Have you ever been so hungry or thirsty that you cannot think straight? Or said something like, “What I wouldn’t give for a drink right now?” I certainly have.
Over the last little while I have been listening to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s The Bible in a Year podcast. I am a little behind and last week I caught the episode from January 12th.
In it, I heard a story from the book of Genesis about Jacob and Esau, twin sons of Isaac, who is the son of Abraham. To sum it up, Esau, the older twin, returns from a day spent outdoors and is famished. He finds Jacob making a lentil porridge and asks Jacob for something to eat. Jacob then tells Esau that he can have some if he agrees to give Jacob his birthright. His share of his father’s inheritance. Esau, being so hungry that he thinks he might die, swears to give his birthright to his younger twin in exchange for…a bowl of beans.
There are many stories in the Scriptures where biblical characters act in ways that make no sense to me. It is very tempting to look at them and wonder how someone could be so stupid.
Fr. Mike’s reflection on this quickly gets to the point. As with many things, when I take a moment to reflect on my own life, I am less tempted to judge.
I would like to think that I am not capable of trading something of value for something temporary and finite, but the truth is that it can happen all the time.
An Eternal Inheritance
If what is on offer from God the Father is eternal life (I believe it is), then in theory every decision that I make should align with the path that is going to lead me there.
Yet in my story and all our stories, there are moments that we trade our inheritance for the equivalent of a bowl of beans.
The examples can range from the benign to the very serious. I will use the example of binge-watching TV. Going to bed at a decent time is a constant struggle for me. Most nights, by 10pm I know I just need to go to bed. Going to bed will give me the best chance of getting up feeling rested and ready for the next day. It will help me be a better husband, father, and leader. These are the things God is calling me towards and to grow in.
Often, however, I choose to sit down and watch an episode or two of something on Netflix. This might result in a third episode, when I ultimately fall asleep and wake up three hours later with a kink in my neck and all the lights still on. I stumble up to bed, struggle to fall asleep again, and find myself feeling like garbage in the morning.
I am not suggesting that falling asleep on the couch is a grave sin or that I am ruining my life when it happens. But the truth is, be it TV or some other temporary distraction, I have given up some of my capacity for the next day. The capacity to love, to serve, or to be present – for three episodes of TV.
Again, watching TV at night is not inherently bad. It is often a nice way to relax at the end of the day. What I am saying is my choice to give up something good for me and those I love for something temporary is short-sighted.
When we are aware of the impact of our daily choices, we can see how small choices made each day can shape who we become over the long run. If the above scenario happens once every couple of months, it is not a big deal. If it happens a couple of times a week, the impact adds up.
Has “Instant” anything ever been better than the real thing? Instant coffee is terrible. Instant rice is gross. Instant noodles…might be ok, but in general, the real thing is, well, the real thing.
Our culture offers shortcuts to everything. The process, so key to quality, is often lost in the pursuit of speed and instant gratification.
We have become conditioned to seek out the quick and easy over the purposeful and deliberate. The idea of waiting for anything seems absurd. This applies to relationships as much as it does to shopping habits.
Looking backwards in my own life, however, the way to fulfilment and happiness is often the slower path. It is the path of process or, as Morgan Snyder would say, the path of becoming. It is not easy to recognize it as it is happening but looking backwards it is clear that a story is unfolding.
As I look back at the most challenging situations I have faced over the past decade, I can see the way they have shaped me and led me to where I am today. With the perspective I have now, I can see how necessary they were. In those difficult moments, however, I would have given anything to have someone take away the stress and anxiety.
To get the peace I was seeking, I would have traded away the experience gained and in doing so, would have short-changed my future self. Seeing how my life has been shaped by those experiences, I see the value and would not change anything. That said, it is much easier to say this when you have seen how the story unfolds compared to when you are dying of hunger and just want a meal.
This longing that exists within all of us, whether for temporary relief or long-term fulfilment, was placed there on purpose. As a friend of mine has said to me, we all have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. We long for that hole to be filled in through union with God. I believe the glimpses of this union we experience in our lives point to the promise of heaven. I feel it in my relationship with my wife and our kids. The moments of closeness that nobody else can ever know or understand are made up of the same substance that the Father calls us to through relationship with Him.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for all His disciples to the Father, “that they may be one, as we are one”. This is the desire imprinted on our hearts – a desire that calls us to greatness. That even in the moments of desperation we can seek the hope that lies ahead and the promise of fulfilment.
The hunger that lies within us is a good thing. It drives us forward, seeking growth and process. The challenge is to not get derailed on the way. Life will offer us trade-offs. They will look like short cuts or easier paths. They will look like a bowl of beans to a starving hunter. In my experience, the prize is in the process.
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