I mentioned in a previous post that I read through the vulnerable memoir of New Testament scholar Wesley Hill and finally wrapped it up a couple of weeks ago. Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflection on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is hauntingly honest and open about the tension between faith and life.
In his book, Hill confronts his sexual desires and his desire to follow Jesus, even when those two seem to be at odds. What I found to be so refreshing was Hill’s aim to place his own desires in front of God’s. He aimed at bringing the whole of his life under the Lordship of Jesus.
While I do not understand what it would be like to be in his shoes, I do appreciate his perspective on the journey of bearing certain unmet desires in this life. And the thing is this: no matter how perfect one’s life is on the outside, there is always something missing underneath the façade. There is always something that does not met all of our desires.
In the stillness of the evening or in the stirring of the morning, we are met with the unending call of our unrequited desires: wealth, security, companionship, love, sex, children, to be understood, and self confidence. For Hill, it is the unmet desire for marital intimacy that he will not taste. For me, it has been self-confidence and insecurities. What unmet desire or unfulfilled need has not been filled for you?
Maybe it’s too painful to say out loud.
I would love to say that Jesus is the answer, but it’s too simplistic. After all, Paul had a thorn in his side for years and it was never removed, even after a lot of prayer. This metaphorical thorn stayed with him throughout his ministry, and it very well could stay for a majority of our lives too. Even Moses himself longed to enter the Promised Land, but he never set foot on the soil of Canaan. Sometimes desires will be unmet this side of glory.
One of the beauties of Scripture is that we are assured that our desires will be met one day. Our desires will be fulfilled on the other side, as we physically look at the face of God and thrive. For now, we wait with unrequited desires and trust that Jesus will bear our burden as we journey through this life. For now we wait, because his grace will sustain us through the desert.
The Christian message is not the elimination of desire but the transformation of desire. The overcoming of destructive desire and developing the inward reality of right desire is what we are after and what we can experience as our life is soaked in Jesus and his way.
As I have been working through my Christian Spirituality course, I have been introduced to many incredible people of historic Christianity. While their writings and practices in regards to living a disciplined life are very helpful and challenging to me, the use of near stoic language can be a little disturbing. Even though I am a pretty calm guy, not prone to emotional outbursts, I do like reserving the right to emote. That is why I appreciated the observation of Richard Foster in Longing for God where he responded to the idea of “apatheia.” That is where the individual aims to live completely removed from any want or desire. Many desert monastics would eat just enough food to survive, deprive themselves from sleep, and so on. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?
This is not the aim of the Christian message, as Foster rightly pointed out. Christianity is about transformation, a righting of our desire. It is about being aligned with the desires of God, being molded ever so slowly into the image of Christ. The Apostle Peter put it another way, writing, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” (I Peter 1:14)
It is not about being some killjoy who is dour or in a constant cloud of contemplation. It is about a deep, overflowing love that is rooted in Christ. That is why I like the idea of a rooted theology, where we are tied inextricably to the life giving power of Jesus. As the Church moves into the period of Lent this month, I would encourage you (and myself!) to use fasting from things we like (whether it is chocolate, alcohol, Facebook, or Doritos) in order to bring ourselves closer in alignment to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to transform your desires to be closer to Him. At least consider it. Let’s make it a joint venture!