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." Hannah Anderson, "I didn't want - because I couldn't afford to." Megan Hill, "I want your blessing."
Today, Bronwyn Lea writes her story of desire.
I wanted a boyfriend, college scholarships, permission to sleep over at the popular kid's house. The prayers of my youth were filled with desire, and I wanted those things with a guilty need.
The prayers of my adulthood still carry echoes of my youth. In truth: I still pray about men, opportunities and friendships. However, I find that life as a mom and friend in a sin-soaked world is leading me to pray a host of different prayers of desire: “Please, I want it to be better; let it not hurt anymore.”
I remember clearly the first tsunami of pain, which made me pray that prayer most fervently. Our family was devastated by violent crime, and we had no answers, no balm. Instead we had questions, the most oppressive of which was this: “Why would a good God let this happen?”
We desire good things from the one who “gives people the desires of their heart” (Psalm 37:4).
That particular suffering challenged my faith significantly, but even in the absence of finding intellectually satisfying answers to my heartbroken questions, I still found myself drawing closer to God rather than pulling away from him.
Again and again I was drawn back to John 6, where the disciples challenge Jesus with his teaching, saying, “This is hard to accept!” Jesus challenged them in reply: “Will you leave me also?” Peter’s reply rang in my ears for weeks: “To whom else shall we go?
In the wake of our trauma, I considered my options: I could deny there was a God, (not an option); I could choose Islam (but Allah seemed so capricious) or Hinduism (but I wasn’t persuaded, and the pictures gave me the creeps.) It was Buddhism, though, which finally pointed me back to Christianity.
The four noble truths of Buddhism teach: • All is suffering (dukkha), and • Suffering is caused by desire. • If one can eliminate desire, one can eliminate suffering. • Finally, the Noble Eight-fold Path can eliminate desire.
My soul rebelled. Far from helping me find peace, Buddhism made me angry: it was simply NOT TRUE that we were suffering because we had a wrongful desire not to suffer.
I needed someone to say that the suffering was wrong. I needed to know that longing for wholeness was good. I needed someone to say that ‘good’ was, in fact, good; and that ‘evil’ was truly ‘evil’. I needed to know that my desire for things to be right was not a denial of my truest spiritual self, but in fact a deep expression of my truest spiritual self.
In Jesus, I found someone who did just that. He wept over death. He “set his face” towards the things he wanted to accomplish. He grieved over the bad, and gave his own life “for the joy set before him”. Someone who acknowledged and affirmed that both my desires for joy and relationship and my desires for pain and suffering to end were good things. And more than that, they were things he desired for us too.
The timeline in which those desires would be met still needed some negotiation.
But the desires themselves were good and God-given, even in the valley of shadows.
The prayers of my adulthood are filled with such prayers.
Bronwyn Lea loves Jesus, writing, ice-cream and the sound of children laughing. She writes about the holy and hilarious things in life at bronlea.com, where she also hosts a faith and relationship advice column. Find her there, or say hi on Facebook or Twitter @bronleatweets.