A Sleight of Hand: Every Desire You have Should Be Fulfilled.
“In our society, we have come to believe that discomfort always means something is wrong. We are conditioned to believe that feelings of distress, pain, deprivation, yearning, and longing mean something is wrong with the way we are living our lives. Conversely, we are convinced that a rightly lived life must give us serenity, completion and fulfillment. Comfort means ‘right’ and distress means ‘wrong.’ The influence of such conviction
s is stifling to the human spirit. Individually and collectively, we must somehow recover the truth. The truth is, we were never meant to be completely satisfied.” —Gerald May from Addiction and Grace:
If I had no self-control I think I would gladly eat a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich and waffle fries every single day. Truly, I do not think I would tire of it. Likewise, if I my way, I would make time move backwards and return to the house I grew up in, place my parents there in perfect health and have no need to be responsible in any area of life that provokes stress. Even today, if I could, I would pick out my dream scenario and without any limitation of funds, I would plan it into existence. I can keep going…all the conflicts that have torn down some of my relationships would be erased; I would plant a few dollar bills in my yard and grow money on trees to eliminate financial stress; and I would put a just a sprinkling of Wintergreen essential oil on my back and let the pain dissipate, never to be felt again. Life with no limitations, no setbacks, no lack. Life with no need for self-denial or self-control. Life unleashed.
This, for one moment, sounds like the happiness train, and in the next, an assault on my development. C.S Lewis paints a picture of this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Edmund is lured in by the White Witch to enjoy some Turkish Delight, a sugary pastry. He eats and eats as his taste-buds awaken a greed for more. Edmund is blinded by his desire and the sweet aroma of the Turkish Delight, leaving him lost in the harmful deception of the Witch. Her promises don’t deliver and Edmund is left downcast and disillusioned.
There is a great misunderstanding today, a slight of hand deceiving us. If we pay attention we can see this falsehood pulling the entire human race about by the neck. Somewhere in history, culture started to promote a fib: every desire should be fulfilled.
Every. Single. One.
If Person A says “no” to Person B’s longing, Person A is considered unloving and, even worse, hateful. If Person A says Person B is doing something “wrong” or “unwise” or “compromising,” Person A is narrow-minded and unjust. But being human means being limited. It’s obvious when we look about us. And furthermore, humans actually need limits. Our propensity to unleash our desires no matter what the cost, has resulted in both personal and global destruction. We are an obese nation; we have landfills the size of Texas in our oceans because we won’t be inconvenienced; we are making more profit off pornography than almost any other industry; we have financial debt that keeps building at a record pace, not only as individuals but also as a government. We want what we want and no one should be telling us what we can, or cannot do. Sounds a bit like the spoiled brat in second grade who used to throw a fit when not getting his way, or the girl who tattled on someone any time her feelings were hurt by a classmate. We are a fragile bunch.
Limitations and self-denial are safeguards. Self-control is the seedling that grows into maturity, resisting the trickery of indulgence. Jesus himself was the most sound example of self-denial. Being in likeness with God and all the powers that accompanied that, he chose not to access that power. He waited on the Father to give him what was needed. At one point, Matthew records him saying at the time of his betrayal and torture, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus resisted ease and comfort. He was fixed on the greater plan. He knew suffering was in order, a “must” for God’s plan to cover our wrongdoings. So, he exercised self-control and denied himself of his desire. If someone today was wrongly accused and had access to “10,000 angels waiting at a single command,” we’d say, “by all means, call them down!” And yet the reality keeps showing itself true: to have longings unmet cultivates humility, empathy and gratitude. To live life with some loss and hardship makes us community-dependent people. These empty spaces inside each human, draw us close and call out our best qualities as we care for one another. Compassion, service, tenderness, sacrifice and sincerity spring up and clear out the weeds of selfishness.
I did not marry until I was 46 years old. Year after year of aching for a companion. Year after year of feeling odd and incomplete. Year after year, childless. And though I did find a companion who is more than I had hoped for, my life has not been completed with an airbrushed canvas image. I will have 20 less years with my husband than the average couple, and even more difficult to accept is I will have no children of my own. This lack, this ache, this unmet desire is written right into my story. Oddly, I have come to hate it and value it at the same time. I can wish it weren’t so and yet celebrate the secret gifts hidden in the darkness. As a result of not having children, there is space in our lives to invest in people that would be impossible if we had all the responsibilities that come with a family. There is necessary sadness in me that has nurtured a connection with those struggling with infertility or singleness. Every desire I have had has not been fulfilled. And maybe something matters in the emptiness. Maybe denying ourselves the indulgence of too much stuff means we become generous and less self-absorbed. Maybe resisting the temptation to give in to sexual desire when it’s not as God designed will lead to a depth of relationship both with God and others. Maybe your child never doing well in math results in a clearer path toward God’s calling while also cultivating the rare quality of humility. Maybe denying the urge to spew negative words will build a deeper trust with those in our immediate circles. Maybe your senior not getting into that college will be a marker that God has the best ideas for her life. Maybe sitting in our uncomfortable feelings instead of escaping them so quickly will make it more possible for us to endure with others in their hardships.
Maybe, just maybe, not getting what we want will help us become approachable, long-suffering, soft, teachable, wholehearted human beings. As Gerald May said, “…maybe we were never meant to be satisfied.” That stuffed-to-the-brim condition is the most disappointing and exhausting. For soon, after we finally “got what we wanted,” we will wake up and feel another hole opening up. But thanks be to God, there’s a mercy concealed in these caverns. Here our hope of Heaven awakens. Here the losses protect us from making the cursed earth our only storyline. In the meantime, while we wait for Heaven to come to earth, we can embrace our unmet desires knowing that seedlings are sprouting underneath them. Seedlings bearing the divine qualities in our own flesh and bone.