Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
What do you crave? What in this moment is creating that deep, cavernous ache? What can’t you live without for even one more second? What makes your mouth water when you think about it?
For me, it’s salt and vinegar potato chips. I don’t let myself buy them because I can crush an entire bag in about ten minutes if I’m left alone and unsupervised. Responsible adults will walk back into the room to find me curled Smeagol-like around my precious bag of chips, fingers coated with pucker-inducing, fiendishly salty potato chip powder, just one second away from licking every one of my digits clean. You can see why I don’t allow them onto my shopping list.
In moments where this overwhelming craving subsides, I get hankerings for other things: good bourbon, naps, back rubs (the kind where someone actually puts some effort into it). I crave the feeling of skis on my feet, crushing fresh powder in the morning, before anyone else gets on the chairlift. Often, I crave my family—the magic moments of the five of us, just being together.
Like all of us, I have pernicious cravings too. Cravings that make me unwise. Cravings that cause me to hurt people. I crave power. I crave success. I crave affirmation. I crave physical intimacy. I crave emotional closeness. When properly managed (or in Christian parlance “stewarded”), these cravings spur me to achieve, and to add value, and to build mutually enriching relationships. When unchecked, they are bad toddlers, eating bags of gummy bears and staying up all night. They are selfish and self-serving. They taunt me to use people for my own gain, and they always end up leaving a hole bigger than the one they promised to fill.
I recently read part of David Brooks’ most recent book The Second Mountain, in which Brooks describes our current culture as one that “…celebrates freedom and tells us to be true to ourselves at the expense of surrendering to a cause, rooting ourselves in a neighborhood, binding ourselves to others by social solidarity and love.” He goes on to say that “we have taken individualism to the extreme—and in the process we have torn the social fabric in a thousand different ways.” I bought the book immediately, because I see myself and my peers listening to this message of “to thine own self be true” at horrible expense. When I satisfy my cravings at the expense of all else I certainly feel free, but often, I am surprised by the cost of that freedom and by the way that it makes me feel untethered from fulfillment.
Of course all of this stretches far beyond potato chips, but how we manage, prioritize, and process our desires will ultimately set the course for our lives. When we choose freedom by way of satisfying our cravings, are we actually free, or are we just enslaving ourselves to something else? Ultimately what Brooks points out is that we have become slaves to ourselves, and we are unwise masters. We prioritize poorly because our cravings point us, often rightly, to real needs and wants. The problem lies in how we satisfy them.
I would need pages more to unpack the wisdom and pitfalls surrounding that question. What I know is that I happily eat salt and vinegar potato chips once a week, on Wednesday nights, at sailing. It is a craving that is best satisfied in a framework of discipline. Isn’t it so with our other cravings? Satisfying them shouldn’t be so much about freedom at all costs, but about freedom in the right framework. Just like a budget gives you the freedom to spend, or a good diet gives you the freedom to eat fruits and veggies until you are full, so discipline lends itself to freedom in the midst of all of our many cravings.
I also know that my faith is ultimately what allows me to order my desires in a way that leads to fulfillment and purpose. I am an unwise master—in my limited view of the world I am ill-equipped to make decisions about how best to spend my short life. In surrendering myself to a God who knows all, and loves all, and is working towards the redemption of all, I find great peace—and I find a framework in which I can clearly examine the merits of my desires. Christianity isn’t about denying our desires but about ordering them correctly and satisfying them in ways that don’t do more harm than good. It’s about eating the potato chips without developing high cholesterol, which, ultimately, is way more freeing than binge-eating them all alone.
Ansley Kelly (‘16) is a Department Manager at Wegmans in Buffalo, New York. She is passionate about her work as a leader and often describes her job as “creating environments for talented people to be successful.” In the summer you can find her training as the bowperson on a competitive sailing team, and in the winter she volunteers as a member of the National Ski Patrol. After both of those activities you can find her sipping bourbon (neat, of course) and working on puzzles.