Desire Cheats You

“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it, it turned to dust in my hands….Because desire just cheats you.”

–Anthony Patch in The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Black Friday is traditionally a day transfixed on desire. On this busiest shopping day of the calendar year in America, advertisers do their best to elicit our desires for clothes, cars, electronics, jewelry–pretty much anything you could lay your eyes on in a store. We also typically spend this day wondering what others desire. What would make the best present for that friend or relative that we see once a year? What could we buy for our sister, brother, mom, dad, significant other, etc. that they would actually appreciate and be satisfied with on Christmas day?

I think it’s obvious how ironic it is that this day immediately follows Thanksgiving, the holiday we reserve for gratitude. We even physically remind ourselves of how plenteous our lives are by filling ourselves with great food. Yet, in this wonderful and supposedly satiated state, why do we still feel the need to collectively–as a culture–immediately run to the next thing the day after? 

Anthony Patch (quoted above) seems to understand part of the problem. His life, as written by Fitzgerald, has consisted of one string of luxuries after another. He has an inheritance of millions of dollars, a beautiful wife whom everyone adores, and friends who are always ready to chase a good time with him, whether that be in downtown NYC, the pleasant suburbs, or sunny California for the summer. He gets everything that he ever wants, simply by nature of who he is and his doggedness to get more.  But, as time goes on Anthony’s life dwindles. He eventually struggles with alcoholism, friends disappearing, a marriage full of acerbity and blame, and lethargy that keeps him from ever accomplishing anything with his life. Desire cheats Anthony of every meaningful thing, because what he uses to fill himself is never enough.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Nothing is ever enough for us that doesn’t last forever, because we have eternity in our hearts. For instance, most of us have probably had a moment, however brief, that we wished we could live in for the rest of our lives. Those times are usually marked by peace, joy, belonging, beauty, and hope for better things. They can be beautiful–but only in their time. These moments will wilt and pass away like a flower. So will our possessions, our beauty, our social standing, or anything else that seem so fulfilling in the moment. So what do we do with these heavy desires? Why do they move our lives so powerfully? Why do we long for permanency in a world that changes constantly?

C.S. Lewis says this about our desires:

If we’re honest, the lives we’re currently living probably leave much to be desired. Even in a normal year our desires can be overwhelming, but in this season where pretty much everything we typically turn to is cancelled or stunted, we want so many things. I know for myself, it’s gotten progressively harder and harder to dream or to strive for anything, because each time my desires seem to get shut down, or I get nothing like what I expected. As a senior in college, I want to look forward to the future for so many reasons, and I have a lot of desires for starting a new phase of life. I’ve had to reconcile myself with the fact that life after graduation may look nothing like I have envisioned, and that even if I did get every single thing I could imagine, it would not be enough. I’d be chasing specters of what my heart really longs for: eternity with Christ. 

Christ is the only true, 100% fulfillment of what we want and long for as people. He is the actual peace, joy, belonging, beauty, and hope that we search for. Every aspect of our life on earth from the mundane to the magnificent is meant to direct us to him. He is our food (John 6:35), our water (John 4:14), our help (Psalm 121), our friend (John 15:13-15), our king (Isaiah 9:6-7), our shelter (Psalm 91), our breath (Isaiah 42:5), and ultimately our Savior (Acts 4:12). As real as our desires on this earth are, they point to the deeper realities of our need for transcendence in this life. Christ is the only unchanging, perfectly good, and endlessly fulfilling person in the universe. 

Instead of trying to get the most out of this life that we can, scraping by with paltry fillers for our massive desires, we have the opportunity to receive all that God generously gives us in Christ. We do see echoes of this in His provision and kindness to us in the form of earthly blessings, but eternal fulfillment will come to us when God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). This requires us to have faith, to trust that there is more than what we see, and that we only find true fulfillment from one source.

So the next time you reach for something to fill your desire, remember that it will cheat you. Christ, however, is offering you the riches of heaven–namely, himself.

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