Day 6 – Interacting with Desire
Let’s go back to Egypt! The food out here in the wilderness is horrible. Back in Egypt, the food was great, the vegetables were fresh, and it was all free!
Wow! Quite a response from the people in the wilderness (Numbers 11:4-6) They had been in slavery and had been led by God into freedom. Now, their desires (strong cravings) seemed to be getting the best of them. In the pain, confusion, doubt, frustration, and deprivation of the wilderness, their unformed, misdirected desires were shaping their response of let’s go back.
It sounds so ridiculous until we realize that we often respond in the same way. When we find ourselves in the desert, we look for answers and comfort, and our desire directs where we go. In what can feel like an automatic response, we overeat, drink too much, indulge in fantasy, grumble, snap at others, or perhaps fall into despair when hurting. When life doesn’t make sense, we can begin to sleepwalk into misdirected desire. The beauty of the wilderness (if you’d be willing to think about this way) is that we see those temptations more clearly. We see where those desires can take us. Getting angry when we are hungry has a name: hangry.
Jesus encountered hunger in the wilderness. Matthew 4:2-3 explain Jesus experience: “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came …” (Matthew 4:2-3) To say He was hungry after 40 days is perhaps the understatement of all understatements, and it demonstrates that He was vulnerable and truly tested. It was in that moment that the tempter came. When we experience temptation in the wilderness, we can choose to engage it as a gift from God, an opportunity to grow deeper and closer to Him. Indeed, “without temptation, there is no transformation.”
So, how do we do this? In temptation, we often end up distancing ourselves from God, thinking that we have to get it together. What does it look like to draw near? Let me suggest a few things:
First, don’t suppress desire. Desire is a beautiful, powerful thing. When desire is suppressed, it becomes more powerful under the pressure. Pay attention to your desires because they are telling you something. To ignore desire is to let it run rampant in the corners of our unconscious self. Look at desire (holy, unholy, or unknown) and notice what is truer and deeper. Discern how an “unholy” desire is really a desire for God. Curtis Almquist, SSJE suggests: “Our desires are worth listening to. They do need to be brought into the light. Many of us – certainly I – need help sifting through our life’s desires to see where they need to be deepened or purified, where they are connected to God’s gift of life for us.”
Second, pray your desires. Let God shape and redeem them. In the Psalms, we see our forefathers in the faith wrestling with God in prayer. Some of the things we observe in their prayers would certainly not be classified as “pure” desires, but it is bringing desire to God that sanctifies desires. “One of the best pieces of spiritual advice I ever received from a spiritual director was to pray for anything that I desired, even if that desire seemed sinful. It was a kind of ‘prayer shock therapy,’ designed to break through dualistic thinking patterns and begin integrating prayer with life as we actually experience it, rather than as we might wish it to be.” (Robert L’Esperance, SSJE)
Third, practice gratefulness. Many of our misdirected desires are a result of jealously and lack of gratefulness. The last of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20 encourages us to let go of covetousness. Covet is a desire word, and it means that we are desiring someone else’s life. It is perhaps no coincidence that after the challenges to be honest and honor others, the capstone of the ten deals with gratefulness and desire. Arthur Simon shares: “When things are valued too much, they lose their value because they nourish a never-satisfied craving for more. Conversely, when things are received as gifts from God and used obediently in service to God, they are enriched with gratitude. As sages have said, contentment lies not in obtaining things you want, but in giving thanks for what you have.” I would suggest this gratitude includes our wilderness seasons and the struggles with desire. God is doing something that we can trust and, dare I say, even celebrate.
Jesus said, “come and rest” (Matthew 11:28-30) and we find that rest as we learn His way of being which He described as gentleness and humility. Gentleness and humility are perhaps two sides of the same coin. Gentleness is strength under control … we might even say it is desire under control. Humility is the acknowledgement that God alone can direct our desires and strengths. As you experience desire today, practice humility by not suppressing, by praying, and by expressing gratitude. The result? A gentleness that leads to peace and rest!
Questions for reflection: what are some desires that you might pray? How might you trust God by bringing your desires to Him rather than waiting for the desires to (magically) go away?
Prayer: O Lord, I come to you with humility and give to you desires that I know are not your plan for me. I give you desires that I am uncertain about. I ask that you would shape these desires in the context of our time together. Amen.