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." Larry, Shallenberger, "I wanted to know what I wanted."
Today, Hannah Anderson writes her story of desire.
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I didn’t want—because I couldn’t afford to. I grew up in a family that was decidedly below federal poverty standards. My parents were educated and worked hard, but they had five children, were employed in ministry, and lived in the second poorest county in our state. So while our home was filled with love and joy, I don’t remember it being filled with expectation or desire.
When you’re poor, there are a lot of things you can’t afford; getting your hopes up is one of them.
When Christmas came, I didn’t make a “wish list.” Instead, I learned to avoid the mall, throw away catalogues, and mute TV commercials. I learned to be happy with whatever I got. And honestly happy. By learning to not want what I didn’t have—what I couldn’t have—I protected myself from disappointment. What I didn’t understand was that by doing this, I also forgot how to ask.
I don’t remember ever being taught that God only hears prayers for needs, but somehow, I never learned to ask Him for “wants.” Even today, I’ll quickly go to Him with problems—sickness, spiritual battles, unexpected financial burdens—but I don’t feel the same freedom to ask for something that I might simply desire.
There’s danger here. Not of selfishness but of self-sufficiency. Because by not wanting, by not asking, I don’t need. I don’t need Him. Maybe that’s why David ties desire so tightly to our pursuit of God: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart…”
If we don’t desire anything in the first place, why would we ever seek the One who can grant our desires?
Today, I’m slowly learning to recognize that flutter inside, to open myself to expectation and desire. And yet, I still find myself justifying it, explaining to myself why I bought the red shoes that cost $5 more than the taupe ones simply because I wanted them. I still find myself hesitant to ask God for niceties; the voice in my head says: “You don’t need this. Why would He give it to you?”
Several years ago, I read a biography of Susannah Spurgeon, the wife of Charles Spurgeon. For most of her adult life, Susannah was an invalid, isolated from the world in her bedroom. At one point, she developed a deep longing for a song bird, and so she prayed, asking God to give it to her. When her bird, after an inexplicable series of events, Charles teasingly said:
“I think you are one of your Heavenly Father’s spoiled children, and He just gives you whatever you ask for.”
For me, the exercise of desire is an exercise in trusting my Heavenly Father. Trusting that He is big enough, that He is kind enough, that He is rich enough to spoil His daughters. And so cautiously, hesitantly, I make my wish lists. I risk dreaming. And when I do—when I’m no longer so self-sufficient, when I can finally want—I find there is space for the God who gave me those desires in the first place.
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Hannah Anderson is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Image (Moody, April 2014). She lives with her husband and three children in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. You can connect with her at her blog sometimesalight.com or on Twitter @sometimesalight.