Have you ever had the experience of struggling with a disconnect between what you think and what you actually do? Mentally or intellectually, you ascribe to certain beliefs and ideas, but when you look at your actual day to day life, you see that your actions are at odds with your thoughts. You may, for example, love discipline and accomplishment, and yet you struggle with hitting snooze under ten times every morning.
The whole complex of New Year’s resolutions is a perfect example of this whole dilemma. Why do we constantly come back to this utterly disproven method of improvement? We know its a big fail. We know that it doesn’t work. And yet every year on January first the Twitter and Facebook feeds are teaming with decisions that will melt away quicker than the snow itself. We know that we are not what we should be. And yet we are. We live in a chasm between our perceived should-be self and our actually daily self.
We are not always what we think we are. A big part of the real you comes from somewhere other than the realm of your thoughts, ideas and perceptions.
The roots of this conundrum perhaps have many different sources. One of the major ones is Rene Descartes, who famously stated, “I think, therefore I am”. One of the core assumptions at the base of this statement is that the driving center of our whole life is our thinking. And that change in our lives was a simple process of changing our thinking, of acquiring new knowledge.
Over the past 100 years we have acquired more new knowledge and insight than many other periods of time in the history of man, and yet have we gotten better? We know now, perhaps more than ever about how to be good people – and yet are we?
One of the potential answers to this paradox comes to us from a variety of sources. One unlikely source is a postmodern writer and novelist named David Foster Wallace. Wallace observed that the core foundational daily drive of our lives is not necessarily what we think – it is what we love. The daily movers that keep us churning our wheels through the daily and weekly routines of life are the passions and desires that grip our hearts most powerful.
The most important question that really helps us see ourselves is not necessarily, “what do you think?” but, “what do you love?” The real you is the you of your deepest desires. We are not just creatures of survival. We are creatures of desire, of longing, of direction, of purpose. In a fascinating dialogue between two characters, Wallace tells us these interesting observations:
“‘Your U.S.A. word for fanatic, “fanatic,” do they teach you it comes from the Latin for “temple”? It is meaning, literally, “worshipper at the temple…Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with faith…choose with care. You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice…For this choice determines all else. No? All other of our you say free choices follow from this: what is our temple.”
And notice how Wallace himself not being a religious person automatically switches over to the language of religion and worship. He understands that the human instinct of deep desire is connected to the universal human motivation to worship. Our problem is that we do not realize this and so we passively flow down the river of desires and motivations that grab at us from the world around us.
But what Wallace fails to note here is the deeper question, “Why are we wired this way?” “Where does such an urge come from?” Luckily for us, Wallace was by far not the first one to make this key observation. Actually not by a long shot. 1500 years before Wallace, Augustine of Hippo, an African theologian and philosopher saw the same trends in his day.
In his monumental work, City of God, Augustine makes some striking observations on his current Greco-Roman religious culture. He looks closely at the religious practices of his day and he actually gives many of the same criticisms of religion that we here today. Some of his observations boil down to a criticism that, today, sounds something like, “Your religion makes no sense. It is constructed by you yourselves and it is constructed on the basis of your personal desires. You make all these stories of all these gods and goddesses that want you to do all these crazy things. The core issue is that your religion is just the product of your personal desires.”
But then he probes deeper to ask where does such desire come from? Why are we made this way? Does it matter what we worship? Why are we so restless?
Because we must find our rest in the comfort, acceptance, and satisfaction of the One who planted that heart within us. “Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” Perhaps you have heard the words before.
Have they ever hit home for you personally? What are you restless about today? What are your deepest longings and desires? What do you love? Have you ever considered the fact that even your deepest desires are potentially just an echo of the immensity and glory of His love for you?