Did you ever watch The Simpsons? I’ve got most of the first seven seasons memorized, seared into my brain from repetitive viewing on VHS tapes. Along with the Star Wars trilogy, The Simpsons are part of my personal canon.
My favorite character is, by far, Mr. Burns. Montgomery Burns is so absurdly callous and evil; he’s hilarious in his lack of humanity. He is a caricature of what it means to be so given over to Mammon that he thinks of little else. All his pleasure and ambitions, all his thoughts and relationships revolve around one thing: money.
I love Mr. Burns, because he shows me so much of myself. He cartoonishly reveals the many ways that I cling to my own desire for control, security and prosperity, rather than allowing God to be in the driver’s seat. By being so completely over the top, Mr. Burns is able to say some pretty profound things. He teaches by counter-example, showing which way not to go.
There’s one scene, an exchange between Homer Simpson and Mr. Burns, that I find particularly revealing:
Homer says, You’re the richest guy I know! And Burns replies, Yes, but I’d trade it all for a little more.
Wouldn’t we all? There’s something about human nature – or, at least, my own human nature – that is never fully satisfied. No matter how awesome my life is, I can always imagine something that would make it better.
At first glance, this impulse to more and better seems great. After all, it’s this kind of endless ambition that built America, isn’t it?
But, for me at least, I’m noticing that this insatiable hunger for more is often the enemy of gratitude. If I’m not careful, it’s easy for me to miss how beautiful my life is, because I’d trade it all for a little more.
How would it feel to be completely satisfied, to not feel a need anything more? What would it be like to rest in gratitude and trust?
As I sit with these questions, I’m reminded of a quote from an early Quaker, Isaac Pennington:
Give over thine own willing. Give over thine own running. Give over thine own desiring to know or be anything. And sink down to the seed that God sows in thy heart. And let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee. And thou wilt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that, and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.
Even if you’re Mr. Burns.