The more I journey with desire, and the more I sort through which of my longings are my own runaway thoughts versus hardwired hopes, the more I realize that we all wrestle with the concept of longing. I think a myth that is easy to digest is that a romantic relationship is some kind of answer to desire and that there are no other questions. This is easily debunked by the many coupled people who now sit across from their partners and secretly wonder why they still want something more.
We all have a thing that is yet to be satisfied within us, and when we stop calling that thing marriage, we are faced with the unsettling and wondrous depths of a God we can’t fully understand.
The ability to desire is mysterious, beautiful, sacred, holy, yet not to be feared. There are visceral, continual, intentional qualities to desiring that are meant to help us glimpse eternity. Our longing whispers to us of something unseen, something yet to be. Desire is the foreshadowing of heaven, the divine leverage, the ultimate hoping in what we do not have (Romans 8:25) or the pulley (George Herbert) that draws us to the Father.
Desire is the call to worship.
We were designed to worship: It’s the default human position. To exalt, to glorify, to revere…these are states we come by easily. We don’t often call it worship, but we participate in it regularly by attributing worth to what we value through fandom, celebrity culture, sporting events, the arts, entertainment, salesmanship, politics, employment hierarchies, brand allegiance, and social media. We are fans, devotees, groupies, roadies, followers…worshippers. David Foster Wallace goes so far as to say that, “there’s no such thing as not worshipping.”
In His love, God invites us into his triune relationship to worship Him: Father, Son and Spirit, knowing how much that will satisfy us. God does not demand our worship out of need or narcissism, he invites us into the complete worship the Trinity already has going on, knowing that our deepest desire can be truly satisfied in only one way (Darrell Johnson). This desire gives us a glimpse of the eternity God has set in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Our longing points us to him; our talents and skills become ways of expressing praise. And
if we are wise, like King Solomon, we will respond not by seeking the fruit of desire, but rather the discerning heart that can withstand its weight.
But this longing can feel like a curse rather than a gift, when I attempt to satisfy it with something that isn’t God. And these gifts fill with the weight of a burden when I try to shoulder them by my own strength. When I step out of position, and forget that it is God who is to fulfill his plans, I am prone to fear both that my dreams will come true and that they won’t, both that my talents will be effective and that they won’t. Out of position, I am prone to dread hope and tremble at the unknown, and in so doing I misdirect my worship towards to things that limit the world to a size I can manage. Soon I fulfill my hunger and thirst for eternity with behaviours and habits and people that numb pain and possibility. My future becomes limited as the distractions I conjure are brief: “All the fulfillments and satisfactions this side of heaven are about 30 minutes long, and then the ache comes back” (Mark Buchanan). It comes back because
none of these non-God people or things or habits were built to withstand the power and pressure of my undying attention.
Nevertheless, the cycle of trying and failing to achieve my heart’s desire becomes familiar, and familiarity becomes comfortable, and soon comfort becomes the object of worship.
Bruce Marshall once said, “…the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” When we pursue our longings in our own way, we sometimes wonder where God is, but the truth is He is right there at the centre of what we long for. The desires for sex, for marriage, for children, for the linear familial path, though all good things, aren’t the real desire. Nor are the desires for freedom, independence, and autonomy. Recognizing this doesn’t mean we all have to become nuns and priests and “marry” Jesus, but it can cause us to pause and consider whether or not, God is still answering our first prayer, which was probably some version of, “God, Help!” (Chris Wiersma).
Perhaps we have learned to sing the songs of surrender, but we need to rehearse the worship of a truly surrendered life.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows the answer to the prayer we didn’t realize we were praying all along. Sometimes, when he asks what we want, we answer out of our smallness, rather than an acknowledgement of his greatness. Our freedom lies in the paradigm shift.
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, were with him, when he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:36-37). They got the question, and, in their smallness, they postured for political position and asked to be important, to sit at his right-hand. But only verses later, blind, begging Bartimaeus, after shouting for mercy, is asked the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” and he answers “Teacher, I want to see.”(Mark 10:51)
Maybe you desire sex. Maybe you desire marriage. Maybe you’ll get them. Maybe you won’t. But what do you really want? What are you afraid to want? What might God have for you beyond the simple question and answer loop you’ve been stuck in?