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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Found Wanting: Ben Jolliffe, "I wanted nothing."

jenmichel@me.com

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." Bronwyn Lea, "I wanted a boyfriend, college scholarships, permission to sleep over at the popular kid's house." Jennifer Tatum, "I've wanted to be a woman of faith, but . . ." Sarah Torna Roberts, "I didn't want to be broken." Suanne Camfield, "I want a bigger house." Courtney Reissig, "I wanted a baby." Cara Meredith, "I've wanted it all." Anonymous, "I want to not want marriage anymore." Deborah Kurtz, "I wanted a husband."

Today, Ben Jolliffe shares his story of desire on the blog.

* * * * *

I wanted nothing. My whole life felt centered around denial.

As a [good] Christian kid, the son of a pastor, I focused on not doing the bad things. More than simply avoiding them, I worked at not wanting them. Sex. Porn. Money. Success.

Along with the big categories go the little, every-day things I also wanted: Doritos, another coffee, time alone. My spiritual life seemed to consist of eradicating these wants from my life and soul. It wasn’t all bad. At times it was incredibly freeing and life-giving to be free from porn and other sins.

But it felt like a zero-sum game. What happens when I get to the end? What happens when all the bad things are eliminated? Purely a hypothetical question of course, but when the house is swept clean, what happens next?

At some point, years deep into ministry, I read James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” alongside Christopher Wright’s “Mission of God” and something clicked. Dealing with sinful desires (and actions!) was only part of the picture. Maybe not even half the picture. There was something bigger I was being called into, namely, the cultivation of desire to participate in the Mission of God.

The best part? The mission was bigger and broader than I imagined. It included gardening, playing tennis, eating, sleeping, sex, evangelism and social justice. It might even include Doritos once in a while.

I felt so refreshed. No longer was I aiming to be a neutered, passionless (and joyless) Christian man who simply avoided sin. I now had the chance to think about directing all of the energy, passion and testosterone at good things, things that spoke of the new Kingdom, things that brought life and vitality.

Now shaping your desires is much tougher than one might expect but it is a whole lot more interesting than a race to zero.

* * * * *

Ben Jolliffe is a church planter in Ottawa, Canada.