What do you find acceptable? This is a deceptively important question we all too often overlook. What is an acceptable quality of life? What is an acceptable approach to food or finance, love or employment? If how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, what do we deem an acceptable use of a day?
Some of us spend our time trying to satisfy our every desire, and then we look around and find them hollow. Some people associate Christianity, or even religion in general, with restrictions, with the belittling of our identities and the refusal of our core desires. I think it may be more accurate to say that faith calls us to attend to our deeper desires, it demands we reflect on what we find acceptable rather than simply going with the flow, and in doing so moves us towards flourishing.
For example on of the fruits of the spirit is self-control and most of us feel good when we successfully practice self-control, even if only for a moment, the challenge is that we always run out of said control.
Are our desire really to be “willed” away in that case, or do we take satisfaction in the more difficult path?
C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures … when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (The Weight of Glory). That has been closer to my experience. When one lusts does one want physical pleasures or real intimacy? What satisfies for the longer term?
We sometimes believe the lie that we will be sad or we will have failed at life, if we refuse our desires. I wonder what happens when we re-frame them by asking “what is acceptable to me, and why?”
Suddenly the meal that involves less pain (human and livestock) and environmental destruction strikes us as a little more tasty, the bike ride to get groceries is a joy as we put our bodies to use, the gentle kiss of acceptance sends our hearts aflutter.
The French Catholic novelist Leon Bloy once argued that “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”
The “rules” of faith are actually mostly about helping us lean into that which we find acceptable. Charity, grace, mercy, gentleness, these are cultivated in our hearts and souls over years of service to others. We become saints because God calls us to and because it feels good and satisfying to work towards this (not easy but good). Like the deep hunger of the bone-weary hiker who has looked out from an amazing vista, we can all know satisfaction if we slow down and ask ourselves what is acceptable to us and—insofar as it is up to us—settle for nothing less.