The Unsatisfied Mind

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12

For some reason, I’m hearing Johnny Cash singing:

How many times have you heard someone say
“If I had his money, I could do things my way.”
But little they know that it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind

I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty easy to get to this song from the next piece of Ecclesiastes:

The one who loves silver is never satisfied with silver, and whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with income. This too is futile. When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? The sleep of the worker is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich permits him no sleep.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12

Kid Entrepreneurs

Two of my grandsons are getting ready to go to Kids’ Camp this week. In their shameless capitalism, they have a plan. They’ve gathered up and pooled their money and are set to hit Costco before they leave, buying a box of individual serving chips. We were doing the math a few minutes ago. The box contains 40 bags of chips. Each bag will cost about 30 cents, while they plan to sell them for a dollar. That’s 70 cents profit, or a total of $28 if they sell the whole box. Not bad when you’re 11 years old.

In talking this operation over with the boys, I tried to explain to them why they weren’t simply being shameless opportunists in making a profit through these sales. After all, they got the chips there, invested their money up front, and are taking the risk.

“What if somebody steals your chips?” I asked Uri. He twitched at that idea. Clearly he hadn’t thought of it, but, having gone to this camp twice before, he knew that security was pretty hard to come by. Now he’ll probably lie awake worrying about his “business” walking away from him as some bold 3rd-grader stuffs Doritos in his mouth.

I don’t think that Solomon is trying to tell us that doing whatever was the equivalent of selling chips at Kids’ Camp in 1,000 B.C. is always a foolish thing. Instead, I believe that he’s pointing out the peril attached to it and the short-sightedness of depending on it.

Getting in Tune

If you’re an O4C (Over 40 Christian), then you’ve probably long ago learned the truth to today’s verses. We want that shiny new car, but then we have a shiny new car to worry about. We want to buy our own house and stop wasting money on a rental, but then we take on all the risks, responsibilities, and worries that come with home ownership. We might want a more responsible job or our own business, but then we get to fulfill those responsibilities and fret about the hundred bad things that could happen to our business.

We could add many other sources of worries. Parents, children, and grandchildren provide a steady stream of concerns. Bo the Poodle is going to the vet school to get his virility checked this week. We just learned this morning that some unidentified predator killed one of our baby bunnies. It’s a mean old world, you know.

All of those things of this world–businesses, poodles, and bunnies–are blessings, but they are blessings that come with their own built-in worries. It’s foolish for us to chase after those things without awareness of the downside.

But we can pursue the blessing that has no downside.

The Key to Happiness Is Not in Your Head

It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

Those are the words of Dale Carnegie, the super bestselling author of How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve mentioned Carnegie a couple of times recently due to just finishing an audiobook biography of the man. The author of the book refers to Carnegie as a “Self-Help Messiah,” which, as you can imagine, really grabs my attention.

Raised by parents who espoused “stern Protestant beliefs,” a phrase that the writer throws out probably a dozen times, Carnegie leaves the farm and heads to New York City to find success. And he finds success, eventually hitting it big by teaching public speaking courses and then, in the 1930s, publishing the book mentioned above. After the Second World War, he would write another huge-selling book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Like many popular self-help writers and speakers, Carnegie has a great deal of wisdom to impart. We can do worse than to follow many of his suggestions, like taking a genuine interest in other people rather than trying to get them to take an interest in us. But that whole “messiah” thing is where I have to draw the line. To illustrate, let’s look at the quotation above.

What is important? Is it our possessions? Our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “no,” but is that really how we live? Was it how Carnegie lived? The same can be said on the other fronts that Carnegie names above. It’s not “where you are,” right? If he really believed that, then why did he leave his parents’ farm?

The power for success, Carnegie argues, here and elsewhere, is in positive thinking (to swipe Norman Vincent Peale’s phrase). You can Think Yourself Rich–to use a title of a much later book–in Carnegie’s worldview.

There is some truth to all of this. Certainly we should avoid what Zig Ziglar called “stinking thinking,” but is “what you think about” really the key to “It”? Is the answer to the great question of the universe all down to the power of the mind?

How ironic it is that Dale Carnegie, the precursor to many of the self-help gurus to come, people like Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, and Oprah Winfrey, would die at the relatively young age of 67 of Alzheimer’s Disease. This man essentially put his faith in his mind, and his mind was what failed him before the rest of his body.

Carnegie apparently abandoned his parents’ “stern Protestant beliefs,” only hanging onto a fuzzy spirituality cloaked in vaguely Christian vocabulary. Essentially, he had faith in faith, which ultimately meant having faith in himself.

What matters more than what you have, who you are, or what you think is whose you are. That is the essential difference between Christianity and every humanistic ideology. And what a difference it proves to be. Want to stop worrying and start living? I have a different Messiah for you. Here’s what He said about worry:

Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . .  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.–Matthew 6:25, 33