The demands of desire
It's that time again. Time for gyms to be filled and kale shelves to be emptied. It’s a time full of promise, of hope, of vague expectation of what this year ahead might possibly hold. Will this be the year that I actually start eating healthier? we ask. Quit smoking, get out of debt, lose weight, get that dream job, find the love of my life? It’s a whole lot of pressure riding on one little day.
This Advent, my prayer to Jesus was this: I want my desire for You to grow. That was it. I’ll be cutting out my habits that numb my desires, I told myself. Well, Christmas day came and went. Did I cut out habits of mindless consumption? I did, here and there. Did that lead to thoughtful consumption of Jesus? A newfound living of my life with Him and for Him? An unprecedented longing for Him that trumps my every other desire? Well, maybe not. But that’s what I get for setting such a vague, unmeasurable goal, I suppose.
Yet still, there’s something that grabs me when I ponder this theme of desire. When I think of my hopes for the year ahead. My life is animated by a string of desires, leading me in a particular direction. Sometimes, it’s in the direction of virtue and holiness and that aforementioned union with God. Many others, it’s in the direction of comfort and pleasure and earthly happiness.
“It would seem,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” These words have rung true in my mind and my heart over and over. What are my mud pies, my slum? What holiday at sea am I continually turning down in favor of my shortsighted pleasures? That ignorant child in me wants so badly to be plucked up, hosed down, and buckled in for a ride to that unimaginable paradise. But it’s not quite that simple, I suppose. Which brings me, again and again, to desire.
I think of the habits that numb my desires, that persistently work against those deepest longings of my heart until they’re dull or untapped. The mindless scrolling and munching and lazing about. And I think, too, of those active and honed and time-intensive habits, of running or hosting or traveling. I think of my prayer life and work life and social life. They all, at their root, have some desire that’s driving them. Desires to earn a living, to train for a race, to open my home, to rest. To make a difference, do the right thing, stick to routine. None are bad desires, of course. But could they be better, stronger, nobler? Could they prevent me from settling, inspire me to live a truly abundant life, point me to what I’m ultimately made for? Yes. Yes, they could.
“Everyone can offer the Body of Christ on the altar of his own life,” writes Caryll Houselander in The Reed of God. (Can’t stop, won’t stop.) “But the offering must be the offering of a human being who is intensely alive, a potent humanness, great sorrow and great joy, a life lit up with the flame of Love, fierce fasts and thirsts and feasts of sheer joy.” Get that. Intensely alive. A potent humanness. Sheer joy. Yes, please. So dearly do I want to be intensely alive. To ready my heart to be broken open, only to be flooded with love unparalleled. To offer that Body of Christ—the little host I consume daily, so often unthinkingly, out of routine and habit and instinct—with the zeal and vigor and joy of one in love with Love Himself.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe this is the year to fall in love, once again, with God. To let my desire for Him demand from me the most glorious transformation. So let’s throw those halfhearted hopes to the wind and allow Him to fully awaken our aching, unyielding, eternal desire.
What about you? What are your hopes and dreams and desires for the year?