Buddhism teaches that the “pursuit of pleasure can only continue what is ultimately an unquenchable thirst. . . Desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them can only bring suffering. . . “
The Bible validates this truth (in regard to everything except immortality, which we already have, whether we want it or not). We want what we don’t have, lust after what we can’t get. And it brings us suffering. (Commercials were created to stoke that suffering, which is one of the reasons Jerry and I don’t watch TV).
By “lowering our expectations,” I mean reducing our cravings.
In our culture, desiring something other than pleasure and material goods has to be learned and I guess it was true in the apostle Paul’s culture too because he wrote that he had learned to be content. He was apparently learning not only as he taught theology in synagogues and in the public square but while floating shipwrecked in the ocean and lying left for dead under heaps of stones outside various villages. Once he acknowledged Jesus as his Messiah, his life was a fast-paced and varied one. He had lots of opportunity to practice what he was learning.
In that sense, he lowered his expectations. For the sake of lifting God up and making known His gift of life, Paul let go of his expectations to become successful, rich, liked, comfortable, or old.
The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” You don’t speak of gaining something you already have. I’m certain we don’t start out possessing either godliness or contentment. Those are two possessions worth desiring, a desire which can be satisfied.
If we live in the present and focus on the sufficiency and abundance we have, we will increase our contentment. Sometimes I walk through a department store and realize “I don’t need or want a single thing here!” It is an exhilarating feeling, almost joy.
We can learn to stretch for what matters (usually that which is unseen) and lower our expectations regarding what doesn’t ultimately matter (what is seen–like Eve, it’s often our senses that get us into trouble).
Maybe we should be pursuing, learning, practicing contentment instead of perfection. Perfection is elusive. It’s always in the future, just out of reach. Pursuing perfection is liable to give us strokes, heart attacks, or at least keep us perpetually dissatisfied.
But contentment is something we can choose to have right now. I guess it’s the cliche about the glass half-full or half-empty.
As Jerry and I woke up on New Year’s morning a year or so ago, I told him my resolution was to be an “all-full” sort of person like he is. “An awful sort of person?” he said, deliberately mishearing. (He does that to me all the time.) So we started the new year with a pillow fight.
We don’t have to chase contentment. We only have to recognize it. It keeps us in the present and helps us to moderate our expectations for the future. It’s the healthy choice. It enables us to be thankful. Which brings us back to my first post on hiddeninjesus, “Everything.”
http://www.pbs.org/edens/thailand/buddhism.htm; New Testament: James chapter 4; Philippians 4:10-14; I Timothy 6, esp. verse 6.