What Motivates You? Thoughts on Pascal’s Pensees (Listening to the Saints)

Vanity is so anchored in the heart of man that a soldier, a soldier’s servant, a cook, a porter brags, and wishes to have his admirers. Even philosophers wish for them. Those who write against it want to have the glory of having written well; [72] and those who read it desire the glory of having read it. I who write this have perhaps this desire, and perhaps those who will read it” – Pascal, Blaise (2012-05-12). Pascal’s Pensées (pp. 46-47). . Kindle Edition.

This summer I am trying to share some words of wisdom with the students in my college ministry while they are all back home.  My source for these thoughts, right now, is Pascal’s Pensees, a Christian classic.  I have read and blogged through a number of other Christian classics.  Usually what happens is I read it at my leisure, highlighting parts that stick out to me.  Then I go back later and give a second read to the highlights as well as necessary parts around them to gain context.

This week I have been thinking about two portions that struck me as I read.  The first I quoted above.  Here Pascal is writing about vanity, that so much of what we do is motivated to get people to like us.  I love that he says even he is susceptible to this desire as he is writing this book!  This resonates with me because I have long since realized I tend to be a people-pleaser.  I try to avoid conflict, I want people to like me and beyond that to get along with each other.  There have even been times in my life that I have not said things I know I ought to have said for fear of stirring too much up.

What about you: do you tend to be a people-pleaser?  Do you want people to admire you, even to the point where you’ll change what you say and do to get people to like you?

The second quote from Pascal is about how we fail to be content with the present:

We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching – Pascal, Blaise (2012-05-12). Pascal’s Pensées (pp. 50-51). . Kindle Edition.


This reminds me of Yoda’s words about Luke Skywalker, “Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing!”  Luke always dreamed of the future, of being away from where he was now, of being somewhere more exciting.  I am sure you can relate to this as a college student, since college is greatly focused on the future: your career, where you’ll live, who you’ll marry.  It is hard to say focused on the present when the reason you are getting a degree is to prepare you for the future.

At the same time, both of these things – wanting people to admire you, looking to the future – can be good motivators too.  There are times when we ought to bite our tongue because what we say might hurt people.  No one likes a self-centered jerk, thinking of how to please other people can be good.  In the same way, not being content with where you are, wanting to move on and do great things can be a great motivator.  Think of Luke, he went off and defeated the empire and restored the Jedi!  If he had been too satisfied living as a farmer on Tatooine he’d have not done that!

The question I am left with is how do we balance these things? 

How do we work to win friends and influence people without being a conflict-avoiding people pleaser?

How do we make the most of where we are in the present while being motivated to a better future?

To zero in to your life as a Christian on campus, there are situations when you want to defer to others, to work hard not to reinforce the stereotype of a judgmental Christian.  Then there are other situations when your friends need you to tell them the truth, even when it hurts.  Likewise, you need to be working to serve Jesus on campus right now while preparing for further service in the future.

My prayer is that you will, by the strength of the Spirit, do this!  May Jesus be with you as you go.


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