I was buying a Twinkie, a Coke, and a newspaper.
The young woman behind the counter said, “Is that all?”
I glibly said, “Isn’t that enough?”
She said, “We never have enough.”
I had to agree, but, for now, I just wanted lunch.
Why is it that we are never satisfied? Sure, there may be times when our life seems to be just right. But, more often than not, we are restless. The simple Christian response is: we are made for God. All of our desires are ultimately a desire for God. And, until we are one with God, we are restless. Remember St. Augustine’s counsel: “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee.”
God, the first contemplative
Christians believe that the true story of our lives is a love story. One telling of the story says that God, the first contemplative, gazed on us, and made us alluring. Attracted by one hair of our head, God had to fall in love with us. It is not we who first loved, but God who first loved us. We are born loved. And that love wounded our heart, making it ache for love’s fulfillment.
Our pilgrimage through life is to find the One who made us this way. We want that One to come back and finish the love affair. Our search takes us through God’s creation. And we ask that creation to tell us something about the One who wounded us. Creatures do speak of their Creator, but then point down the road, urging us to continue the quest.
It is natural to be restless, unfulfilled, ill-at-ease, never finally settled. Certainly, there can be a neurotic restlessness, but a low-grade ache for more tugs at most of us. One theologian observed: “Every symphony is unfinished.” In every possession, in every relationship, in every accomplishment; there is an incompleteness.
We are made to yearn, to desire, to ache, to hunger and thirst until we find something or someone that meets the depths of our yearning. The Christian story tells us that only God is sufficient food for the hungers of our heart.
Transformation of desire
But, our hungers and our desires can lead us down troubled paths. Our God-given spiritual longing, which may be expressed in many ways, including creative, erotic energy is dangerous for us if not carefully tended. We need to be realistic, and have a reverence for that energy within us. One contemporary spiritual writer comments: “Spirituality is about finding the proper ways, disciplines, by which to both access that energy and contain it.” The goal is not the annihilation of desire, but the transformation of desire.
Over a lifetime, our desires, which often dissipate and fragment us, are gradually shaped through discipline and grace. We are not getting tougher. Our desires are changing. The desires of our hearts are more and more in accord with God’s desire for us and the world. We begin living in a consonance of desire. Or, as St. Teresa of Avila said simply, “And now, I want what you want.”
Song and celebration
The hungers of the heart are ultimately good. And food abounds in God’s creation.
Those things which properly nourish those hungers, which speak to that deep down ache, should be celebrated. We hunger for wholeness, intimacy, justice, peace. There are family, friends, places, prayers, experiences which God provides for us to give us sustenance on our journey.
But, truly enjoying God’s gifts sometimes is difficult for us. It goes against our Catholic suspicion that behind every good thing lurks a catastrophe. The Irish lady was greeted with, “Isn’t it a great day!” She responded, “Yes, and we’ll be paying for it!”
We will “pay for it” if we cling to the good things of creation, trying to tease from them the nourishment only God can give. But to enjoy them properly, holding them in freedom, and giving thanks, can bring us life. And surprisingly, we may discover a deep-down joy. We may even hear ourselves humming, “Jesu joy of man’s desiring…”