For the last two days I was tucked away at a retreat house conducting an intensive retreat. We were four spiritual companions gathered together to walk alongside a sister, who, in the trials of life, has lost sight of the Lord. In her anger at the Lord for not keeping her safe from emotional pain, she has fallen into a deep depression. She has discovered that safety and certainty are not the means that the Lord uses to draw her into dependent faith upon Him. The stubbornness of her prideful self-pity has kept her from intimate fellowship with the Lord.
She, like us, has discovered that it is not always comfortable to acknowledge our desires. Many of us have developed lives full of distractions just so we can avoid the uncomfortable feelings of paying attention to the deeper desires of the heart. One of the reasons we feel discomfort with our desires is because they can feel so volatile and out of control. And, at some level, they are out of our control.
Only God knows where our honest admissions about our desires will take us. There will be times when God calls us to own our deeper spiritual desires without knowing what the outcome will be.
When Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, “What is it you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responds that he wants to see again, (Mark 10:51). Jesus heals him immediately. This is always the possibility, that Jesus will change, heal, or restore us, from whatever it is that is needed in the moment.
Another outcome for the blind man was that after his healing, the life he had lived as a beggar was not an option for him; he couldn’t make a living as a beggar when as a healthy and able-bodied member of society. Scripture tells us he did the only thing that made sense: he followed Jesus on the way. He had to be ready for the unknown and follow Jesus very closely, letting things unfold in front of him not knowing what the outcome would be.
Many of us are afraid to even entertain deep desire to follow Jesus closely; it feels so out of our control. It is actually much more risky to refuse to acknowledge the desire that is within us. Repressing the desire will make it grow stronger and more dangerous the longer we refuse to acknowledge it. It is much safer for us and everyone around us if we open our desires in Jesus’ presence and in the presence of those who know us and know how to accompany us in this place.
With the support of our companions, Jesus can help us to sift through our desires in a gentle and trustworthy way; we can at the same time, let go of destructive desires and embrace what is good and true. Jesus’ compassion for us in the midst of our desire is real (Matthew 20:34), and as we walk with Him into our own desires, we learn how to be gentle, trustworthy, and compassionate companions for others. We discover that opening up our desire in Christ’s presence and in the presence of spiritual companions even when we’re not sure what is true and what is false within us can birth a new kind of intimacy between us that is oddly satisfying.
As we pay attention to our desire, we are made aware that we have choices. Jesus’ question to the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6) called for the man to take some sort of action in the direction of his desire. Getting in touch with how badly he wanted healing and his willingness to do what he could catalyzed Jesus’ power to do the one thing he could not do for himself. This is part of the paradox Paul is referring to when he says that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). He is referring to the fact that there is always God’s part and ours on the journey of transformation.
So, what are your desires? Have you brought them to Jesus, or other companions in your life? Are you discerning what is your part? Is there something Jesus is inviting you to do in order to live into what your heart wants most?