“What could you possibly want?”
I had just given a talk in prison about how the Lord calls to us and yet how there are so many other voices calling to us as well. The goal, I said, was to listen through the cacophony and follow the still, sure voice of God. Afterwards, the small group I was leading commented on my talk, saying they didn’t know I could speak like that. Then we delved into the small group discussion questions. One question asked what other voices we listen to apart from God. I shared that sometimes I listen to the voice of comparison, which causes me to focus on what other people have that I wish I had or experiences they’ve had which I have not.
“What could you possibly want?” one of the guys in my small group asked, with the most sincere look of befuddlement on his face. “I heard you talk and you spoke like no other girl I’ve known. What could you want that you don’t already have?”
This sincere question struck me in two different directions. One aspect was that I should be grateful for the many gifts I’ve received and stifle more ardently that insidious voice of comparison. Having just given a talk about how we should listen to voice of God and not the other voices clamoring for our attention, I was forced to consider how often I do not do that very thing. Here was someone in prison asking what else I could possibly want when seeing a glimpse of my life. And I couldn’t argue that I lacked much considering my position in life.
Yet the other thought that came to mind was surprise that to someone I seemed to have everything. I wanted to pour out a lengthy list of all the things or experiences I long for yet do not have. Marriage, children, a job that completely satisfies me, a published book or two, the perfect work-life balance, the ability to run a marathon, a large built-in bookshelf with a ladder like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, a perfectly planned upcoming vacation, no mortgage, and the list could go on and on. However, I wanted to tell him that even when one follows Jesus, there are still longings we have for other things, even if we strive to live an ordered life. The desires we experience should be responded to in such a way that we are led to reach for goodness, truth, and beauty instead of making us ungrateful for what we have by focusing on what we lack.
There are many things I want. And it isn’t the want itself that is necessarily bad. The problem enters when I focus on how much I want and how much I don’t have instead of leaning into what is being offered to me in the present moment. I am incredibly moved by the witness of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (also known as St. Edith Stein) and how she desired to become a religious sister immediately after converting to Catholicism, like her hero St. Teresa of Avila. Yet, for various circumstances, she remained in the world for another twelve years. Not able to fully embrace the life she desired was not a hindrance for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to continue to grow in holiness and to continue to make a tremendous impact in the world. She wanted more, but she received what the Lord offered to her in the present moment.
The same is asked of each one of us. Whatever our desires or longings, attainable or not, the Lord is inviting us to enter into the various deserts presented to us. It might be in the very midst of what we longed for that we realized we are also experiencing an unexpected lack. Or we might find the reverse to be true: as we wait in a desert, we find moments of consoling fulfillment which we did not anticipate. The longings we have should prompt us to more zealously pursue eternity, recognizing that only in Heaven will we fully experience the bliss for which we were made. Here is to leaning into the longing and finding Christ is still present in this desert, His voice still quietly speaking to us in the midst of the chaos.
“What could you possibly want?”
Everything and yet nothing more at all.