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FEEDING YOUR APPETITESTake Control of what's Controlling You
By Stephen Arterburn Debra Cherry
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2004 Stephen Arterburn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE QUEST FOR FULFILLMENT
As unique and special as each person is, all of us share a single trait. At the core of our being, we are all searching to experience fulfillment. Though that desire may drive some of us to look in one place while others choose a different route, the fact remains that we are all on the same journey. For most of us, our quest for fulfillment is a search to love and be loved, to have meaning and purpose, and to be satisfied with who we are.
We have been formed in the image of God with this innate need to become complete, whole, satisfied. Try as we may, we cannot escape this desire because God made us this way. So even though we might not know exactly what we are searching for, we can't stop trying to satisfy this inner void.
We spend much of our time trying to meet our longing for fulfillment. Our search for fulfillment drives us forward and motivates us to meet our needs and fulfill our wants. The appetites we have for those things that are necessary for our physical, emotional, and spiritual survival help fill that void.
No matter how many stories we hear about certain things in life not bringing fulfillment, we still develop strong appetites for those very things. Some choose to go after money, working and living as if their life depended on attaining wealth. Every decision, and for some, each waking moment, is driven by an appetite for more and more money.
An appetite for wealth often is an appetite that cannot be satisfied. With money, the more of it you have, the more likely you are to want even more. Having "enough," even when a person has a quantity beyond that measure, is an unattainable goal. The only people who ever find fulfillment in their wealth are those who move from being driven by acquisition of it to the charitable distribution of it.
I (Steve) have always enjoyed the television show Martha Stewart Living. Leading lady Martha Stewart specializes in sharing ideas for organization and skills ranging from cooking to gardening to decorating and beyond. As a man who loves to cook, I especially enjoyed the segments having to do with food. Her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, is a veritable work of art. Not surprisingly, Stewart became a multimillionaire for her many talents and overall penchant for doing things up "right," be it in the kitchen, garden, or living room. Yet now Martha Stewart is a convicted felon because she acted illegally during a stock sale to save a sum of roughly forty-five thousand dollars, pocket change to a person of her wealth. Then she tried to cover it up and got into bigger trouble. She threw away her reputation and will likely spend time in jail ... all for just a little more money! A person's appetite for more and more money will not be satiated unless that person changes his or her perspective on money and what is done with it. But certainly money is not the only trap.
Others struggle with an appetite for power. It matters little whether it is the mother who insists on controlling every aspect of her children's lives or the corporate executive who cannot function unless he micromanages every detail and every decision he can possibly control. Both have an appetite for total control, which, even if they were to attain, will never bring fulfillment. Quite the opposite, this appetite produces great frustration because much of what happens is beyond our pathetically short reach. Life has too many variables to factor in or manage, even when the best, most organized control specialist works out everything mathematically.
I recently spoke with a woman who felt secure only when she was in total control of her environment. Her fears of the unknown had triggered a desire for absolute control to the point that she was no longer able to enjoy living. Driving a car was too risky and sitting next to people on the bus while someone else was driving was even scarier. As a result, this woman had shrunk her entire world down to the square footage of her house, and she had lived this way for several years. She depended on others to deliver her groceries, buy her clothes, and take care of errands that required her to leave her home. The friends who thought they were helping her became wardens of her self-imposed prison. More than anything, this woman longed for safety, control, and predictability.
Hearing this sad tale, I felt instant compassion for her. I wanted to tell her to rethink her choice of existence, to instead consider facing her fears, even if it meant experiencing pain. Anything to help her see the prison she had locked herself inside. I opted to get to the heart of the matter with her. I told her she could never make her world small enough to remove every element of risk from it. The stove could catch fire, a plane could crash into her yard, or she could fall in the shower. No matter how confined and protected she thought she was, there would still be risks and unknowns out of her control. Until she resolved the underlying reason for her fear, she would feel panic and uncertainty at every turn.
Interestingly, she was only facing this issue with control because a crisis had surfaced. She had found a lump in her breast. A home-healthcare nurse came to the house and took a blood sample so a doctor could make some preliminary assessments. The results of the bloodwork were indicative of cancer, but to be certain, she needed to have a mammogram and undergo a biopsy. But that would require a trip across town, and the woman didn't think she could handle it. So there she was, confined to her home by fears of the unknown, yet possibly facing terminal cancer if she remained in the place that to her represented total security. Sound ridiculous? Certainly her desire to control her life had gone far beyond normal limits and was approaching an obsession, but what motivated her to behave this way was really a basic desire to protect herself. Don't we all have that desire?
Successful but Unsatisfied
We can all think of both famous and not-so-famous people with problem appetites that serve as examples for what can happen.
Elvis Presley. Considered by many even decades after his death to be the king of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley appeared to have everything going for him. Fame, wealth, women, talent, influence, and fans were his companions, yet Elvis still felt unsatisfied. No doubt he was searching for fulfillment, but instead he ended up partying all night and sleeping all day—assisted by drugs on both ends, probably because he felt empty and alone. Eventually, "The King" ended up divorced, overweight, and dependent on prescription drugs. Those exact things he was using to seek fulfillment eventually turned on him and took his life. At forty-two, he died from heart problems most likely brought on by drug dependency and obesity.
In many ways Elvis was a remarkable man. There are wonderful stories of his generosity to those in need. He had spiritual roots and a tremendous desire to know who God was. This amazing performer is the ultimate example of what happens when we live trying to fulfill our appetites—we die trying. When an appetite becomes the driving force, enough is never enough. This king had more than enough fame and fortune, but apparently it wasn't enough to bring him satisfaction.
Marilyn Monroe. Another example of someone who appeared to have it all, Marilyn Monroe died tragically. She was successful by society's standards, having fame, fortune, and beauty. Marilyn lived a life of influence as a celebrity. But none of what she achieved was enough for her to stop seeking that elusive something that would make her truly happy. When she overdosed at age thirty-six, she had been married three times, was suspected of having numerous affairs, had made two suicide attempts, and was addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Karen Carpenter. By the age of nineteen, Karen Carpenter had signed a recording contract that led to four gold albums and sold-out concerts all over the world. Yet her desire to be thin destroyed her life. This desire was so out of control that at one point in her career, she weighed only eighty pounds! In an effort to maintain control of her weight, Karen used thyroid medicine and ipecac to an excessive degree. Once the eating disorder was in the driver's seat, it drove her right up to the door of death without her being able to regain control of her health or her life. Misuse of these medicines led this successful musician to her death. At just thirty-three years of age, Karen died from heart failure resulting from anorexia and the destructive use of medicines.
Your natural appetites to be loved and secure are not wrong in and of themselves, but how you go about fulfilling those appetites can very quickly turn ugly if you are not careful. The natural appetite for companionship cannot be fulfilled with prostitution, pornography, or sleeping with another person only for your pleasure. These are wrong choices for a normal, God-given appetite that, when fulfilled correctly, bring men and women together to marry, have families, and love one another.
This appetite for intimacy, like all the other appetites God has given us, can direct us to experience physical health, loving relationships, and contentment or illness, isolation, and despair, depending on how we fulfill it. Not surprisingly, how you fulfill your appetites needs to be aligned with what God has ordained in His Word.
Created for a Purpose
Let's look at what Scripture has to say about how we are made. Psalm 139:13–14 declares, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful." We are the works of God's hands. His handmade treasures. When something is handmade, there are no two models that are exactly alike. My God took the time to knit me together in my mother's womb. And He knit you together too. Picture yourself as part of that concept. Imagine being uniquely planned, formed, and knit together by the Creator of our entire universe.
As unique individuals, we are knit together with our own set of likes, dislikes, desires, talents, and skills that work together to help us accomplish what God had in mind when He made us. Anyone who has ever knitted something (or watched someone else do this) knows that long before a person starts knitting, she must decide what she wants to make and what it will be used for. If she's planning to knit something that can be used to keep a newborn baby warm, then she is going to choose just the right yarn and pick a blanket pattern that will best keep out the cold. With enough planning and skill, the end result is not going to resemble a cute little mitten. Instead, because she knew the purpose of her handmade item, she will make it to best serve her intended purpose.
God (much more than we humans) knew His particular plan regarding our makeup before He knit together our "inmost being." Because He knew His plans for you, He placed inside you all the talents, skills, and even appetites and desires that you would need to accomplish just what He had in mind. You are unique and created with a unique purpose; therefore, your appetites and desires are unique.
All of this is to say that the things that will fulfill our appetites are going to be diverse and varied from one person to the next. Some of us have stronger appetites in one area or another, while other people may have no desire at all for what we do. Whatever you do will reflect your distinctive set of appetites and desires, whether it be:
the career you choose,
the way you spend your money,
how often you want sex and what kind of sex you want,
the types of friends you build relationships with,
the amount of champagne you drink at a party, or
how you prioritize your activities.
You don't need to compare yourself to anyone else to determine whether what you are doing is right. You only need to seek God and compare your actions with His plan for your life. And just so you know, if you are seeking Him first, then your appetites will be fulfilled in ways that glorify God and benefit you and others.
What Is Appetite?
By now you know that when we use the word appetite we are not talking about our need to eat food. We are using that term to describe any strong desire we have to fill a specific need, such as the craving for food, sex, power, pleasure, work, companionship, wisdom, or even God. Appetite is something everyone experiences on a daily basis in one form or another. It can also be our internal need to fill an emotional or spiritual void. This appetite to fill ourselves with any of the many facets of our lives is what drives us to search outside of ourselves for that missing piece.
Appetites are essential to our physical, emotional, and spiritual survival. When hungry, the body craves food, and when thirsty, the body craves water. When you hold your breath, you crave oxygen. Were it not for these cravings motivating us to act, we would not survive. If you never felt cravings for food, you would never eat and you would die.
Our appetites motivate us to seek fulfillment, but they must be managed or they will lead us into a world of regret and tremendous emotional pain. When an appetite intended to help us survive is managed incorrectly, it may become a trap holding us in a deadly grip. Until we give ourselves and our appetites completely over to God, we will remain trapped.
The world offers a smorgasbord of options to fill whatever void might be present in our life. What we choose is up to us. As you know, there are healthy and unhealthy means of filling our appetites; what we choose makes a difference in our personal sense of happiness and satisfaction. Of course what we should want is to pick the healthiest choice available to fulfill our need.
There are many people in the world today who have never experienced a sense of fulfillment—perhaps you are one of them. If you are not feeling fulfilled, it is very likely that one of your appetites is not being fed. The longer an appetite goes unattended, the stronger it becomes. It drives us harder and faster to be satisfied. Appetites do not like to be ignored. So what happens when a person has an unsatisfied desire and cannot satisfy his needs? Eventually that person will go in search of any means, healthy or otherwise, to alleviate that need.
Take for example the man who has felt unloved all his life. He has searched for fulfillment in adult relationships but has only experienced additional rejection and hurt. His appetite for companionship continues to grow stronger, and his search for relief from the pain becomes more and more desperate. He eventually starts seeking relationships with total strangers that may last only a few hours or sometimes only a few minutes. Yet he experiences a brief lull in the constant drone of that unfulfilled appetite.
To the person who is desperate to satisfy an unsatisfied appetite, even an unhealthy, temporary fix is better than nothing. But we know this is a lie. When we settle for unhealthy and unfulfilling imitations of what we really desire, our appetites can begin to rage out of our control and start controlling us. We will turn to sources of satisfaction that will eventually turn on us and force us either to give up altogether or to overindulge until the bitter end.
Beginning the Journey
As you begin your journey to a better understanding of your appetites, we pray you will learn that with God's provision you can regain control of whatever controls you. This may seem impossible. You don't want to try harder one more time. Friend, you don't have to. The reason you are still struggling with your appetite is because you know that trying harder just does not work. What does work is surrendering your problem to God. You begin the journey to recovery when you admit you can't fix your appetites on your own. Keep in mind that God never expected you to. To start, we challenge you to start evaluating your life and appetites right now. Take three minutes to answer these four questions. You don't have to write an essay—just be honest with yourself and jot down your findings.
Excerpted from FEEDING YOUR APPETITES by Stephen Arterburn Debra Cherry Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Arterburn. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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