“He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” — Ecclesiastes 5:10
I think Americans are generally uncomfortable with limits. Ours is a consumeristic culture: we want unlimited options; we want what we want, when we want it, and for the cheapest price possible.
We apply this consumeristic mindset to other aspects of life, too. We want to have accomplished careers and idyllic family lives. We want the promotion with the corner office and the healthy marriage, comfortable home, and well-adjusted children (of which we want one boy and one girl, of course, so that we don’t miss out on raising either gender). And, just as we have a list that guides us in the grocery store, when we act as consumers of life itself, it feels like our lives become ruled by an invisible checklist: impressive job title? Check. Spouse and kids? Check. Three-bedroom house? Check. Vacation condo in Florida? Check.
Of course, having any or all of those things is not inherently destructive. It’s good to believe in ourselves, follow our passions, and try to do something meaningful and fulfilling with our lives.
There is danger, however, when completing the invisible checklist becomes the endgame. It’s harmful when the checklist weighs so heavily over our lives that our goals and desires overshadow what we have in the present. This kind of thinking is easy to slip into: “Once I finally get [blank], then I’ll be happy,” or “I’ll know I’ve really made it when I finally [blank].” I often lose sight of the good things God has given me here and now by fretting over what someone else has (or appears to have, from my biased and limited perspective), and the only real result of that is more anxiety and dissatisfaction. It is idolatry: I worship achievements, experiences, and myself. I expect these things to make me happy and whole. I know this, but I do it anyway.
Maybe life isn’t all about “having it all.” There’s a quote from a Maurice Sendak book that goes, “There must be more to life than having everything.”
There must be more to life than having everything.
I don’t know about you, but I feel so relieved when I read those words. It’s such a refreshing thought that life is more than a checklist of accomplishments and milestones we must collect like trophies. Life is more than an increasingly exhausting “race to the top” or the next thing we want to say we’ve done, to somehow prove that we are valuable, capable, and satisfied (to others or to ourselves).
Maybe we should make our lives more about giving and less about having—more about serving and less about achieving. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not things or relationships in my life are making me happy. Instead, I should focus on what I can do to make those relationships stronger and healthier. Maybe instead of worrying that others are living better lives than I am, I should focus on how I can best love others.
Maybe I won’t visit all the places I hope to visit. Maybe I won’t get my “dream job.” Maybe I won’t live in the hippest city or have just as many kids as I want. Maybe I won’t ever publish a book.
And maybe I will get some of those things, or even all of them.
But I’m certain that my life will be emptier if those are the things I care most about, because really, all of those things translate into one primary concern: myself.
So instead of living life based on an obscure list of accolades that I think will make me happy or prove my value, I must embrace the life that I have and focus on grounding it in the God who created me and you and all things, the God who always loves us and keeps watch for our return, whether we have strayed for a few minutes or for many years. And maybe he has something in mind for all of us that’s better, more rewarding, and certainly more sanctifying than anything we could possibly think of to put on a checklist.