For nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence.
Hmm, I lick chocolate off my fingers, a bit of a stomach ache is coming on.
If there is anything that is typical of America this is probably it. We love our big houses, big hair and Big Macs (and I’m in Texas where everything really is bigger). The story is all around us, we will be happier if we can just get more, if we can just have all we want.
Looking around it is easy to see that overindulgence is dangerous. We can all point to a friend or family member who has lost a major battle with an overindulgence. If we are honest we can probably find places in our own lives where we struggle with overindulgence too. There are the basics, alcohol, tobacco, sex, food and money. All of these can be safely enjoyed, or indulged in, given they are experienced in healthy proportions (and with some, like sex, wine and money, I’d say, they should be enjoyed, by many people, in some proportion, and in the case of food, well, it must be consumed, there is no avoiding it except to die). Beyond these, overindulgence can come in many forms which may be subtle and elusive ( a few of mine are gourmet teas, chocolate chip cookies and new earrings, but that is really just the tip of the iceberg). The truth is any indulgence in our life that becomes too strong can become destructive.
But is overindulgence specifically inconsistent with the Christian life as Benedict states? There are many faiths that teach the need to temper and control our desires. Plus there are plenty of people with a strong sense of personal discipline that are able to reign in cravings and limit themselves to an occasional indulgence with out overdoing it (you know, those people who you see at 7 am, on time, hair and makeup in perfect order, eating a protein bar, already done with their work out, while I’m walking in ten minutes late wondering if I remembered to put on deodorant or not).
Is there anything unique to a Christian’s approach to overindulgence?
I think Benedict’s answer is yes.
Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.
Benedict is pretty caught up on another idea, humility. Not exactly the opposite of indulgence, but where indulging is putting ourselves first by satisfying our own desires and then overindulgence is satisfying our own desire even to the point that it is harmful, humility is putting ourselves and our desires last. Benedict lays out the process of developing humility as a series of steps (12 steps actually, don’t worry I’m not going to go through all of them).
The first goes something like this, Turn way from your desires. . . And in prayer ask God that His will be done in us.
Then, the second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
The third Step has to do with submitting and obeying a superior.
The fourth is submission and obedience even when it unfair, developing a heart that embraces suffering.
The fifth has to do with confessing faults in thoughts, words and actions and asking for forgiveness.
The sixth is being content with the lowest and most menial treatment, regarding oneself as poor and worthless.
He goes on and on, it isn’t exactly the most uplifting reading and it stands in contrast to what most of my best seller self help books say about becoming a better person and developing a balanced life.
I am getting the idea that Benedict isn’t trying to help his readers find balance. His rule isn’t simply to teach his students to develop a strong will that can maintain a set of disciplines. What Benedict is saying is that even the best of habits, even the strongest of wills, even the most balanced of lives doesn’t make you any better of a person. Christianity isn’t a contest. It isn’t about who can get up the earliest, fast the longest, pray the hardest, or sing the loudest. It isn’t even about doing a great work or helping the most people.
To Benedict, Christianity is about becoming small. Now I don’t think he is encouraging us to sit around and think on how bad we feel about ourselves because we ate too much chocolate (and I’m not just saying this because I am surrounded by candy wrappers), or about how good we feel about ourselves because we didn’t eat the chocolate. Benedict is saying, stop thinking that by satisfying your own desires you will satisfy God.
We need to become less so that God can become more.
When we restrict our indulgences, as Christians, and when we ask that God’s will be done in our lives rather than our own, we are making space for God to be present and to be experienced more fully in our lives.
One of the amazing things about our Christian faith is that it doesn’t require us to be educated, strong or capable (while those are all great things) we don’t have to figure anything out or jump through any hoops. God knows that we struggle to control ourselves. He knows that we are desperate as He watches us over and over again pursue ourselves and end up worse off than we started. He asks a lot of us, but what He asks is simple. That we come to Jesus’ feet knowing our weakness and recognizing His strength. It is from this place that God’s work con be done is us.
When it comes to overindulgence, our way of acting should be different from the world’s way. Not because we are better, smarter or stronger but because for us, the love of Christ must come before all else, even before our love of Reeses Peanut-Butter eggs.