There are parts of desire we can’t help but experience (as I outline here), but sometimes desire is something we create ourselves. This can be extra confusing for Christians because we have a hard time distinguishing between the spiritual and the hormonal. It is made more difficult if we mistakenly assume that, by following God, any whim we have is Holy Spirit directed. It is worsened still when we affirm that myth by praying about something over and over again causing the desire to seemingly grow stronger. So how can we discern the Holy Spirit’s planting of a seed from our own obsessive thinking?
How do we know when we are experiencing a holy want versus being ruled by our own urges?
How can we manage, rather than resolve, the tension caused by desire?
When my heart is gripped so strongly by something I can feel powerless to it, but the reality is the strength is usually of my own making and my own investment. When it comes to romantic desire, I have an amateur theory that there is a spot in the human brain where the last person you were romantically interested in resides. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the crush is still active or not, or whether a real or imagined connection was ended willingly or not, or whether it has been days, weeks, months or even years since the last encounter, the mind wanders back to the same name, and the same face bursts into memory whenever romantic thoughts are triggered. This continues until the object of affection is replaced by a new interest. If this is true, it is one reason why the stereotype of the rebound relationship has so much power, as it is a quick way to interrupt the cycle by even temporarily dethroning the last king or queen of your heart.
I remember several years ago getting really hung up on a guy whom I met online. We emailed back and forth for several weeks before meeting in person. By the time I actually laid eyes and ears on him, I was already 75% ready to start a relationship even though I hadn’t had a chance to assess anything other than the emails we had exchanged. Tragically and thankfully, he did not feel the same way and sent me a “Dear Jane” email that same evening. While this description now reads as ridiculous as a sitcom script even to me, it actually took me quite a bit of time to get over that rejection.
Even though I met the man only once, I had invested big time. My thoughts, my prayers, my emails, my borderline-stalker internet “research,” had all positioned this guy in the center of my focus for weeks. Even during times when I wasn’t actively engaged in communicating with him, I had been selecting the words for how I would describe my current activity in my next email, or determining how I would suss out his political views without seeming nosey or controlling, or jumping out of my skin at every email notification I received all day, or planning what I would wear to our first encounter. Had a romantic relationship resulted, people would have called that the puppy love stage, or the attraction phase, or the honeymoon period, or the swoon, but
in reality it was about my heart getting caught up in the exact direction my mind tried to take it.
This is the same psychology that explains the success of lotteries and casinos which appeal to people who buy the idea of a dream so much that they start planning their lives around the outcome.
Infatuation is where addiction science and relationship science overlap. The brain likes the simplicity of repetitive patterns, and will always find the quickest and easiest route to pleasure. The scripture describes this pattern in terms of investment: “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Wherever we place value will dictate the direction in which our hearts move.
Hearts automatically follow our deposits of money, of time, of thought patterns, of emotional energy, even of prayer. This is a powerful principle that can be used for great good. Jesus even instructs his followers to pray for our persecutors/enemies (Matthew 5:44) because he knows our hearts will move towards them when we do so. Through our prayers, God grants us the ability to make things happen.
When you have spent hours thinking about, praying for, and fantasizing about something, you have sold that thing or that person part of your heart. But if or when you are done with that thing or that someone, you have to buy your heart back. The good news is we can shift our investment, and our hearts will eventually catch up and move on, at least partially. But the same way investment often happens over time, so does reinvestment. You have to replace and put that energy somewhere else. It takes time, and intention, and can be complicated by other investments that aren’t available for repurchase. We can do this constructively by deepening other relationships, developing a strength, leveraging a talent, finding ways to serve, and expanding our spiritual lives. Or we can do this destructively by attaching to activities, habits, and people that do not add to us, and yet hungrily withdraw from our heart accounts and sap the resources that were once committed elsewhere.
People often share with me that they have asked God to take away their desire for marriage, or their crush/love for another person, and when He doesn’t, they stall out. They may even believe that this stalling is a sign that they aren’t gifted enough at singleness or that God must have a plan to make the romance work, even if there is much evidence to the contrary.
But the trick to desire management isn’t to have God remove the desire, it’s for us to stop investing in it.
To do this requires that we focus more on the nature of who God is and our need of and love for him than on what we are asking him to do for us.
Of course, you will want to be married more if you constantly think about it, constantly read about it, constantly view life through the lens of it, and, dare I say, constantly pray about it. There are even books that instruct singles to do all of the above.
While I believe a single can hold a desire for marriage in a healthy way, constant investment in the idea of romance is not the answer to a fulfilled life.
And if you’re concerned about the issue being taken up in prayer, perhaps it is time to entrust those requests to a friend or family member who can pray over the details on your behalf, so that you are free to focus on the here and now.
I’m not saying that your particular desire is wrong, or even that it isn’t God-given, but I do believe it can exist latently without being fed every day.
What remains of a specific desire after we starve it of attention is the substance worth talking about.
After all, our focus of delight is supposed to be the desire-giver, not the desire itself. The stuff on top—the obsession—is solved by taking captive our thought lives (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our brains and our hearts need a new king!