Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have…Hebrew 13:5
Years ago I read a book by Dr. Mark Chamberlain entitled “Wanting More: The Challenge of Enjoyment in the Age of Addiction.” It is one of the most insightful books I have read, and along with what I have learned about “attachment” from the Buddhist faith tradition, and about contentment from the Scriptures, has provided me with significant help in my discipleship.
Chamberlain argues that in the current age of addiction, no matter what our circumstances in life, we focus our time and attention on the next acquisition. Once we have that in hand, we take little or no time to enjoy it, but instead start coveting a newer toy. No matter how much we acquire, we experience only fleeting happiness, then immediately restart the cycle of wanting more.
Buddhism teaches that suffering stems from attachment. Whether it is money, fame, friendships, or other things that we think of as “ours,” we suffer when those things are taken from us, or can’t be acquired by us. Suffering is the space between what we have and what we want.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, covetousness is of sufficient concern that it charts in the Top Ten of commandments, and is repeated in the New Testament just to make sure that we understand that it is still on the books. The Lord wants us spending our quality time doing something more than pining over the neighbor’s new jet skis.
Taken together, these teachings warn us that “wanting more” puts us in psychological and spiritual jeopardy. In a Sunday School lesson I was teaching to youth this morning, one young lady, talking about why people fall away from their faith, said in effect, “It’s about our priorities. We focus on what we really want.” When what we really want is money, stuff, attention, popularity, prestige, or decent pizza (I digress, but I’ve been coveting quality pizza througout my 27-year journey in the wilderness in Texas), we will spend our energy on getting it. If we aren’t satisfied “with such things as [we] have,” our efforts will always be directed earthward rather than heavenward.
In earlier English usage, “wanting” meant “lacking.” If we cannot find contentment with where we are and what we have right now, we will find ourselves lacking two things: The earthly blessing we see someone else enjoying and the spiritual peace that comes from contented living.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t work for personal improvement. In fact, we are commanded to strive earnestly for the gifts of God. But it does mean that our eyes will be set on the Lord, rather than the Lexus in the next lane.
Their meekness and larger capacity for spiritual contentment may be one reason why God uses the weak of the world to accomplish His work. The worldly are usually not very interested in doing what they regard as the Lord’s lowly work anyway.Neal A. Maxwell