Godtalk: What do we really want?


The spiritual quest starts with our desires, asking, "What do I really want  in my  life?"  St Ignatius  

Our  desires  are pivotal  to our search. We often look for the right things in the wrong places, and some pay for it the rest of their lives. Unlike what many people think today, Ignatius would not rate "being happy" as the most important desire to have and possess.  

He was not against joy;  it’s just that he would argue against what we sometimes hear parents say they want for their children: "I don't care what my kids do, as long as they're happy"; or what we might say, "I need to make some big changes in my life because I should be happier." Maybe we do need to make some big changes in our life, but not for the primary pursuit of happiness. In this world, everlasting happiness is a myth. 

The social researcher, Hugh Mackay, sums up our contemporary problem with happiness being the essential human goal:
“ Weekends should be great.  Holidays should be havens of happiness.  Work should be fun, or, if not fun, then at least stimulating and satisfying.  So should marriage, and if it isn’t, then we should strive for a perfect divorce in which we and our former partner will behave in the civilised and responsible way we couldn’t quite manage during our marriage.  The kids themselves should be gifted in ways that make them worthy of special attention.  Sex should be blissful and deeply satisfying, every time. Sport?  It’s all about winning, of course.  Our counsellors, it goes without saying, should all be gurus." 

“Our cars should be perfectly safe.  The state should leave us alone to get on with our lives in peace, but should exert tight control over the behaviour of other people who mightn’t be as responsible or competent as we are.  In our perfect world, blame is easy to affix, revenge is sweet, and outcomes are always positive (for us).  Life should proceed from one thrilling gratification to the next, banners triumphantly aflutter, joy unbounding.  All we want is heaven on earth.  Is that too much to ask?” 

From hard experience, Ignatius knew that happiness would be the welcome by-product of living out the highest goals in life:  to be the most loving, hopeful and faithful person possible.

How would people respond if we were to make that response our new mantra to the question, What do you most want for your kids?  “I really just want them to be the most faithful, hopeful, and loving people they can be.”  As in everything important in their lives, our children and young adults learn what this looks like from the adult role models around them.

Peter Knott SJ