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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Found Wanting: Larry Shallenberger, "I wanted to know 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. I'm neither applauding nor condemning their stories: rather, I am amplifying their desires - and reminding each of us that to be human is to want. 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." Holly Pennington, "I didn't want to find out what I wanted."

Today, Larry Shallenberger writes his story of desire.

* * * * *

I’ve wanted to be the type of person who knew what he wanted. “Want”, however, is a soulish word that lives on the wrong side of the heart’s tracks. Want associates with bad seed: Emotion, passion, desire, and heart.

I grew up inside the walls of a faith tribe that didn’t trust Heart. And with good reason. The Prophet Jeremiah declared the heart to be a deceitful and wicked place. People on the outside were driven by Heart and Want, but the Faithful—oh, the Faithful knew better. They learned to smother Want with the pillow of God’s Word and replace desire with Law.

Law. Duty. Ought-to’s. I was taught to rely on these guides to get through this world unscathed, as if that was the goal of life.

Obligation and Duty propelled me through my twenties and kept me focused on serving the church and establishing my family. They were incapable of helping me answer the very first question my therapist asked me.

I had weathered a long season of depression. Poorly, I might add. And now I found myself sitting on an overstuffed chair having to answer the question, “What do you want?”

It was a simple question. Four short words. Even so, I was stumped. Internally, I was like a child standing on a diving board, too fearful to step forward and just fall into the depths below.

My faith-tribe valued the ability to stoically lower one’s shoulder and lean into long winters without grumbling or murmuring. I was in my early forties and didn’t have the capacity to process Want. If I allowed myself to dive into Want, I might not come back up.

Countless return visits later, I’ve become more comfortable with Want. Yes, Want is an impulsive friend who does better when he’s chaperoned by Wisdom and Duty. But Want is a friend now.

Want has even been promoted to serve as one of my trusted guides.

Ask me what I want now, I can rattle off a list: I want my boys to grow up to be godly men; I want another book contract; I want to lose five more pounds; I want to see Jack White in concert; and I want my impending divorce—which I didn’t initially want —to finally be done and over with (Is a pastor allowed to want that? This one does). I want to about two thousand more words in the column to explain that last want and assure that I’m a godly man in spite of that want. I want to be in the next phase of my life now, but as the Rolling Stones pointed out, you can’t always get what you want.

So I’m in a place where I know what I want. Want hasn’t made life any safer, more sanitary, or easy. But Want has brought color to a life that had been previously been painted a drab institutional gray.

* * * * *

Larry Shallenberger is a pastor and the father of three children. He’s the author of three books, including “Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Inspires Us Today” and “Lead the Way God Made You: Discovering Your Leadership Style in Children’s Ministry.” Visit Larry at