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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Found Wanting: Holly Pennington, "I didn't want to find out what I wanted."

I am curating stories for a blog project called, “Found Wanting.” (If you’d like to submit a guest post, learn more here.) During Jesus’ earthly ministry, it was not uncommon for him to approach the sick and sin-sick with this question: “What do you want?” In John 5, he speaks with a man lying next to the healing waters of Bethesda, a man who has been an invalid for 38 years.

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

The man seizes an excuse. “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.”

Was it too much for this man to hope for healing?

What is too great a risk to invite the responsibility for walking again?

There can be fear in desire: fear that we will want what God will always refuse to give; fear that we will not want whatever God, in his sovereignty, chooses to give.

Ultimately, we are profoundly afraid of ceding into the hands of God our trust.

I’m grateful for those willing to share their stories of desire here. In my book, Teach Us to Want, I claim that:

“Desire takes shape in the particularities of our lives. We cannot excerpt desire from the anthology of our stories. Our desires say something about us – who we have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”

To catch up on the series, read these featured stories: Amy Chaney, "I didn't want to be a coach's wife." Beth Bruno, "I've wanted beauty." Wendy Stringer, "I didn't want to move to suburbia." Steve Burks, "I've wanted to produce entertainment." Faydra Stratton, "I didn't want a child with Fragile X." Brook Seekins, "I never wanted to be a missionary in Africa." Sarah Van Beveren, "I have always wanted to be strong."

Today Holly Pennington writes her story of desire.

* * * * *

I didn’t want to find out what I wanted.

I wasn’t supposed to want anyways, was I? God did the wanting for me, right? I had a Facebook-perfect life with two young daughters, a loving husband, a fulfilling career, more money than I needed, supportive friends and the daily schedule crowding that left no room for wanting anyways.

It was a harbor seal that forced me to find out what I want. On a Northwest gray January day, as I walked along the Puget Sound, I had a fleeting desire to see a seal. It was not a deep or new desire, but in what felt like a selfish prayer, I asked God for a seal. Guilt crept in as I prayed, knowing that “I shall not put the Lord my God to the test,” but I hesitantly prayed anyways. Less than a minute later, God came through with a private seal show. The seal He sent me playfully tossed a fish in the air, rolled over, spun around, dove below the surface then joyfully popped back up as if it were yelling, “Here I am!"

Out of this “more than you could ask or imagine” answer to my timid prayer came a surprising realization. I wanted something small that day: a glimpse of a harbor seal. Clearly, God wanted it for me too. If He wanted this small thing for me, He must want other things - bigger things - for me too.

But isn’t this contrary to the “Christian” way? I am supposed to die to self, which means die to my desires, right? Through that prayer I thought I was not supposed to pray and God’s gift of a seal on a January day, my world tilted to a new place where God wants me to want. If I am living in sync with God, pursuing perfect unity with Him, then I must trust that at least some of my desires are from Him:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 ESV

And if I have God-given desires, I must courageously uncover them to fully honor Him, even if these desires threaten my Facebook-perfect life. Because of that seal, I felt compelled to find out what I want, and here is what I learned:

1. Wanting is scary.

While there is freedom in knowing that God gives us desires and wants to fulfill them, there is also fear in discovering them. We build our lives around our jobs, kids and financial commitments, not our desires. What if my desires do not fit in my comfortably crowded life? What if they require more courage and faith in God than I want to live out?

2. Wanting makes me have to choose.

Living a desire-free life frees us from the responsibility of choosing. Once we find out what we want, we must make decisions about our desires instead of depending on God or others to make choices for us. As I embrace a desire-filled life, I am learning that God wants me to choose. And when I choose autopilot, I choose continuation. But when I choose God given desires, I choose transformation.

I now live in the midst of that transformation. As I discover my desires to write, create and start a new business, I also face fears of change. Despite these fears, I am choosing to find out what I want because knowing my desires helps me to live a full life, instead of a crowded one.

And, I no longer hesitate to pray for seals.

* * * * *

Holly Pennington is a mom, healthcare executive and aspiring writer. She blogs at She lives in the Pacific Northwest where she desires more sun!