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Pruning Time, part 3: Letting Go of Craving

The difference between wants and needs is that when I take care of a need it’s satisfied–my need for shelter, food, transportation. But when I take care of a want there’s always one right behind it. As soon as I satisfy one want there’s something else screaming ‘buy me, get me, have me.” –Alternatives for Simple Living

More than any other single Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.—Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Both fasting and Lent are associated in some people’s minds with the belief that enjoyment is wrong. I don’t believe this. I take seriously Jesus’ words about having life and having it abundantly; I believe in the commandment to love one another so that our joy may be full. But there is a difference between trying to satisfy craving and being open to joy.

Our society encourages us to want more and more, and to try to satisfy all those wants. That’s how we generate economic growth. That’s how we distract ourselves from hard questions. Even when we try to step outside the mainstream of out society and live more sanely, this attitude of craving follows us.

There are some things I choose not to consume because I think that their effect on my, or on the earth, or on the people who make them, is harmful. There are other things that are perfectly good in themselves, but my attitude toward them may become problematic. It’s healthy to enjoy good food when I’m hungry, but it’s not healthy to eat because I’m tired or bored. It’s healthy to enjoy a good book, but not to read because I’m lonely or because I’m trying to avoid difficult issues.

When I want more and more of any generally harmless indulgence—snacks, novels, Internet time — or feel deprived when I don’t get it, I am letting it control me; I end up stuck in the endless dissatisfaction of craving, cut off from joy. At such times I find it helpful to go for a little while without feeding whatever cravings have become problematic. In the empty time, the craving falls away and I am reminded that I already, always, have all that I need. I return from this time of abstaining ready to be grateful for what is given, open to joy.

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