1 Kings 3: 5-12
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
If you could have only one wish fulfilled, what would it be? It is so tantalizing a question that it lingers in the air. All of us know what the “correct answers,” are – for an end to poverty or for world peace, but we also know that beyond this we have our initial impulse. A hundred thousand potential answers that would satisfy our needs in life and then some. Whatever they are, we know them in our hearts, whatever form they take, we know that their form is our own. Our desires and who we are, they are so often connected to one another.
We are so aware of this that we have made books and movies, song and poetry, all reflecting the danger of getting what we want. “The Monkey’s Paw” is one of the most famous examples of this, a short story where every wish a couple makes brings them some sort of misfortune, indicated each time with the twist of the monkey’s paw they have wished upon. Money is wished for and their son’s company sends them a check to cover expenses related to his death at work. They wish for their son to be back with them and they sit in horror as someone begins knocking on the door that night.
We do not usually make wishes, on monkey paws or anything else, but we do put our desires forward to God in prayer. Oftentimes we make these prayers about outward conditions of other people, prayers for the health and provision for others. If we do pray for ourselves we do so in extremis, or else we pray for guidance, anything but prayers that address our specific needs in life. Perhaps in part we are blessed that, usually, our basic needs are met and so we do not have to pray for ourselves. However, we cannot just assume this is always true. We all have needs even beyond food and shelter and enough money to pay a few bills. We need to have friendships, we need to have emotional connections, we need a great deal. Yet, we seldom pray on these things. Even beyond those, we have an innate distrust for offering our desires to God.
There is an honesty to this anxiety, we would be right to be skeptical of our own projections of the future. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that many of the things that we would go after are fundamentally harmful. This is not only a matter of the most dramatic or significantly selfish impulses within us, but even in the little expressions of desire we have on a regular basis.
Who here, when driving does not image being somehow able to go around a large line of traffic – maybe by driving on the shoulder or simply by the line magically getting out of your way. Who here, when at a buffet, remember buffets? Did not find themselves filling plates they had no hope of finishing. Who, looking at their bank account does not image zeros appear at the end of the amount in the checking account and the savings account? This final desire is perhaps the most obviously off kilter of those I have outlined, but is it fundamentally different than the earlier two?
We crave good things in life, but we often chase after them wrongly or in excess. Money, as Ecclesiastes points out, is able to supply most every need we have in life. (Ecclesiastes 10:19) However, we only need a scant amount of it to really survive in most circumstances. The same is true of food, we almost never need to grab a second plate, but when our first one empties it only takes a moment for us to convince ourselves to fill it again. Even our time, that precious commodity we only have a set amount of, is something that we try to hoard away for ourselves and spend how we want, even though truly utilizing it appropriately requires a great deal more than driving fast and irritating our fellow drivers.
Still, our twisting of the earnest desires of our heart oftentimes leads to negative consequences either directly or over a course of time. When I, and I will stop saying we for now because this is an obvious vice of mine, decide to order a foot long sub instead of the half sub from Sheetz, I know the price I will pay is heartburn and indigestion. Yet I find myself gravitating toward the option to get a full sub time and time again. My need for food, my desire for nourishment, twisted by my own viciousness.
Our fear to ask for things, our constant mantra to ourselves, “be careful what you wish for,” it is borne out of a legitimate self-critique within ourselves. We know that we are prone to inflate what we need to fit what we want. We know that if we got all that we want, instead of seeking after only what we need, it would ultimately hurt us. Still worse, it may hurt other people. When we chase after an excess of any good thing, it usually is to the detriment or loss of someone else.
When we keep our money to ourselves we deprive the poor who are given to us to care for. When we pursue connections and relationships outside of the covenants we are in, we harm the partner with have in that covenant. When we seek to be superior among our peers, or even our friends, we often find ourselves pushing the heads of those around us down, rather than lifting ourselves up. The cost of ill-sought-after wishes is always that they will be ill-begotten. You cannot pursue a good thing in excess without causing harm to yourself, to your loved ones, or to a stranger.
For this reason, we have to do something more than not wishing. We need to do more than shutting off the part of our brain that seeks after things or that projects something bigger and better down the line. We cannot give up wishing, we cannot give up our desire to want, but we must change the way we even begin to form wanting in our hearts. We have to go to the roots of who we are and ask, “What am I contributing to, what is going on, and what ultimately do I need?” These questions can reshape the way that we tackle problems in our life, our response to them, and ultimately what we want out of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
We work backward through these questions. “What do I need?” So often the evil that we end up going after in life begins as a legitimate need within our heart. We need to be heard, so we lash out at those around us. We need to feel comforted, so we chase after substances or situations that numb our senses. We need to feel loved, so we seek after relationships we have right to begin with people we have no claim to. The initial desire, to be heard, to be loved, to be comforted – are more than not evil, they are human and good. Yet, when we do not address our fundamental needs they fester within us and we meet them through any means but the proper ones.
Secondly, what is going on? Once we know what we need and are honest about it then we are able to act appropriately. However, honesty about the inward condition must be met with honesty about the outward. The evaluation of the situation we find ourselves in will look different depending on where we find ourselves. If we are feeling distant from a love one, then we must think about what we have done and what they have done to reach that point. If we are feeling uncomfortable in a situation, then we must identify the source of the discomfort. This step is crucial, and it often falters because while one party is willing to interrogate the situation, others may not be. Siblings in Christ, when we interact with one another, let us always be willing to undertake this step together, considering one another’s perspective and sharing freely our own.
Finally, we ask what we are contributing to in our present actions and will be contributing to in our future actions. We have identified a need, we have identified what in our environment is causing the need itself or the lack of its fulfillment, maybe we even have a plan of action in place, now comes another critical step. We must ask what our actions are going to contribute to in our life and the relationships we are a part of. We must evaluate what we are feeding into in life.
If, for example, a friend of mine points out that I have failed to speak to them honestly and with any frequency about what is going on in my life. I acknowledge this and endeavor to be more upfront with them, perhaps they agree to reach out to me more often to give me that opportunity, we both have a way forward with our actions. As time goes on, we will see what our choices have contributed to, what has grown or been shackled following our initial responses. The result of this additional evaluation is that we will be able to go forward once more or circle back and reevaluate based on what we have learned through taking these actions.
As we established at our outset, our desires and who we are, are linked together. Solomon’s prayer in our scripture today to be wise, that is ultimately a prayer to know himself fully. To be honest within himself and about the situations he was in and to go the step further to evaluate that situation again and again. This wisdom, this knowledge of where we are and what we must do, it can be learned through experience and mentoring to be sure, but the ultimate teacher of this wisdom is God and God’s grace. God gives Solomon the wisdom to rule as he does, and God enters into our hearts and our community to do the same, if only we are willing to be honest and to listen.
When we see Solomon be told he will have success in his kingship because he sought wisdom, let us think of Jesus’ words that by pursuing righteousness we will find all that we need. In seeking a good life lived in community with one another, a moderate life tempered with wisdom and knowledge of God, self, and community, we see God supplying for us and our superfluous desires replaced with the greater calling God has placed on our lives. We dream, we hope, we pray earnestly for what we desire, because we now know we are truly seeking something Good, and we know that our Good God will not twist that goodness, but will allow it to flourish, and for us to reflect the same light that God freely shines toward us. – Amen