Full shelves and empty hearts: The Delight Deficit Psalm 100 Philippians 4:4 by Revd Alex Pease

1 egg, 

2 ounces of tea 

2 ounces of butter,

an ounce of cheese, 

eight ounces of sugar, 

four ounces of bacon 

four ounces of ham 

four ounces of margarine

3 pints of milk…..

These were the weekly food rations and allocations for an adult during the Second World War.  Meat was rationed by cost, no more than 1shilling 10 pence per week.

This was all that could be guaranteed by the government.  

Fruit, vegetables, poultry, game, sausages, liver, offal tinned food, rice, cereals and biscuits were all off-ration but frequently not available….not surprising, as immediately before WW2, we as a nation used to import 70% of foodstuffs (now DEFRA figures show 47% of our food produced abroad).

The aim of rationing was to reduce imports by half.  Rationing involved constant queuing for food.  You would get to the end of a long queue, just to find that the item you had been queuing for had just run out.

But sometimes something else would be available which you could trade.  You go to the shops for bread but come out with soap…

Not surprisingly, children often felt perpetually hungry. 

Since rationing ended in 1954, two phenomena have occurred to which I want to draw our attention:

Firstly, we are not as happy as we were.

Although life expectancy was lower; GDP was lower; more hours were worked in a week; few households had central heating, or a television, we were happier in 1957 (three years after the end of rationing) than any other year in 20th century or since…

It was the year that Macmillian famously said ‘most of our people have never had it so good’.

Secondly, we are not as Christian as we were.

Whereas 80% of Britons said that they were Christians In 1950, only 64% said this in 2000.

I think these two phenomena are connected.  They are connected, I believe, by what I would like to call the ‘delight deficit’.  Let me explain…..

It was a big deal if there was a successful harvest during rationing and immediately afterwards.  Food which had not been seen on the shelves was now available.

When you have nothing,when you know that whether you will eat beyond the ration, depends on whether a particular convoy gets through from the United States, despite the U boats: or whether you will have bread or vegetables depends on the rainfall and sunshine and a successful domestic harvest, i f there is nothing you can do about the circumstances that you are in, you will inevitably be calling out to God to save you, to save the nation.  By 1957, three years after rationing, it must have seemed like the promised land had arrived: food on the shelves, everything was possible in the new Elizabethan age. Happiness soared……

By contrast, for several generations since then, my generation and beyond have seen years of plenty with our shelves full, which I think have left us complacent, arrogant even, about, and detached from the source of everything that we need to survive….

I think that it is partly this that our children are pointing out to us in the worldwide climate strikes we have seen recently, but I don’t believe that this was the case with the wartime generation….just after rationing ended they were excited about the future….and grateful….

I want to suggest that, firstly, it is only when we express praise and, secondly, only when we have someone to praise for what we have received, to give thanks that the joy of receiving it, that that happiness can be fully experienced.

So, to unpack the first point we need to express thanks express praise…..

CS Lewis wrote, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy, because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation

He continues, ‘It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling each other how beautiful they are…the delight is incomplete till it is expressed

So, for example, I am looking forward so much to England’s exploits in the rugby World Cup.  But really those exploits will only be fully enjoyed in the company of others,  in our case, probably in the Cricketers this morning, England vs Tonga after church!  It will only be fully enjoyed as we talk over the incredible tries and last minute drop goals which we will see together.

Similarly, it would have been entirely natural for those who went through rationing; who went through the War, to be incredibly grateful to God, to whom so many of them prayed during the War, a nation led in prayer by the King.  They would have been so grateful for the shelves full of goods in the late 1950s, a Harvest festival would have meant something.

By contrast, I wonder if we do appreciate any longer, the huge number of choices on the supermarket shelves, the vast variety of choice from all over the world.  Perhaps, an indicator of how little we appreciate this is how much food we waste, about 4 or 5 billion tons a year or about 13% of what we produce.

A successful harvest during the years of rationing from 1940-1954 was really a moment for national celebration and nothing was wasted!

Yet today, Harvest passes almost unnoticed, except perhaps when a combine is in front of us on the road when we are trying to get the children to school or catch the train to work.

But the delight deficit is not just about complacency and arrogance and failing to feel delighted about a successful harvest, it is, secondly, about but not really having any object of that delight, anyone to thank for it.

The theologian Michael Ramsden tells a story of going to get his haircut.  He went somewhere new and started chatting with the lady who ran the shop.  After a while, she told him how very successful her business had been and how she had achieved all of her objectives when she had set out. She was happy that she had been successful but her success felt rather empty. It was a mystery to her as to why this was the case.

Ramsden gently asked her if the problem was not that she was not grateful for the things that had gone well, but that there was no one to be grateful to….

No one to be grateful to!

‘Thats it’ she said, stunned and dropped her scissors.

Then there was a much longer conversation….as he explained who we can be grateful to.

If CS Lewis is right, that our enjoyment is only consummated in praise, then because our society is post-Christian, then it is not surprising that we are not as happy as we were in the 1950s.  Because of the decline In Christianity since the War there is no one to be grateful to……

How different are the words of the psalmist in Psalm 100 we have heard this morning:

‘Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth

Worship the Lord with gladness

Come before him with joyful songs

Know that the Lord is God

It is he who made us 

And we are his people

The sheep of his pasture’

How different is our complacency from how St Paul encourages us to be In Philippians 4:

‘Rejoice in the Lord always.

I will say again Rejoice…

the Lord is near.  

Do not be anxious 

about anything,

but in every situation,

by prayer and petition

with thanksgiving

present your requests to God.

And the peace of God

which transcends 

all understanding

will guard your hearts 

and minds in Christ Jesus’

CS Lewis continues, ’The Scotch catechism says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever’.

I have spoken many times about how I ended up preaching at St Andrew’s University Chapel on the subject ‘Don’t be taken over by the fear’….on Brexit morning, the morning we discovered the results of the referendum.

All the other clergy and university staff were in a tail spin about Brexit and its effects.  Of course, we are all very concerned about those effects and particularly on the effect that leaving the EU may have on the poor and vulnerable. But I have to say, and did at the time say to those clergy in St Andrews, that I did wonder whether this crisis, whether leaving the EU, with or without a deal, may have the effect of shaking our complacency about our full supermarket shelves and help reduce the colossal waste of the produce of our harvests.

Then, perhaps, we may end up to be more thankful for what we do have and to be thankful to God for it….indeed this crisis, unwanted by so many of us (including me) maybe represents a major opportunity for the gospel, as the secular assumptions upon which our lives have been based about economic growth, about plenty, about choice; these false gods which we have been worshipping for so many years are brought crashing down.

I wonder whether this crisis might even solve the delight deficit..Perhaps now is finally a time to focus on how grateful we are for a successful harvest, to a God who made us, who knows what we need and who graciously has provided it….


Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 

2 Worship the Lord with gladness; 

come into his presence with singing. 

3 Know that the Lord is God. 

It is he that made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, 

and his courts with praise. 

Give thanks to him, bless his name. 

5 For the Lord is good; 

his steadfast love endures forever, 

and his faithfulness to all generations. 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ps 100). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Php 4:4–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.


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