“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5.6).
I love to eat. No really, I LOVE TO EAT. Add that to the fact that I live in the most affluent country in the history of mankind and it is clear that I have no experiential understanding of what it means to be hungry. After missing a meal I may say, “I’m starving!” but I have no clue. In fact I would say I rarely allow myself to feel even the slightest sense of discomfort when it comes to satisfying the tyranny of my stomach. Most of my eating is driven by my underlying search for emotional comfort. There is little intention to satisfy a physiological drive nor my body’s nutritional needs – I just eat. We’ll address my poor eating habits at another time. For now I must admit that hunger (and thirst) is foreign to my experience.
So it is in my spirit.
I have been surrounded by the Word of God and Christian community all my life. But I wonder if in that I have ever had to experience the real sense of spiritual starvation and need. I’ve usually been pacified; never allowing myself to understand the immensity of my need for Jesus – the real food, the real drink (John 6:55). There have been moments of spiritual awakening; there have been times of crisis when I’ve been driven to my knees in humility and known my need to feast on Christ but shortly after the storm subsides I resume the delusion of being satisfied.
It is true of all of us – we seek to relieve the discomfort of our spirit’s restlessness with “fast foods” – TV/computer, sports, food, drugs/alcohol, sex, affirmations from friends, affirmations of our ministries, an uplifting worship service (which usually means we liked the aesthetics or the beat of the songs), doctrinal arrogance and a thousand other counterfeit “fillers”.
Fillers are those things we feed our spirit to numb our pain and trick us into feeling full and nourished – distractions. Yet Jesus loves us too much to allow us to settle for distractions. He speaks into our emptiness and calls us to find satisfaction in His righteousness. The Bible says that through faith we are given full access to this righteousness (Romans 1:16-17) and yet called to yearn for more of it – to allow ourselves to be nourished and filled by it day by day. Thus Christianity is a holy paradox. We have all we need and yet are called to hunger and thirst for more. Jesus has redeemed us, paid the price of our sin and yet is calling us toward a greater fullness.
Yet few of us know what it is to hunger and thirst for the “more”. We’ve become content with what we have; satisfied in yesterday’s feast; settling for the bare minimum – surviving. Jesus calls us to hunger and thirst. Both of these terms have the sense of desiring something so much that there is indeed a type of suffering involved. In reading some of the writings and practices of the “Desert Fathers” of the fourth and fifth centuries we see these followers marked by extreme asceticism – fasting, isolation, silence and the like. Their motives were generated largely from their grave concern over the secularization of the church. While their extremes can be criticized, the intent was closer to what Jesus is calling us to in this beatitude. There was a suffering, a hunger and a thirst for the righteousness of Christ. I’m wondering if we would do well to mimic their radical example. Surely, this is closer to the intent of Jesus than the comfortable starving we settle for.
So what of marriage?
- At our best we spend a good deal of time and energy in our marital relationships looking for ways to build and maintain a good partnership. After all we all want a “good marriage”; a relationship where we are tuned to one another; where there is a mutual satisfaction given and received. Yet as John Wooden, the iconic UCLA basketball coach told his players we must, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” The same can be said of human marriage when partners are trying to advance their relationship in their own wisdom and skill. Just because we are active in reading the latest marriage enrichment book and going to all the right conferences and a host of other good deeds, does not mean we are achieving a God infused relationship. If we are trying to better our relationships with our own resources we are feeding on cocoa puffs and thus will never taste the goodness of the “Righteous One” at the core of our union.
In addition, “our best” is much too hard to sustain and we rarely find ourselves there. Sooner or later the initial intentionality and “gaga” of romantic love fades and more and more of our energy goes into protecting ourselves than into sacrificial love and union. Sometimes we muster up a new burst of human effort and the seas seem to calm a bit. But soon that burst diminishes, sometimes resulting in internal discouragement and external bitterness.
We need an intervention!
What if instead of striving in our own fumes we sought to satisfy the starvation of our marriage through feasting on the righteousness of Jesus? Can we see the greater worth of doing marriage with the food of God; with the nutrition that comes from feeding upon Him (John 6.57)? Will we feed our spirit’s craving for a clearer understanding of righteousness and grace in living relationship (Proverbs 2.1-12a)? Or will we continue to plod along trying to endure a mediocre marriage?
Let me ask this. When was the last time you fasted and prayed for your spouse? Hungered to have her filled with the tenderness of Jesus? Gone to the mountains or the beach just to seek the face of God on behalf of your husband? How about the closet? Ever dedicated a mutual season to abstain from sexual union or other pleasures for the intent purpose of making love to your Creator (1 Corinthians 7.5)? My guess is that most of us have not made time for this kind of dedicated passion. What’s holding us back?
2. In the natural world we never ignore the fact that we are hungry or thirsty unless there is something physically wrong with us – depression, eating disorders, flu, cancer treatments, etc. Can we spiritually have a type of eating disorder where we have an aversion to the food of the Spirit? As the anorexic has a wholly distorted image of her/his body so the sinner (me) has a disconnect between his spirit and his need for nourishment – the “bread of life”; she thinks she looks just fine when she is really spiritually emaciated. When I hunger and thirst after righteousness it is a clear sign that my spirit is functioning properly as it reflects my yearning for God my Creator. Hunger is a sign of health.
3. The call to hunger and thirst for righteousness also reflects the intensity needed not only to find the righteousness of God but to have that righteousness lived out in the day to day intimacies of marriage. Marriage can never be a passive commitment to one another. When I hunger for something I am driven until that hunger is taken care of. It is not a matter of choice. I sense something crucial missing and I cannot be content until that missing thing is found. A good marriage is intentional. When I see that something is lacking in it I must be deliberate in finding fullness.
4. As with all the beatitudes this one comes with a promise – satisfaction. When I am filled with righteousness there is a great sense of gratification within. As I am satisfied in the things of God I need not look elsewhere to find fulfillment. In marriage when the righteousness of God is filling me I am content and do not have to look to other false things – unhealthy relationships, secret addictions and the like. What’s the secret to making your marriage affair proof? Seek the righteousness of Christ with all your heart. Nothing or no one else compares. We are all hungry for something; we will all worship something. Let it be the fullness of Christ.
5. Finally, genuine satisfaction which comes from being filled with fullness of Christ produces genuine change. There are times when we really do want to change a behavior that is impacting our marriage poorly. Yet we seek that change outside of the empowerment of the Spirit. We lack the authentic longing for the things that God delights in – righteousness and so we muddle along with the same old habits that debilitate us and the ones we love. God promises to give us anything that is according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). Right? Is it God’s will that we be filled with the fruit of the Spirit – “righteousness”? Of course. Then we will have them. God will bring fruit to this holy search and there will be change!
Jesus, we are blessed to feel in our spirits a deep longing for all that You are. We join with Mary in acknowledging that You have filled the hungry with good things (Luke 1:53). Let us be,
“Ever filled and ever seeking, what they have they still desire,
Hunger there shall fret them never, nor satiety shall tire, –
Still enjoying whilst aspiring, in their joy they still aspire.”
Peter Damian, 1072.