The first video at the bottom of this post presents a portrait of a man who is simply overwhelmed. He can’t seem to live up to expectations, neither those that are self-imposed nor those that are imposed by others.
One of the paradoxes of our time (at least in the West) is that we have so many creature comforts yet in many ways have never been so uncomfortable. Our high standard of living is accompanied by stress, worry, and a gnawing dissatisfaction. It seems that the more we have the more we worry.
In a way, we have too much to lose; we want and expect so much that we’re never satisfied. There is a kind of slavery that comes with having many possessions. If we’re not careful our possessions end up possessing us! Further, they set loose desires in us that can become extreme and difficult to master. In the end our desires expand with each new thing we get. It’s like a man who overeats; his stomach stretches so that he must eat more each time in order to feel full. Scripture says,
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. … The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep (Eccles 5:10,12).
The second video is an advertisement for Traveler’s Insurance that well depicts how our possessions cause us worry and make us restless. Of course, they claim that if you’ll just buy their insurance, all your worries will vanish! Nevertheless, it is a cute and poignant ad.
Yes, these two videos depict our times very well.
I believe that one of the deepest sources of stress today is the false notion that you can have it all: the well-appointed house in the suburbs, two fulfilling careers, well-raised children, etc.
But this is a lie. You cannot have it all. We all have to make choices. Life involves trade-offs. Choosing one thing often means saying no to other things. A father can’t necessarily climb the career ladder rapidly yet still be reasonably present to his wife and children. The big house in the suburbs isn’t always an acceptable option if it means a long commute, additional time away from the family, and/or a large mortgage that requires overtime and/or a second job. Buying all the latest gadgets isn’t wise if it means being unable to save for the children’s education or for retirement.
We simply can’t have it all. We have to decide what is important and make choices that reflect our priorities.
But as it is, we often want too much and on top of that, we want it right away. We entertain the notion that somehow we can have it all. This attitude then fuels unrealistic expectations. Not only do I believe I can I have it all, I think that I should have it all. And if I don’t have it all, then I’m either resentful, or I’m worried that I don’t measure up to other people’s unrealistic expectations. There’s an old saying that goes, “Most of us spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.” All of this is a recipe for stress, anxiety, and anger.
What to do? Decide! Decide what is important to you and then build your life around that. It’s going to mean that some other things have to go. If your family is your top priority, then you may not be able to accept that promotion if it means spending significantly less time at home. Some people do choose to wholly dedicate themselves to some work or cause. That’s fine. But someone who does make that choice should think twice about getting married (and having children).
And as for possessions, my advice is to simplify. It is far better to live in a smaller house in a less prestigious neighborhood and actually be able to know your spouse and children, than to live in the big house on the hill that requires long hours at work to pay for and is filled with anger over your absence and anxiety about money.
Scripture says, Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred (Prov 15:16-17).
In the end, less is more. We want too much. We think we can have it all. But that’s not true. Psalm 86:11 says, Make simple my heart, O Lord (Simplex fac cor meum Domine). Ask the Lord to help you to desire what is good and then to build your life around that. You can’t have it all. You have to decide. Life involves trade-offs.
We must learn this deeply. If we don’t, we should expect to be overwhelmed and owned by what we claim to possess. Yes, a simple heart is a gift to pray for.
Here is a remarkable portrait of modern man: overwhelmed, anxious, fearful that he does not measure up to the unrealistic expectations of the world, yet unable to decide what is really important.