In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Lord Henry Wotton arrives late, something he made a habit of doing, to a prearranged meeting at his home with his new friend, Dorian Gray. While making apologies for his tardiness, he had just spent several hours haggling over an expensive piece of fabric, he makes the comment that, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” (p. 46).
If Oscar Wilde were alive today would he have written the same thing?
In 2013 do we “know the price of everything and the value of nothing”?
We are living in a unique moment in history, unsurpassed in technological and medical advancements. Anything we could want is a mere click away. We can literally buy something online and have it delivered the very next day (which is honestly a very cool experience!).
We are told we can ‘have it all’.
All at once.
Everything our heart desires.
And the result is, even more so than in Oscar Wilde’s lifetime, that we don’t know the value of anything.
But do we understand cost?
Certainly we can assign a monetary price to things but do we really consider the cost of our decisions? In a world that tells us we can have it all, all at once, do we ever stop and reflect on the principle that everything costs something, whether it be time, energy or money, and that cost necessarily limits us because we only have so much time, energy and money. We make choices that put limits on how we live, for example, a married person has an obligation to please their spouse which limits them in what activities they can pursue (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
Nevertheless, we are bombarded with people telling us the opposite: that we can have it all. We pick up a newspaper or magazine and read about Celebrity X who is pursuing their career, is heavily involved in their family, volunteering for several charity organisations and they are in great shape too! And then we look at ourselves and wonder what we are doing wrong.
As Jon Foreman has said, in his song Broken from the Start,
“Choice is the only thing we’re given
For one to live another dies
One road says hello, the other says goodbye
And the rose that you don’t choose begin to die.“
Even as Christians we too propagate these unrealistic expectations.
We want others to look at our lives, from the outside, and see we have it all, that we’ve somehow ‘made it’.
We don’t want others to see how we struggle against the sin which clings so closely to us (Hebrews 12:1). Instead, we want others to see how all our relationships are perfect (especially with our families!), our church attendance spotless, our Bible memorization impeccable, our devotional times uninterrupted.
We want them to see our strength and not our weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). We want them to see that we have it all.
But we can’t ‘have it all’.
As Christians we need to distance ourselves from the kind of thinking that tells us we can ‘have it all’ because we can’t. Believing we can will crush us as we vainly attempt to have it all.
This is not the life God has for us. Our lives are to be lived sacrificially, by God’s grace to us in Christ, because that is how Jesus lived and we see it especially in how he chose to pay the ultimate price for us (Mark 10:45).
He endured the full weight of temptation (Hebrews 4:15).
And he died an excruciating death, bearing the wrath of God, in our place (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
He counted and embraced the cost of our salvation in a way we will never fully comprehend.
It will only be as we trust Jesus and follow his example of counting the cost and making sacrificial choices that we will rightly understand the cost of everything and in so doing be able to comprehend the true value of anything.
There will be times when our ideal picture of life will be turned upside down and it is in these times we need to rest all the more on God’s unchanging grace toward us in and through Jesus because only he is able to sustain in the turbulence of life in a fallen world, “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes).
But as we trust in Jesus, resting in his grace, and live sacrificially we won’t need to ‘have it all’ because in Christ we already have it all, that is, he who is of surpassing worth (Philippians 3:7-16). As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Christ is all” (3:11). And in Christ all things are ours (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) so we are free to give it ‘all’ away, ‘all’ our dreams of a perfect life now, and live sacrificially as Jesus lived.