could be the most important aspect of life – the presence of God.

It simply is not true that I own anything. Everything is a gift of God. Moreover, the things in my possession also own me. Much of our contemporary lives are spent taking care of, protecting and being preoccupied by things we have accumulated.

I have come to see that love is the only thing worthwhile in these lives of ours. Love of God, family and all those around us. Spending time and helping others – exercising our compassion – produces lasting happiness.

“Things” are tools that assist us in being compassionate. They are also burdens, using up the limited resources of our lives.

All of this is however difficult to remember. For whatever reason, I’ve always liked watches. When I pass a display of them in a store, they draw my eyes. A beautiful car, warm coat or new toy all might be fun to own. How am I to live rightly when confronted by temptation? Particularly when I’m bombarded with media messages encouraging consumption.

Wanting – and not getting – is thus a necessary exercise for me, a reminder of who I am and what I’m here for. I know I’m having a good day when I can walk through a mall and think, “There is nothing here that would make my life more wonderful.”

Which is not to say that I can maintain that level of awareness. For some reason, I was drawn recently to begin playing the banjo. First I had to pay for one (even an inexpensive model was a great deal of money when compared to people living on a dollar a day). It’s tempting now to go on the internet and shop for music. Why not? I have the money to pay for it.

But should I use the gifts God has given me for such a purpose? And so I again begin an internal debate, time consuming but necessary if I am going to stay on my spiritual path.

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About Michael Resman

I'm a retired pediatric Occupational Therapist. I now write books and serve as Clerk of the Rochester MN Monthly Meeting. I've helped helped edit WCTS and serve as the organizer for our gatherings. Since July 5th, I'm a grandpa!

2 thoughts on “Blessed Wanting

  1. I have similar quandaries about when to buy and when to resist buying. One of those Spirit-led conversations in my life happened more than two decades ago. I used to buy pretty clothes — full price at the mall — almost every weekend. Partly, it was a way of relieving frustration because my job was highly routine. Not fun!! One evening I came home with a brand new outfit and showed it to my husband. He said, “It’s very pretty, and you have wonderful taste. You need to find other ways to express your creativity besides buying clothes.” I thought about that. I thought about it a lot. The next weekend I didn’t go shopping. I sat down in a comfortable chair, notebook in hand, and wrote. It felt very good — much more deeply nourishing than another new outfit. I still buy more clothes than any one woman needs, but not every weekend, and now I do my shopping at thrift stores. And most days, I spend a big chunk of time writing, writing…My husband helped me sort out the real urge — to create — from the urge to buy — to have the pleasure of making aesthetic choices.

  2. Timing seems to be everything . . . just yesterday I mentioned my pursuit to live more simply. I have been decluttering our shelves, closets and trying to repurpose items for the past year. I am finally beginning to make some head way. Approaching our 60th birthdays, my husband and I have been discussing what our priorities will be for the next part of our journey. Family, friends, health, fitness and spiritual growth, learning opportunities, new experiences, serving others and how to let go of our “stuff.” The thing that makes this so difficult is–we are not the only ones needing to let go; our families pressure us to hang on to things, our society certainly pressure us and we pressure ourselves with the emotional attachments to our stuff. God has blessed us beyond measure with love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, miracles and spiritual gifts. I want to free ourselves from the bondage of stuff and move on to that place as Mike mention, “walking through the mall” realizing stuff doesn’t define us or bless our lives. Timing is everything and the less time we spend with stuff–the more time we will have to explore our spiritual paths and all the possibilities that come from letting go and letting God.

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