You Can’t Always Get What you Want

cantalways-getI admit it. I have what some might consider a cruel streak when it comes to how I treat my children. What do I do at their deepest moments of sorrow and distress? What do I do when life deals them such tragedies as the DVR not recording their favorite show, or opening the freezer to find it bereft of ice cream, or—horror of horrors– their mean father not buying them concert tickets in spite of the fact that they refused to do extra chores to earn the money that could’ve paid for the tickets? How do I react? Well, at trying times such as these, I have been known to break out my best Mick Jagger and belt out, “You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want…” Cruel, I know.

But obviously not actually cruel because it’s just a fact, plain and simple: we can’t always get what we want. In this season of political discontent, with many of us scratching our heads and wanting a different choice when we go to vote for the President of our nation, I for one need to listen to myself and remember those important words: “You can’t always get what you want.”

There are many times in life where it’s just impossible to get what we want, even when what we want is just some relief from any sort of pain: physical, mental, or emotional. Some of these varieties of pain can be incredibly difficult to accept. But how often do we add to our pain by our lack of acceptance of what simply is. Our reluctance to let go of our attachment to what “could have, should have, or would have” been adds layers of pain on top of pain.

Whether it’s picking a candidate to vote for from the options we actually have or accepting the painful situations that more immediately confront us in everyday life, we will do much better if we simply accept what is and the accompanying simple fact that “you can’t always get what you want.”

One of the main ways we do this is by remembering that we live under God’s divine and unending Providence—meaning what He provides or gives to us. While there are many things happening all around us that God would not choose for us, we must remember that if He allows them, it’s because of two important reasons. First, He loves us and therefore refuses to control our lives. One cannot love someone and control them at the same time. Secondly, because of that same love, He provides for us in such a way that any situation – no matter how difficult – can be used for our growth and most especially for our salvation.

The Saints are wonderful examples of this, as they all accepted their circumstances and patiently endured their suffering. Their pain was of different types: for example, the martyrs in their tortures and painful deaths or the desert fathers and mothers whose life in that harsh environment was undertaken voluntarily in order to be with God without the distractions of a comfortable life. But none of the Saints needed things to be different than they were. On the contrary, they welcomed their suffering as a means of receiving the greater good: The salvation of their souls and the souls around them. It was their suffering that helped them let go of their attachments to what we call in the Liturgy “all earthly cares,” and reach up toward what is Heavenly.

We would do well to learn from the example of the Saints and accept life as it is. Life as it has been given to us comes at the Hand of our Merciful and Loving God. Not only is it futile to waste energy on what it isn’t, there is opportunity for our growth and salvation in enduring what is, and accepting it with patience and humility. And you know why? Because…

“You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. You can’t always get what you want. But if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need.” And feel free to hear that without the mental image of my bad imitation of Mick Jagger. I’m not that cruel.