Rambling on Need vs. Want

[author’s note: this was written during my preparation for deployment to Iraq.]


May 2, 2010

You would think packing for the military would be easy. After all, what do you need–a shaving kit, some underwear, a uniform and your boots? But it’s not like the old days. There’s an A bag (a monster back pack), a B bag (with enough supplies to last you for seven days), a C bag (all your Army equipment as helmet, flak vest, sleeping bag, etc.) and the D bag (which is now a big plastic box). In these four things you must pack what you think you will need for the next year. Notice that I stated what you will “need,” not what you will “want.” I would rather pack what I want e.g. our housekeeper for laundry, a few bottles of adult beverages and the entire collected works of St. Thomas Aquinas, and possibly a cigar or two. Unfortunately, except for the cigars, the Army has determined I don’t “need” the other things.

Need and want are important distinctions we need to make in our lives. When I go into certain stores, I want lots of things. For some odd reason I get into cooking. I enjoy making things in the kitchen, some of which are even edible. So I look at cookware and new kitchen gadgets (all true men love gadgets). There are a lot of kitchen gadgets that I want, for instance, the little thing that pierces an egg and scrambles the egg in the shell. Why? I don’t know, it’s just something I want, but not something I need. I want a lot of tools, and I start drooling when I enter Ace Hardware or Sears. But do I need a lot of tools? Thinking back, in the last five years I’ve pulled out a hammer twice and a screwdriver once; any tools I buy will probably be virgins as long as I own them. I don’t really need them, I just want them.

When we learn the difference between what we want and what we need, we will be on the road to wisdom. In the spiritual life what do we really need? The answer is Jesus, whom was sent by the Father and works in the Holy Spirit. Sounds easy, and for Catholics it is. Jesus’ Grace comes to us in the sacraments; whenever we participate in the sacraments we are getting what we really need—Jesus. Of course the Church is the great Sacrament where we meet the Lord and His people, receive His Grace and help and praise and worship Him as a community of Faith, Hope and Love. Let’s pray and realize what we need, not what we want; let’s pray for wisdom.

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