Pleasure is nowhere near as important as life

Italian cheese

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

This week I’m taking some time to write about what I call “The Gourmet Initiative” (in my new book). So I’ll start with this mouth-watering photograph. The cheese is Italian (special import and not widely available). The olive wood cutting board was made in the Chianti region of Tuscany and just a few miles from the village where Andrew lives. The knife – a true European chef’s blade – was my birthday gift from Rebekah.

Okay, so what does this cheese have to do with anything? Well, first off, it has a rich flavor that is at once both inviting and satisfying. Then – and this is where the scripture comes in – it represents an essential concept in the life-charged life… and that’s the idea of re-charge.

Gourmet does not mean excess: Too often, when I throw out the concept of gourmet living, people confuse the idea with Epicureanism or hedonism. But it’s not pleasure I’m after here, it’s life.

Epicurus (who lived around 300 BC) believed that pleasure is the greatest good. He wasn’t focused on consumption and high-living; he believed the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly, to pursue knowledge and to seek pleasure without excess. Epicurus valued simplicity and friendship.

What we understand as hedonism today, however, pushes the pursuit of pleasure beyond the constrains Epicurus valued. Hedonism in the 21st Century is associated with ideas like over-indulgence, excess, gluttony, waste, intoxication, hangover, orgy, debauchery etc.

Epicurus had some great ideas, but he was wrong about what really counts. He failed to understand that pleasure is not only more satisfying but more attainable when it comes along as a by-product rather than an end in itself.

Interestingly, there was a happiness quiz in PARADE magazine this weekend. Rebekah was impressed that I answered all the questions correctly. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot. So it was no surprise to me that research agreed that those who try to be happy are less likely to be happy: “The pursuit of happiness can actually backfire, say experts at the University of Denver. People who place a high value on happiness have, on average, 17 more symptoms of depression than those who don’t.”

Simple, satisfying, good

Sunday Message: Rebekah, in her sermon yesterday, talked about how important it is that – once in a while – we rest in the truth of what is good, and enjoy the view instead of placing so much focus on “pulling weeds.” Her message resonated with me, so it’s no surprise that I paid attention when this scripture popped up on my radar this morning – “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30)

The whole point of my “Gourmet initiative” is not hedonism, or even a classic Epicureanism that is more restrained. Because, even though Epicurus was closer to the truth, he still believed that pleasure was the greatest good. No, my gourmet initiative is all about pursuing excellence – the best, and understanding that the best is only possible when we engage our fundamental nature as children of God. When our focus is on what is good/holy, then we are not driven (by dissatisfaction) to excess. Instead we experience pleasure because we are satisfied.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Pleasure, then, becomes a by-product of satisfaction, a result of living into our potential as followers of The Way. Instead of pursing pleasure for its own sake, what works best is to focus on repentance, rest, quietness and trust. Such an approach is kind of like a spiritual cheese board. We’re not preparing rich sauces and working on complex recipes, but instead place a simple hunk of cheese on a slab of wood with a knife and take a deep breath.

Satisfied...

To me, the cheeseboard represents that pause, a mini-retreat during the day, where something simple and good is not only considered but actually tasted. Not fancy, not over-prepped, just a hunk of cheese on a piece of wood with the call for a return to simplicity, goodness, excellence, the fundamentals of creation… pause.

O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

The Church The Life-Charged Life

derekmaul View All →

Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.

Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.

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