In Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, we find a story about Pyrrhus, King of Epire. This king was considering an invasion of Italy and sent for the counsel of a philosopher named Cineas who was his friend and whose advice he respected. Cineas asked the king why he wanted to invade Italy. Pyrrhus answered, “To conquer it.” The philosopher then asked, “And what will you do when you have conquered Italy?” The king answered, “I will go to France and conquer that country.” Cineas then asked, “And what will you do when you have conquered France?” “Conquer Germany,” said the king. “And then what?” “Conquer Spain.” The philosopher said, “So, you plan to conquer the whole world. What will you do when you have conquered every nation?” The king said, “We will return and enjoy ourselves at quiet in our own land.” “So you may now,” said Cineas, “without all this ado.”
Sometimes I fear we are so much like Pyrrhus. We assume that our happiness and fulfilment depend on our ambitions, possessions, and achievements. We plan and live our lives as though our external circumstances determine our joy and peace.
For many on this planet there is much truth in this assumption. When people are starving, are crippled by poverty, and/or suffer from the horrors of war, violence and oppression, then their joy and peace of mind do depend on a change of their external circumstances. For us to argue to the contrary without being in their shoes (provided they even have shoes!) would be the height of presumption and arrogance.
But what about us? Does there come a time (perhaps at that point when we have enough of what we really need to be human in the best sense of that word) when our joy and fulfillment depend not on what is yet to be attained but on what is already in our hands? Increasingly as I look at our shallow, materialistic, and competitive society, I am convinced that until we accept what is already at our disposal by the grace and presence of God, we will be cursed with a hunger and thirst which can never be satisfied.
And what is at our disposal? In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is clear as to what is possible through the work of God’s Spirit in our midst. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In Christ these are already available. And frankly, are these not the very treasures we most need in order to be fulfilled and happy?
Until our Western civilization realizes that “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (i.e., in the externals of our existence), we shall forever be on the roam for what is already at our disposal. And the Good News is that once we realize that happiness and contentment exist in the fruits of the Spirit (and thereby cease trying to find our fulfilment in the pursuit of possessions), the material goods of this world will be freed from our clutching hands to be shared with those whose happiness and contentment do depend on having enough. There is so much to be gained on all sides by our accepting what is already in our hands “without all this ado.”