There’s an interesting story in Luke chapter 10. An “expert in the law” comes to Jesus. Here’s what happens…
He comes to “test Jesus”. That’s what he wants to do. In order to get what he wants he presents a question which seems to be a different want; knowing how to“inherit eternal life”. But finally, through the interaction with Jesus we see that he wants to “justify himself”. This is so much of what life is like. We think we want something, so we pursue it. What we think we want is often not the socially acceptable thing, so we present ourselves to the world in ways that show we want what we are supposed to want. We do some image control, trying to get what we want in ways that won’t make us look bad. But if we are willing to interact with Jesus, He begins to peel back the layers to expose what it is we really want. This issue of wants and desires is something that we often want (see what I did there?) to avoid when it comes to thinking or talking about the spiritual life. After all, aren’t we supposed to “deny ourselves”? What does what we want or desire have to do with anything?
The truth is that our desires drive everything. This man wanted to test Jesus. But why? So he could in some way “justify himself”. The problem is not that we have desire, but that we desire the wrong things. We often think we want something, but in reality we want that particular thing to meet a deeper desire we aren’t even aware of. There’s a great written prayer that I use in my own life that helps keeps this in focus for me. It’s a resource from the Sacred Space website, a Jesuit prayer resource. Here it is, the underlining is mine to emphasize my point:
Lord, I so wish to prepare well for this time.
I so want to make all of me ready and attentive and available to you.
Please help me to clarify and purify my intentions.
I have so many contradictory desires.
I get preoccupied with things that don't really matter or last.
I know that if I give you my heart, whatever I do will follow my new heart.
In all that I am today, all that I try to do,
all my encounters, reflections - even the frustrations and failings
and especially in this time of prayer,
in all of this may I place my life in your hands.
Lord, I am yours. Make of me what you will. Amen.
So much of the spiritual life is about desire. Not just removing desires that are evil and that will ultimately destroy us, but about recognizing and reordering the desires we have so that they are in line with what God wants to do in us. We have desires we don’t even know that we have. Sometimes they are contradictory, which leaves us in a constant state of confusion. God engages us and begins to expose our wants in the hope that we will begin to surrender and reorient what we want around Him and what brings us the LIFE that He has for us. But often we are so focused on what we think we want and need that we don’t allow Him to help us see what really drives our actions.
As I was thinking all of this over, my dog picked up one of his stuffed toys, came over to me, and did a little barky kind of whine. I know what he wants. He wants to play. He holds the toy in his mouth as I try to pull it away. If you didn’t know the situation and were going only by appearances in that moment, it looks like he wants the toy. He doesn’t want to let it go. We pull on either end with him doing a happy little growl. But because I know him, I know he doesn’t really want the toy. He wants the interaction with me; he wants to play. If I don’t engage, eventually he will just drop the toy and go find something else to occupy him. But if I engage, wrestling the toy away, tossing it across the room, he will chase it down like it’s the most important thing in the world to him. Then within seconds we repeat the process. He doesn’t really want the toy, He wants to play with me.
So often what it appears we want is only masking a deeper desire. Jesus wants to uncover that desire so that we can see it for what it is, and if need be, let it go to embrace something healthier, or reorder it in some way that brings life instead of death. What is it you desire today? Your deepest desires are what drive your actions. Why not take some time to come to Jesus as you are, just like the expert in the law, and tell Him what it is you want. You may find that through the interaction He clarifies and purifies your intentions. He might just expose what it is you really desire. And that might be the next step you need to take..