My deepest desire during quarantine was to find some way to end the boredom.

After watching my toddler play with the same set of Legos, hours on end, morning and evening, for five months in a row, I felt like jumping out of my skin.

I should be grateful that this was the hardest part of quarantine for me. It’s not like I was a nurse saving lives on the frontlines or a grocery store worker risking their health to make ends meet. So why was I so unhappy? How could something so trivial as not being able to go to the bookstore or visit with friends make me so miserable?

In James K. A. Smith’s book, “You Are What You Love,” he discusses the idea that our human experience here on earth is not defined by what we do or believe or know.

Our lives are shaped by what we love.

Thanks to this quarantine, it has become clear to me that what I love is novelty. To be able to explore new things both in mind and body, through New England, through bookshelves, through grocery store aisles filled with ingredients that promise new, delicious recipes. While kept indoors, my mind roved like a trapped animal — it’s no wonder my screen usage sky-rocketed during these past months.

It’s like my heart has rewritten the Philippians verse to say, “Whatever is new, whatever is trending, whatever is exciting, whatever is untested — think about such things.”

Without realizing it, without knowing it, my heart has been trained to seek the new and the unknown. Where did this desire come from?

Click-Bait for the Soul

In Smith’s book, he explains how our unconscious desires are otherwise known as our telos, our end-goal in life.

We each have our own vision of what human flourishing looks like, what we want our lives to become. And we collect these unconscious desires as we go about our culture, absorbing like sponges what it is that we should love and worship.

And I have absorbed our modern culture’s love of novelty and uniqueness.

It’s what sells new technology, new clothes, new décor, new books, new music. It’s what draws eyes to Instagram accounts, YouTube videos, and consequently, advertisements.

Why do we love what is new and novel?

As kids, we’re taught that curiosity is a virtue, which is nurtured and rewarded all throughout academia and into the professional world. The world is beautiful and wonderful — God made it that way for a reason. He wants us to explore and delight in His creation. But it seems like our current society may have taken it a little too far.

We’ve crossed the line from exploring the world to manufacturing a newer, more exciting one to make it stand out and sell out as quickly as possible.

We hold the new up on a pedestal that’s been built on likes and lines out the door at the mall. Perhaps because the new holds some promise. Perhaps this is what’s been missing in our lives. Perhaps this new program or object will finally make me happy. Even if we’re not thinking at that level all the time, our hearts are operating the rest of us to act this way.

The Heart Learns in Habits

So, what’s the cure for an education in constant consumption?

We receive this kind of reformation in the church.

According to Smith, this is “a retraining of our dispositions … a recalibration of the heart” to love what is truly good. That’s why we recite the same prayers, read the same psalms, perform the same motions every Sunday at Mass. We are being retrained to praise, glorify, reflect upon, share, and consume God’s goodness.

The telos that God is preparing us for isn’t one that frantically scatters and searches for something new and exciting everyday.

It’s a grounded, magnificent kingdom steeped in His family culture, of feasting and rejoicing, of storytelling and music-making, of togetherness and peace.

It’s easy to think that the way we choose to spend our time is “harmless.” But those little moments turn into habits that reflect and shape our hearts, the same way we acquire a taste for sugar and a need for alcohol. We’re teaching our souls what to crave in moments of weakness — the up-to-date, the individualistic, and the pleasurable. At the same time, we’re teaching ourselves to have a distaste for what God offers — the timeless, the universal, and the redemptive.

It’s not that God doesn’t see us as individuals. It’s not that He isn’t concerned with what’s happening in the here and now.

It’s that only He is the true path to finding what will really bring us joy and pleasure in the days to come.

Instead of leaving us empty and hollow after a few minutes of enjoyment, the kind of education that He offers is one of enlightenment and appreciation, like a life course on the complexity of wine or the subtleties of literature. God’s education is one that will make us truly cultured in what makes humans happy.

An Education in True Love

If we could have a “heart usage” chart that gave us readings of what we meditated upon at the end of each day, what would it say about us?

Mine would say that I spent 35 minutes searching for a cool new recipe for dinner, over an hour worrying about what to wear on an upcoming weekend trip, and a whole day ruminating about the ways we just need to fix up our house.

Over the course of a lifetime, it would seem like I am a person who worships worry, food, and appearances.

If only I could be the kind of person whose chart would say that I spent that time instead empathizing with a friend, preparing a meal that would heal and strengthen my family, or coming up with an idea that would actually help people.

What if, instead, we looked to the constants in our life, the ordinary, mundane routines that have become all too familiar in these past months, as where God has chosen to meet and teach us about what is truly good?

The carpeted living room floor is where He teaches me about the simple joys of childhood. The kitchen table is where He shows me the abundance and flavor of wholesome food. The short walk around my neighborhood is where I witness stories of self-sacrifice and love, friendship and fellowship.

What if we looked to God, the inventor of love, life, and goodness, as our tastemaker and good-life guru?

The hillsides would sing for us of wheat and the wisdom of walking. The skies would fill with countless stars and stories of family and heroism. The ocean would beckon us to adventure and tranquility, fishing and floating. With Him as our teacher, the world becomes endlessly fascinating, endlessly pleasing, endlessly pointing us to the One who gave us love in the first place.

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