“You are enslaved by the verb “to have”. . . The very mainspring of your activity is a demand, either for a continued possession of that which you have, or for something which as yet you have not: wealth, honour, success, social position, love, friendship, comfort, amusement. You feel you have a right to some of these things: to a certain recognition of your powers, a certain immunity from failure or humiliation. You resent anything which opposes you in these matters.”
--Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism
In this season where gift-giving and receiving is the subject of almost every advertisement and many conversations, it may seem antithetical to consider that “having” is something to beware. If you have children, you may at least be aware that it is dangerous to fulfill their every desire to have, but there are more subtle aspects of having, which Underhill mentions, that may escape our notice.
We are a discontented culture. That discontentment not only manifests in our consumerism but also in our voracious appetite both for experiences and self-improvement.
Back when I had an accounting practice, I remember reading a book that advocated for creating customer experiences, because it wasn’t enough simply to satisfy customer expectations. Business owners needed to craft a unique experience, something to thrill and excite those who came into contact with your company. We see how this is manifested in the growth of extreme sports, in worship that places an emphasis on entertainment, and in restaurants that create thematic atmospheres of jungles, medieval banquets or island beaches, to name a few.
Underhill says we feel we have a right to comfort, amusement, honor and love. We don’t enjoy failure or humiliation, but do we have a right to be exempt from these?
What if we were to see failure and humiliation as gift? If we could welcome the disappointment of not having, and see it as good? What if our appetite for having was replaced with reliance on God and the recognition that Christ alone is enough for us?
If we can begin to see everything as gift, then our compulsion to have diminishes. We can celebrate all of life, even the hurts and failures, recognizing that in all things, God is present with us, sustaining us, holding us, bearing the pain with us. We are never alone. That’s the best comfort, the best experience of all!