Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hunger and Thirst After Righteousness

My resolution for April is to "hunger and thirst more after righteousness."

As I thought about this goal throughout the day, the very first thing that hit me - hard - was how little I think about hunger and thirst. I have experienced relative hunger and thirst in my life (more thirst than hunger), but I have not been desperate for food or drink to the point of concern at any point in my life. I was raised poor, but we never missed meals. My entire life has been just comfortable enough to allow me to be a bit picky - like having the option to choose not to eat or to tell my kids to eat sandwiches or cereal if they don't want to eat what we have prepared. For a few years, I traveled with a company expense account - allowing me to acquire a taste for fine dining in cities across the country. I am somewhat overweight, and part of that simply is because I love food.

In other words, I'm not sure I ever have "hungered and thirsted after" food in a real, powerful, physical sense except as a baby - at least not in my memory. Whenever I feel even a little hungry or thirsty, I am able to satisfy that feeling very quickly and with minimal effort. That was an interesting insight - something I simply haven't contemplated before today.

I wondered how I can learn to hunger and thirst after righteousness when I really don't know what it feels like to hunger and thirst - certainly not in the same way that those who first heard Jesus' original statement would have understood it - certainly not in the same way that others in this day and age understand it. I think a central part of this month's focus for me will include some extended fasting, since that is the only way available for me to experience real, powerful hunger and thirst.

Next, I did the uniquely Mormon thing and considered the Book of Mormon version of the verse in question. 3 Nephi 12:6 repeats Matthew 5:6, with a modified ending. It says:

"And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost."

Feeling hunger and thirst has one, and only one, purpose - to prompt the one who is hungry and thirsty to eat in order to quench that hunger and thirst, thus protecting the body from the damage that inevitably occurs from lack of nourishment. Thus, we feel hunger and thirst when we are in need of physical nourishment and are at risk of physical harm. There is a deep irony - an apparent contradiction - in translating that to our spiritual health, since I am not about to pray for a state of spiritual starvation in order to understand and appreciate better being spiritually nourished. Fasting can induce physical hunger and thirst by depriving the body of food and water, but how can I induce spiritual hunger and thirst without depriving my spirit of the influence and presence of the Holy Ghost - something I simply do not want to do?

Perhaps fasting will accomplish this to some degree by helping me see what it feels like truly to be hungry and thirsty, thus emphasizing more clearly and understandably the spiritual condition I want to avoid - by making the "threat" of losing the Spirit more real to me as something I want to avoid at all costs. I'm not quite sure of this lesson, so I will be thinking more about it throughout the month.

I then thought of Alma 32:27, which says:

"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words."

Maybe my fasting and prayer and pondering will increase my desire to believe and understand, and maybe letting that desire work in me will produce an even greater desire - a true longing similar to what it feels like to hunger and thirst.

Finally, the footnote for "desire" in this verse references being "teachable" - which generally is synonymous with humility - which is an aspect of being poor in spirit. Perhaps, and this thought struck me just now as I was writing this post, it takes a recognition of one's nothingness before God - one's spiritual poverty and inability to feed one's self sufficiently - to truly experience spiritual hunger and thirst as commanded by Jesus. Maybe being poor in spirit and meek are necessary precursors to being filled with the Holy Ghost, since such characteristics are exactly what bring about the willingness to accept and follow His promptings when they come - to be filled with the Holy Ghost by actually partaking of His nourishment when it is offered.

I still plan on fasting often this month, but I think I will be focusing my fast specifically on feeling the sweet and filling nourishment that the Holy Ghost can provide, specifically so that I will desire it more and more - so that I truly will know what it feels like to hunger and thirst after righteousness - to feel true and driving motivation to be "right", "correct", "suitable", "favorable", etc. before God. One way to sharpen hunger and thirst is through deprivation - but it just struck me that another way to do so is to taste something so delicious that the mere memory of that experience makes you hunger and thirst for more.


Patty said...

I'll be interested to hear your insights as the month progresses. I can recall times when I've hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and have really grown from the attempts to be filled, but it seems to take quite a bit of effort to consciously try to have that hunger if there are no outside influences helping to create that empty feeling. (And no one wants to pray for more hard trials just to feel more hunger for righteousness!)

Mama D said...

I hadn't really thought of the implications of hunger - thirst - spiritual starvation, or of considering this phrase in terms of spiritual health. I guess I've always thought of "hungering and thirsting after righteousness" in terms of seeking for spiritual nourishment -- the desire that you mentioned. But I haven't really equated that spir. nourishment with spir. health.

"My entire life has been just comfortable enough to allow me to be a bit picky" speaks volumes about who you are and why. Most of the time, bud, you are phenomenal in not allowing that "comfortable enough" to make you too complacent. HF has blessed you with being able to understand and see clearly, and to recognize your blessings and your weaknesses.

These resolutions truly are helping you become a better person!

Anonymous said...

I think that hungering and thirsting refers to your focus. When you are hungry or thirsty all you can think of is eating or drinking, you don't have to be deprived of food or drink to truly feel focused. I think that is refering more to the first thing on your mind. In this sense it is saying that rightousness should be the first thing on your mind as if it was your main focus.