Everyone has those little things we like to indulge in. A glass of wine. A delicious dessert. A new dress and pair of shoes. A new hair style. A manicure and pedicure. A bubble bath. A romance novel. Unless you’re a guy, of course. In that case, your tastes are probably a bit different. But the idea is the same. Sometimes we like to relax, tune out the rest of the world. We like to lose ourselves in something, whether its in a good book or in an instruction manual for a new cell phone. (That’s probably more of a guy thing though. Ladies kind of just make it up as we go.) We like to be swept away in something different than the everyday drudgery we go through week after week.
So we indulge. We escape into something better, something easy, something that doesn’t demand anything from us.
But, in fact, our indulgences, our guilty pleasures, demand things of us. They demand our time and attention. Sometimes they demand our money or self-respect. They demand our emotions and our love. And we do love these things. I love when I buy a new book or new shirt. I love the feeling I get when I buy them, and I love the things I buy. They make me happy, give me pleasure. So we enter into a relationship with these things. But while we give everything, they only take and demand. We don’t really get anything back, or if we do, its fleeting. So we continue to indulge even more, hoping to gain something from our pleasures. We want and long for them to fill those empty places inside of us.
There are days when we feel so empty. There are places inside of us that ache. We just want to lie in our beds, curled in a ball, and maybe cry a few tears. (But that’s probably more of a girl thing though. Not that guys can’t cry too… I mean, I’m not judging.) But on those days, there isn’t anything that makes us feel better. So we go to guilty pleasures. We ask them to make us feel better. We give them the power to make us feel better, when more often than not, we only feel worse.
The Eldredge’s discuss our tendency to indulge in Captivating and the “little affairs of the heart”:
“They are what we give our hearts away to instead of giving them to the heart of God… We are endlessly creative in our indulgent pursuits, our adulteries of the heart… Where do you go instead of to God when the ache of your heart begins to make itself known?… We give our hearts to all sorts of other ‘lovers’ that demand our attention, demand we indulge again… They entangle themselves in our souls… It is a lonely prison of our own making.”
Why do we, when we feel empty, go to the things that cannot truly comfort us? And we know they can’t comfort us. Deep down, we have to know. We aren’t incompetent. But we go there anyway. We go to our books or we go shopping or we have a drink. We know they won’t satisfy but we give them a try anyway, just in case this one time, it goes differently. But it always goes exactly the same.
Is this starting to sound like a destructive relationship to anyone else?
We have a God who loves us. We are His children and He asks us to cast our problems, burdens, cares upon Him. He asks us to give Him our loneliness, our aches, our sadness, our troubles. He wants them, because He knows there are some things only He can take on. We have only to pray, to simply ask, and He can unburden our hearts and lighten our souls. But we hold on to the problems. We won’t give them up. Why? Maybe it isn’t really any coincidence that we call our indulgences our “guilty” pleasures. Not only do these little affairs not make us feel better, they add guilt to our hearts. Because of our guilt we try to hide them from God, like Eve and Adam tried to hide from God in the garden. We know they take away from our time and relationship with God, but we let it happen. We do it willfully. So we take the guilt that comes with the pleasure.
It has been a week since I’ve read a novel, the longest I’ve gone since the semester I spent in Cairo. But this is the longest I’ve ever gone intentionally without starting and ending the day with a good book. I haven’t been to the library, the bookstore, or on amazon’s free ebook webpage. I haven’t read a happy ending. I would always read the ending to a book before bed. I liked to indulge in the happiness and content the characters feel when everything is resolved. Most of this, I believe, was a sort of wish fulfillment. I enjoyed someone (a fictional someone) else’s happy ending, because I can’t seem to find my own.
I’m single, about to turn twenty-four in twenty-eight days, and I’m alone. I long for a relationship, a connection. I want a man who loves me deeply, who adores me as much as I adore him. But I don’t have that. So instead, I read. A lot. At least one book a day. (Which sounds horridly similar to ‘a pack a day.’) And usually, I can’t fall asleep until I finish. I need to finish. I need the story to be resolved, so that for a moment, my own loneliness is resolved.
I try to control my loneliness rather than giving it up to God. I try to fill my heart with happy ending after happy ending, when really God could fill it in an instant. I need only to ask. But I would always hold back. I can honestly say that I didn’t trust God enough to give Him my burdens. I was afraid that He wouldn’t be able to take away the aches in my heart, so I wouldn’t allow Him a chance.
But we have nothing to lose by passing our problems on to God. He promises to love and take care of us. He will not laugh at us, find us to be trivial, or withhold forgiveness for allowing our guilty pleasures to take priority. He can fill us to the point of overflowing. He can give us the connection we crave. He is the only one who can make us feel whole. If we can try everything and anything to take away the emptiness, why can’t we give God an opportunity? He is the only one who deserves it.
The purpose of our guilty pleasures is to lose ourselves in something, to escape. I read to lose myself in a story, to escape from my own story into the author’s world. But what if we could appreciate our pleasures without the guilt? What if we stopped expecting them to change our world, to save us, and allowed them to simply make us smile?
We can make God our escape. We can lose ourselves in Him, in His Word, in His relationship with us. We can expect Him to fill the emptiness. If we can trust God enough to do this, them we can still have our moments to ourselves. I can still read a book just for the fun of reading a book. You can still go shopping at your favorite store. You can still have the slice of chocolate cake. And we can do so without guilt, because they are no longer taking the place of God. We have chosen to make Him first. Everything else is extra, dessert, the cherry on top.