Wednesday, August 31, 2016

this is a story about desire

On a cool fall day when dry, brown leaves skittered across sidewalks and clouds lumbered across the tired sky, Jen and I sat in a car together. She was dropping me off, or I was dropping her off, I don’t remember which it was. We had probably just had coffee together, and I likely filled much of the time talking about Geoff and dating and how hard it was at that moment. And had been over the past few months. Jen was my mentor and from the very beginning of our relationship seemed to know more about my heart than I did. Looking back, I think it was that she knew her own heart, and God’s love for it, and therefore knew the nature of hearts trying to find that kind of love. So the question she asked me should not have been surprising, but it was.

Betsy, what do you want?

I remember being annoyed that she was asking me this. It’s obvious, I thought. She’d been listening to me talk the last hour, the last year about dating this guy. I want him. But even as that thought came, I knew it wasn’t all of what’s true. Yes, I had grown to love him and the times when we felt connected. But in the space of time between my initial response and trying to decide on words, I realized what I most wanted, really, was to be loved and to be free.

Outside the car window, trees were letting go of leaves and allowing themselves to be laid bare for the coming winter months. It would be another two months before Geoff and I broke up, but I think I knew it then. I needed to let go.

But this is not a story about giving up. It’s about desire.

That question got in to some crack in my heart that dating Geoff had opened. Up to that point, I knew I had many wants, many desires, but mostly I felt clumsy in the way I went after them, or assumed most of them were too big or not right. So I spent a lot of time hiding them or feeling stupid when I couldn’t. (Even now, when a desire rises so strong that I cry, I will say to myself – or, now more and more, to God – “I don’t know why I’m crying,” as I shake my head and wipe my tears and try to control my emotions.) 

Jen’s question that day made me realize that my desires can be named, and that they are likely much deeper and truer than whatever shallow form they might take on the surface of my life. A boyfriend, a husband, loyalty, humor – yes, I want these things. But more true is that I long for love, connection, being partnered, speaking into another's life in a way that realizes and sustains a deep vision, joy that trumps disappointment. Eyes that truly see.

What Jen gave me by asking that question was the opportunity to recognize these desires, and also to name them in the presence of somebody who could hold them before Jesus. There's a story in the Bible where a blind beggar hears that Jesus is passing by, and he decides to cry out for Jesus’ attention. Jesus stops and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Give me my sight, the beggar says. It was seeing, and also that deeper longing for restoration that he asked for. 

And it’s that last part of the question, the part that Jen didn’t ask me (because she couldn’t) that grabs my attention lately. Bringing desires before Jesus, who can do for me what no one else can (who can give me my desires), transforms them from random wishes to real, tangible seeds that contain all the fullness of what I’ve already been promised. Give me my sight...


  1. this was so beautiful, as all your posts are. I think you would really love the spiritual exercises (of ignatius)--I think we talked about it (or at least, I think I mentioned I was doing them) when we had coffee (another Jen, another coffee date, ha). they are about, among other things, freedom from "disordered attachments) in order to be loved by and to love God more fully.

    1. Thanks Jen! Yes, I've been thinking about our convo... what was the book/who is the author you've been using for the examen? I've been re-reading parts of Sacred Rhythms which has some really good stuff on desire and our relationship with God. (Maybe I'll email you separately, wondering how life with the Mennonites is going :) )