Fulfillment through forgoing

June 1, 2012 — Leave a comment

One of the presuppositions of our culture is that more is, well, more–that with greater material affluence comes greater happiness or fulfillment, a better life. This runs counter to the principle of askesis (Gk, “exercise” or “training”). The word is the root of our word asceticism–the forgoing of material comfort for the purpose of focus or spiritual benefit.

It turns out that in limiting ourselves (or in embracing our human limitations) we actually open ourselves up to the thing that ultimately make us happy–shared experience with people we love:

We are familiar with the frequently beneficial consequences of involuntary askesis. How many times have we heard as we have visited a parishioner in the days following a heart attack, ‘It’s the best thing that ever happened to me–I’ll never be the same again. It woke me up to the reality of my life, to God, to what is important.’ Suddenly instead of of mindlessly and compulsively pursuing an abstraction–success, or money, or happiness–the person is reduced to what is actually there, to the immediately personal–family, geography, body–and begins to live freshly in love and appreciation. The change is a direct consequence of a force realization of human limits. Pulled out of the fantasy of a god condition and confined to the reality of the human condition, the person is surprised to be living not a diminished life but a deepened life, not a crippled life but a zestful life. -Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant

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