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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Book me for your next retreat.

Ben Goshow

Did I seriously just say that? "Book me for your next retreat?" Next thing you know, I'll be opening the trunk of my car and asking you to buy the book I've just written. Yes, there are joys of writing a book. I'm thinking of the quiet, contemplative hours stretching as long as the questions. (And if you believe that. . . .)

There are also joys of promoting a book. I'm thinking of blog posts entitled, "Book me for your next retreat." (And if you believe that. . . .)

Nevertheless: when God asks you to obey, don't offer up your apologies. Own your reluctance, and ante up. Play the fool if need be.

I have honestly been thinking the desire is a wonderful retreat topic. It begs the telling of our stories, and stories are best indulged in community. A retreat - away from life's bustle, gathered in community - is just the place to share our stories and learn to live, a little better, into God's.

I have been asked to speak at a retreat in January, and as I've been preparing, I thought to share the ideas for the sessions here. Maybe because you'll want to book me for your next retreat. Maybe because you'll want to buy my book. Or maybe because you'll be reminded that our Father's desire is for us, and it is not difficult. (This, the prophetic word spoken over me nearly two years ago.)

* * * * *

Teach Us to Want: Leaning into a life of holy desire

Session One: Receive Goodness

Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, concluded this after his tenure in ministry: “In fifty years of being a pastor, my most difficult assignment continues to be the task of developing a sense about the people I serve of the soul-transforming implications of grace - a comprehensive, foundational reorientation from living anxiously by my wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence. The prevailing North American culture . . . is. . . a context of persistent denial of grace.”[1]

Peterson understands that we are each bred with a common resistance to grace—even the God of grace. We often live by our “wits,” rather than the abiding sense that God is for us (cf. Rom. 8:31). But grace is foundational to being formed into faith, which purposes to work itself out as obedient trust (cf. Heb. 11:6).

Holy desire begins with holy trust. God, our Father, is good and does good (cf. Psalm 119:68), and this is our bold invitation to want. We can ask, seek, and find because He who did not spare His son delights to give (cf. Rom. 8:32). Yet generosity can be hardest to believe about God. When our lives collide with unexpected disappointment and loss, does God remain good?

Our invitation of holy desire is to receive everything from God’s hand as goodness—and to live as God’s beloved.

Session Two: Risk Desire

 Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes in An Altar in the World about a perplexing season of praying for vocational guidance. What do I do, Lord? Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me. “At one level, that answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted. I could be a priest or a circus worker. God really did not care. At another level, I was so relieved that I sledded down the stairs that night. Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered. God had suggested an overall purpose, but not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself.”[2]

Do what pleases you. In other words, follow your desire. But it’s exactly this kind of counsel that makes us visibly nervous. We imagine it blindly leading men and women into the clutches of selfish self-interest. What role can desire have in the life of faith? Aren’t we expected to obey, even if we haven’t wanted to?

Yet holy desire is critical to our lives of faith. It inspires our petitions and plans (cf. Ps. 20:4, 5). In fact, the renovation of our heart’s desires is exactly what God purposes to do in His children, and we might even say that our most God-glorifying obedience is that which we offer willingly (cf. 2 Cor. 9:7).

Grace moves us into the courage to want. Our invitation of holy desire is to learn to belong—and to risk as God’s beloved.


[1] Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), p. 96.

[2] An Altar in the World (New York: Harper One, 2009), 110.