One of things Jesus seems to love to do to help people get in touch with spiritual realities is to ask questions that guide them to what is deeply true within. No matter how good, bad, or ugly, He preferred that we speak honestly and get to the core of the issue. His questions probe into our hopes and dreams, desires and disappointments. For Jesus, this is what it means to be companions on the way. The disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 got there pretty quickly in their conversation with Jesus.
The disciples express some exasperation with Jesus for His apparent lack of knowledge as they recounted the basic facts of what happened in Jerusalem. And then they come to that poignant phrase, “but we had hoped.” These words are simple and, at the same time, profoundly pregnant with all the longing and desire that had drawn their little community together.
Over time that desire had blossomed into real hope and then deepened into faith that what they had allowed themselves to hope for was really going to happen. They had rearranged their lives and taken great risks to live their desire for a new kind of kingdom. They longed for a kingdom that would be established through the coming of the Messiah. Weary and disillusioned from living under Roman rule, they longed to be free to live under God’s rule. They were thoroughly convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who would lead this new regime that they staked their lives on it.
The disciples had been thinking Jesus was going to take over through some kind of military coup, not through an approach to power that involved death, burial, and resurrection. Their group had coalesced around their shared desire for this new kingdom and their belief that Jesus could bring about the fulfillment of their deepest desire. They were thinking that they had gotten in on the ground floor; they envisioned themselves in places of prominence in this new kingdom.
Like them, we can be disappointed by assumptions that don’t come to pass, or by circumstances that look very different than we expected. When have you let yourself hope for something like the disciples did, only to have your hopes dashed? What have you done with that experience? Has it robbed you of the ability to hope now, or do you still allow yourself to hope?
Having our hopes dashed leaves us in a very tender place. We get in touch with something we really want, and we let it matter to us a great deal. As the possibility of achieving that desire becomes more and more real, it becomes more than a dream; we can actually picture it, and we find ourselves leaning in and living as though that thing might actually happen. This is how desire works and it is very powerful.
Back on the road to Emmaus, Jesus understood this dynamic and knew that if people got in touch with their spiritual desires it would change their lives, so He encouraged them to pay attention to desire and then actually speak of it out loud to Him. Desire, rightly identified and effectively harnessed, eventually gives way to hope that what we desire really could come to pass and the faith to live as though it were real. The spiritual journey deepens as we discover the longing and desires God has placed within us and that God Himself longs to meet (Psalm 37:4). We may think that something as personal as desire originates with us, but the truth is, everything of significance begins with God, even our desire.
With good attention, desire can deepen into intentionality, which then can be lived out in the decisions we make every day. Psalm 37:4 affirms that there are good desires of the heart that God has placed within us. If we are fully in touch with the desire that stirs quietly under the surface of our emotional attachments and superficial wanting, we can plot a better course for our lives rather than being tossed about by every wind of change or adversity.
Your desire for deeper union with God, for love, for belonging, for transformation is the truest thing about you. Our desire for God and our capacity to reach for more of God than we have right now that is the core aspect of who we are.
Many of us are afraid to even acknowledge deep desire, given how out of control it all feels. It is much more risky to refuse to acknowledge what is real within us. Repressed desire only gets stronger and more dangerous the longer we refuse to acknowledge it. It is so much safer for us and everyone around us if we open our desire in Jesus’ presence and in the presence of those who know how to accompany us in this place. With the support of our companions, Jesus can help us sift through our desires and let go of the destructive longings so we can 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 Jesus into our own desires, we learn how to be gentle, trustworthy, and compassionate companions for each other. We discover that opening up our desire in Jesus’ presence with spiritual companions, even when we are not sure what is true and what is false within us, can foster a new kind of intimacy between us that is satisfying.