“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.”
Those words of wisdom come from the song lyrics by The Rolling Stones. I have been thinking often of the concepts of want vs. need lately.
Let’s start by defining the words. To want something is to “have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.” To need something is to “require (something) because it is essential or very important.”
When I was younger, I can remember wanting lots of things, especially at Christmas. That was back in the days of the JCPenney catalog and the Sears Wish Book. I would pour meticulously over the glossy photos, circle items I felt I just couldn’t live without, and dog-ear the pages (in my young mind, trying to help my parents). Nowadays, when birthdays or Christmas rolls around, I struggle to think of anything that I want. There are not many material things for which I have a desire. My wants have taken on a much different nature.
I want to lose weight and be healthier. Now, it is up to me to apply the work to achieve that desire. I want many more years to spend time with my family. Becoming healthier gets me farther down that road, and the rest is up to God. I want the children in our family to be happy and successful, but achieving that result is ultimately up to them and their power to make good choices now that they are adults or embarking on adulthood. I will happily offer guidance and support. I would like to travel, to see more of this beautiful country and, hopefully, other parts of the world. Everything that I want in this world is about self-care, time with loved ones, happiness and new experiences, nothing more.
I don’t have a lot by certain standards, but what I have is sufficient for me. My car is a 2006. It isn’t fancy, but it gets me safely from point A to point B. My home is a small brick ranch built in 1968. My husband and I do home improvement projects, as we have the time and funds to do so, but our home performs the essential functions of providing shelter and safety. My yard is not landscaped, but the grass is mowed regularly, thanks to my dear husband, and I enjoy my potted plants and our bird feeders (as do the squirrels, who provide ample entertainment). Our life together is simple, and we enjoy simple pleasures, just the way we like it.
Now that we are empty-nesters, I analyze our needs even more closely. I own three sets of dishes — a handmade pottery set that was a birthday gift to myself, a hodgepodge of antique Blue Ridge Pottery designs, and a set of Portmeirion Holly & Ivy Christmas dishes. When you get right down to it, although each set of dishes brings me joy for different reasons, we could honestly get by with four plates and bowls, as we rarely have guests and simply need a back-up set in case I haven’t done the dishes from one meal to the next. The same can be said for coffee mugs. I love drinking coffee and have collected or been given many a mug over the years (and have even recently made a pottery mug), but I can easily get by with fewer of them. I’m at that point with clothes and shoes as well. How much is too much? At the change of each season, I look at each piece in my wardrobe and find it easy to let things go. My rule of thumb is that if I didn’t wear it at least once that season (like a really nice coat I had hanging in the closet but hadn’t worn for years), then it needs to go, and I feel quite good about donating these items and hopefully filling someone else’s need.
When thinking about needs and wants, worship offers me so much comfort and guidance. We recently read the following 15th century prayer about the sufficiency of God, which is just as true now (perhaps even more so) as it was then, “God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are sufficient for me. I cannot properly ask anything less, to be worthy of you. If I were to ask less, I should always be in want. In you alone do I have all. Amen.” If we have a hole in our heart that needs to be filled with a belief and a service to something larger than ourselves, then no amount of riches or possessions will ever fill it.
Let’s continue to fill ourselves with what we truly need in our lives — faith, belief, hope, kindness and love for humanity.
Christina Wells lives in Halifax with her husband Bruce and their dog Sunny.