Monday, December 17, 2007

Burroughs--Contentment Comes from Subtraction Not Addition

Burroughs explains what he means by "contentment comes from subtraction instead of addition" when he says: "...not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal." We are content when our hearts desire is equal to our circumstances. This, Burroughs posits, is why some men are happy with little and others miserable with much. We are rich when we have our desires fulfilled. Burroughs central point in this section (p15) is that, "a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances".

I agree with what Burroughs is saying. Yet, I would perhaps phrase it a little differently. As C.S. Lewis said:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (From The Weight of Glory, 1949)
I would say then that Burroughs is correct that contentment comes from having our desires met. As Burroughs has hinted at before; we as Christians are the most contented and at the same time most dissatisfied creatures. Therefore if we are to be contented it will come from having strong desires for the Lord and not having hearts entangled in the world. We will be content with whatever lot we have in the world because that is not where our heart is. Our heart has a much stronger affection and because of that we will not be dissatisfied by our circumstances, but rather we will be panting after the Lord. Satisfied, yet hungry! Burroughs, I believe, would agree with this. Yet I have chosen to word it a little differently than he does for the sake of clarity in the 21st century.

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