An old Quaker came to the end of his days as a farmer; no longer did he have the strength to work the soil. So, he placed a sign on his land that read, “This farm will be given to anyone who is truly satisfied.”
A wealthy merchant came riding along and saw the sign framed by the beautiful rolling hills, the rich dark soil, the barns and silos. He thought to himself, “If my friend the Quaker is so eager to part with his land, I might as well claim it. I have all I need – so I qualify.”
He guided his pony to the farmhouse, hopped out of the saddle, and walked to the front porch. The farmer slowly came to the door and offered his leathery hand. The merchant shook his hand and got down to business, explaining why he was there – to claim the land being offered – of course.
“Art thou truly satisfied?” the Quaker asked the merchant. The merchant responded, “I am, indeed. I have everything I need.” The old farmer answered, “My friend, if thou art satisfied with everything ye have, why doth thou need my land?” And with that he closed the door.
It is human nature to want; to search, covet, yearn for and lust even after we have everything we need – more than we need. There is this insatiable desire within us that we can’t seem to satisfy, a hunger we cannot fill. According to Richard Alpert, also known as Ram Dass, he says that desire is precisely the problem. It is the fly in the existential ointment, the one thing that always trips us up (Which in the Christian tradition sounds a lot like “original sin”).
Unmet desire is, as Alpert describes, like eating ice cream. One has to keep eating it, faster and faster, because it is constantly melting; it is always getting away, and never fulfills true hunger. I would only add to this apt description that even if one is able to “eat the whole thing” before it melts, then he or she will only feel sick, nauseous, and guilty when it is over.
So, how does one unhitch from the runaway desire, the sheer hunger of the heart that so often drags us to our undoing? The great G.K. Chesterton once said that there were only two ways to be satisfied. One “is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” But how does one desire less?
There’s no easy answer. Whole religions and extensive spiritual practices have been built around answering that question; and everything from self-flagellation and asceticism to quiet meditation and psychotropic drugs have been tried to free humanity from itself. Yet, the heinous rate of consumption, the constant grabbing and clutching for more, continues with happiness levels as flat as ever.
But maybe the presence of desire isn’t the real problem. It’s not that “we want,” but that we want the wrong things. We are all going to desire. After all, desire is simply the search for happiness. What is the object of those desires; what is it that we are after that we think will make us happy? Those might be the better questions.
See, we have been duped. We think that acquisition will satisfy us. We have been fooled into thinking that a shinier car, a bigger house, a younger wife, a better neighborhood, or the newest piece of technology will make us happy. But it’s an evaporating illusion. When you are chasing after what will never ultimately please you, getting more of it, won’t get it done.
I think that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you.” He was saying, “You’re going to desire, you’re going to want; just point those cravings in the right direction. Go for what counts!” Then you discover that living a satisfying life requires very little. You will discover that the hungry life can be replaced by the happy life.