So I was driving home after working in Raleigh for the day. I had attended a late morning meeting and then another one early afternoon, and I realized I hadn’t eaten in a very long time. I stopped by a Chick-Fil-A to get a sandwich. As the teenaged kid handed it to me I thanked him and he gave me the company line “My pleasure.”
It made me smile…..a bit cynically because the poor kid looked exhausted from the crazy busy lunch rush and I figured it possibly wasn’t really his “pleasure”. He’d probably have derived more pleasure from me going somewhere else. But it got me thinking….what a great phrase to focus on and try to infuse into our lives. To make each moment a pleasure. However difficult the moment, however mundane. To find something that we can grab onto and find supreme satisfaction. I realized that with line of thought, and the fact that I liked and embraced the idea, it just may mean I’m a hedonist.
Oh I know…some of you are put off by that word, because it reminds you of the utmost of debaucherry. (It gains the favor of some others. And yes, I know who you are.) But looking up the definition it simply says “the belief that pleasure or happiness is the most important goal in life.” (Thanks Merriam-Webster.)
I’ve written pretty often of my favorite Westminster Catechism question that says “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” That has already become the core of how I try to live my life (and the reason I bring it up a lot). It falls right in line with this thinking. If you do it right.
There are many Christians for whom pleasure seems to be a foreign concept. Their face houses a sour expression, their attitude one of constant disapproval. Of everyone else, of course. Far be it for them to think disapprovingly of themselves. To think of themselves would be selfish, after all, wouldn’t it? No. No, it wouldn’t. They could use a bit of introspection.
So much of living our faith requires that we look inward. That we examine ourselves. That we open ourselves to experience life and live it with intention. That we be vulnerable and able to be changed. That we live with hope and not with despair. Because really…..what does despair say we believe about God?
I’ve been struck lately by the number of people lately who have said to me “I am spiritual, but not religious.” We’ve made “religious” something people don’t want to be. I understand why….so many evil acts are being done in the name of religion. But those are not religion. Religion is not a bold “look at me”, but instead a quietly powerful “look at God.”
For those of us who are Christians we believe James 1:27 that says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-30294A" data-link="(A)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> orphans and widows<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-30294B" data-link="(B)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”> in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (NIV) Or in the translation I enjoy because it speaks more as I do, (the Message),“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”
I don’t like the side of me that is judge-y….and oh, it comes to me so naturally. I think for most of us it does, whether we express it or not. But as in most things, the ability to be critical can be a big fat weakness….or it can be our greatest strength. I think it is at our strongest when we turn it toward ourselves and study who we are, and who we want to be,. Or look at the negative actions of the people around us and instead of focusing on them, we say to ourselves “I don’t choose to be like that.” And then we make a plan to be different.
So back to the hedonism…..back to the pleasure. If I am living my moments with intention, I get to look at the situations I encounter and think “How can this be made good?” How do I think differently and act differently and enjoy each moment? I’ve found it is not when I am in a negative and hopeless state of mind, not when I am focusing on the clock ticking seconds of my life away as I just exist, but instead when I am doing religion. When I am looking out for the orphans, the widows, the homeless, and the loveless….and fighting for justice for those that our world often forgets or who aren’t in a position to do it for themselves. When I find purpose….when I purposely breathe in life and breathe out love.
But it’s also not all about other people. I think the martyr thing is over-rated and not God’s expectation for his people. We’re to enjoy this world. Mark 12:30-31 (NIV) says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'”
You don’t have to love others better than you love yourself or less than you love yourself…just as you love yourself. There needs to be balance. You get to love and care for you.
Maybe living a life of hedonism is a bit of a stretch….that term may describe living life all about me, where I truly believe in living all about us….or even more precisely, all about celebrating God in us. I can’t force others to experience pleasure, and that is not my job. I can force myself to experience it, though. I can be intentional in how I live. I can live in a way that when God says to me “Thank you for serving me”, I shout with joy “My pleasure!”