“Mom, I’m hungry.”
For those of you who have ever resided with a teenager, you too may be intimately familiar with that particular declaration. It is, quite possibly, the phrase I hear spoken most often by my beloved son. I quickly came to recognize the challenges of satiating the hunger that comes with an active body, growing from a child into a man. Unless you love being in the kitchen – of which, I do not – one or two meals are all I am prepared to concoct. That leaves satisfying his hunger in-between meals entirely to him. The sequencing of events goes something like this: He declares his hunger. I offer several nutritious options; he opts for a bag of chips or other junk food, providing momentary satisfaction – but empty calories are not sustaining – leading him back to me a few hours later with further, “I’m hungry” utterances.
While I’m tempted to roll my eyes at his repeated folly, I would have to admit the landscape of my life can look much the same way. I feast on achievement. I snack on control, power, and security. I nibble on relationships, love, and praise.
If I could shed ten pounds. GULP!
If I could secure this raise. SLURP!
If I could just get him/her to change. CHOMP!
If I could purchase….. GLUG!
I consume until my belly becomes distended. I dine until my plate is full. And then it’s God’s turn to lovingly raise His eyebrows at me when I turn towards Him and say, “I’m still hungry.”
With each day, whether or not we are aware of it, we embark on a journey to crest the summit of abundant life. Since the creation of mankind, man has sought this zenith. What determines and defines abundant life is unique to each of us. For some, its roots are based in fulfilling relationships. Others seek to embrace the experiences and wonder this life and our world have to offer. Still, others pursue influence, in its various forms, to author and enable change. Our characterization of abundant life is as dynamic as it is distinctive. It evolves over time: as we age, obtain new experiences and knowledge, as we define and clarify our values, as our circumstances and external environment reshape our perspectives. By themselves, or in combination, these pursuits are worthy and good. So how is it that we can often feel bloated and famished at the same time?
Much like I stock our pantry, our world is filled with a bounty of tasty morsels intended for our enjoyment. When we partake without intentionality, what would have been sustenance can quickly morph into empty calories. As we stand before the storeroom of life, surveying its contents and considering our choices, our mindset will ultimately determine what we reach for; we will either be relief-focused or purpose-focused.
When we are relief-focused we are most concerned with a reprieve from pain, discomfort, and distress. We tend to reach for that which will quickly alleviate the gnawing sensation in the pit of our stomach. While we may immediately dull the ache, we fail to address and, or recognize the source of our need. In much the same way our brain triggers a hunger signal, not because we need food in our belly, but because we need nutrition in our system, our heart will alert us to aspects of life which are less than they were intended to be. When we neglect the root of our longings, our lives can become obese with broken relationships, overloaded schedules, and stretched finances.
Keep in mind, there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a relief-focused remedy. The nature of freedom is that it gives rise to choice; we can choose relief or purpose. At times, relief is exactly what we need. When relief becomes our default, either because we don’t recognize an alternative or because we don’t know how to pursue one, we become bound to a life that is less than; forfeiting the very freedom we long for.
When we are purpose-focused we put-off immediate gratification and withstand the ache while we do the work to achieve a greater aspiration. Being purpose-focused directs our sights towards that which is beyond our immediate craving; remedying the source of our longing rather than the symptom. In doing so, we not only pursue our objectives but along the way we discover we are stronger, more courageous, and more adaptable than we had previously believed. We endure loneliness while we seek deep connection. We go back to school to broaden our horizons. We invest in healing old wounds so present relationships may flourish. We curtail our spending on frivolous purchases to reinvest in meaningful consumption. When we nourish our souls in a purpose beyond the “now,” it lifts us from our present circumstances and engages our hearts in a greater calling. Then we can dine and be satisfied.