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The Tyranny of Tangibility

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I’m notoriously idealistic when it comes to reading. I have stacks of books that I’ve started and still have yet (there’s still hope) to finish. Some books I haven’t finished because they couldn’t hold my attention. Others I haven’t finished because I need to take a 3-month hiatus to process what I just read. And so it has been here lately as I’ve been mulling over “The Weight of Glory” and one passage on one page within the first chapter. Needless to say, I’m nervous to reading any further!

Lewis addresses that ever-present restlessness that we—yes, I’m confident I’m not the only one—all experience in some capacity. You know the one.

Some are better at ignoring it than others; I have no such luxury—it is a constant gnawing, a delicate torment. Even in the happiest of times there is something inside that wonders, “is this it?”

The author writes, “Now if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object” (29). Essentially, if humanity is created for heaven, we will inevitably long for it, but since we haven’t been there yet, we will mistake this eternal longing for a temporal one—i.e. tangible stuff.  i.e.e. we will chase after, play with, and dabble in a variety of ‘things’ in attempt to feed this inherent eternal longing.

Feeling exposed? I’ve been borderline offended for 3 months. It is bittersweet to connect with something like a book or a song—I feel understood, yet predictable. It’s very common.  Look no further than Lauryn Hill’s cover of ‘Killing Me Softly’; the entire song is about this feeling, and she is a boss. Lyrical analysis at it’s finest.

And so it has been these past few months as Lewis put to words a feeling I have known for years but had yet to articulate:

“we cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it… our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter… the books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—as good images of what we really desire; but if mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited” (30-31).

 Yes.

It is all too true and I am all too guilty of falling into the trap of idolizing something tangible simply because it is tangible. I’ll feel happy and then continually revisit and try to reexperience whatever was associated with that feeling. I’m not saying that being happy or seeking to be happy is wrong—quite the opposite in fact. I’m saying that I give credit where it is not due, and attribute the thing/ circumstance/ situation with the ability to make me happy. And then I fall into a trap of expectations… recipe for disappointment.

Because inevitably the restlessness will come about. And rather than sit with it, I take action. I decide that something needs to come or go—out with the old, in with the new. New hair (got it cut yesterday), new exercise program (don’t even get me started), new style (human paper doll), new techie-toy (maybe I got a new phone since I shattered my old one), new hobby (planning to paint this month, maybe pick up cello next month)… and the list continues. Petty examples? Sure. But a deeper, more philosophical and mature example is really just the same, is it not? Jobs, relationships, locations, ‘life purpose’, substances—be it food, drink or anything… Is it not all in search of the same thing?

The issue is that we don’t know what exactly the ‘thing’ (I call it happiness) is– am running around chasing whatever happens to catch my eye and look like it associates with the ‘thing’. Take a second and try to define happiness… see my point? I’d argue that the girl who binges on drink and drugs and the girl who binges on philanthropic ‘good’ endeavors are in reality much more alike than they think. They are both trying to feed this longing with something tangible. Though their approaches are wildly different, and one appears more reputable than the other, both are bowing down to the tyranny of the tangible, and both will inevitably end up repeating the behavior once the temporary luster of tangibility wears off.

Uh oh.

Solomon nails it in Ecclesiastes 1:7 when he says, “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full.” It is at surface level obviously true, yet deeper still than I want to acknowledge. Yes, no amount of tangible things will satisfy a longing for something that’s not tangible. Solomon eloquently calls it ‘a chasing after the wind’.

So what can be done? There is hope. Herein lies the gospel—it’s not about ‘doing’ this or that.

Period.

Oh yes, embrace the frustration that comes with feeling incapable. I have learned to adore this about the Lord! There is not a clear- cut, methodical, three-step process to ‘sticking it to the tangible tyrant’ and only seeking eternal things (that I know of at least). So then, I have to actually rely on God and not on my own discipline, to teach me, train me, and transform my heart into seeking things that are above. What does it look like? That is precisely what I get to spend every day of the rest of my life trying to wrap my mind around. What freedom comes with knowing that I don’t, but He does. And what freedom comes with the sobering reality that the tangible, enticing things of the world do not, cannot, and will never satisfy.  Join me in taking a deep breath, and fighting the grin that accompanies the realization that, yet again, his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

Here’s to laughin’,

Sarah

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