Right now, on my desk there is a bowl with chocolates and mints. It is nearly full. Occasionally my wife buys me a bag (I will decline to say how large a bag) of a popular chewable chocolaty candy. I like them. What I discovered a while ago is that there is a limit to how many I can eat without serious regrets later. I tend now not to even come close to approaching that limit.
A few decades ago, there was a popular saying, “If it feels good, do it!” It was shorthand for a thoroughly hedonistic lifestyle. A few got through it without much damage. Others, not so much. Human beings are constantly torn between satisfying our appetites immediately or waiting for healthier options. Constantly doing what we want to do whenever we want to do it is an impossible lifestyle to sustain. Even if resources are not limited, we know that there are myriad stories of people real and imagined that end badly.
Doing what we want to do rather than what we need to do leads to trouble. Sometimes we need help staying on task. That is why family, friends, civic organizations, churches, synagogues, and temples are so important in our lives. Most things that benefit us later also benefit those that are around us. Let us encourage each other to do what we need to be doing. Here is a closing thought from Proverbs 24:30-34 to remind us to take care of our vineyards. The “sluggard” here is not necessarily lazy, just distracted.
“I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man without sense;
and lo, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.”
Our culture has changed since then. What causes us to “feel good” is different. I like today better. There is much more emphasis on giving back and helping others. I hear every day of businesses being started that have built charity into their business model. Giving up a little profit to help others is a wonderful thing to do — and needed. We are getting some serious resistance to “corporate greed” in some areas of our society. The change is slow, but it is happening.
The critical difference in the hedonistic “feel good” and the charitable “feel good” is timing. The one seeks immediate gratification of self the other seeks health, wholeness, and care of others. The one only needs attendance the other needs intentional, motivated presence.
This has application to our spiritual lives. Among some parts of Christianity, one metric I sometimes hear about going to church has to do with whether or not it makes us feel good or comfortable. If it doesn’t, we may find a place that does. It suits us. It makes us feel good. All that is required is attendance and the occasional participation in something that interests us. This is not all bad. I suppose I would rather someone go to church than not — something might stick.
Then there is the relentless pursuit of truth and faith that considers culture and politics but keeps them in check. The work is done of making room for those who are different and the discomfort that may come with it. Comfort and feeling good happen, not because they are sought, but because they grow out of seeking spiritual growth, wholeness, and caring for others. This is true of any faith that is properly pursued. There is no need to talk about getting out of our comfort zone because that is where we live.
Hebrews is one of the most encouraging books in the New Testament. Near the end of the sermon we read, “So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:12-16).
Anyone who has finished a degree, trained for a run, learned a craft as a hobby, or stuck with a challenging but rewarding relationship understands that there are many days that do not feel good as we pursue better things for ourselves and for others.
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