Let Our Desires Be Big

Let Our Desires Be Big

He complains much of our blindness, and cries often that we are to be pitied who content ourselves with so little.

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

This Lent, I want to not settle. I’ve been slowly plodding through The Practice of the Presence of God and I find little bits of wisdom, such that makes me want to savor the book and not just rush through it, although it is brief. As I’ve been seeking to delve into a new relationship with the Lord during this new season of grace, I’ve been moved by this plea of Brother Lawrence to not content myself with so little. My “big” desires turn out to be not so big in light of what the Lord desires. In fact, it turns out that I want too little instead of wanting too much.

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis

The Lord offers deep and intimate relationship with Him. And we want ease and comfort. Or nice clothes. Or relaxation. Or sleep. Or any number of things that show how little we will settle for when grand things are held before us. This time of Lent is a time to re-focus and shift my perspective to be more eternal, to focus less on the things of this world and see the unending delights the Lord promises if we but bypass the immediate half-goods. I write this as much for myself as for anyone else. This Lent, let us run the race well and seek after the things not of this world and let our longings increase and become longings truly worthy of the beauty for which humanity was created.

Let us deepen our desires. They cannot be too big for the Lord, only too small.

Photo by Jan Kronies on Unsplash

No Place I’d Rather Be

No Place I’d Rather Be

At a retreat a few weeks ago, I found myself singing Set a Fire with the other retreatants and the line “there’s no place I’d rather be than here in Your love” struck me a little deeper than usual.

It was incredibly bold. There is no place that I would rather be?

And I imagined the life I wanted for myself, filled with a husband and kids gathered into a warm home, and I sang that lyric again. Those words, in a brief blitz of grace, became something I fiercely desired to be true. Instead of all of my vain imaginings about the future, a future which may never be, I wanted to want to be in that moment, receiving the Lord’s love.

It doesn’t mean my heart no longer wanted those things, but I was shaken with the renewed realization that God can only be met in the present moment. The Lord isn’t in my rosy dreams of domestic bliss, even if He desires it for me in the future. Similarly, the Lord isn’t in my imagined ideal job, where my gifts are fully utilized.

The Lord, instead, is present in the here and now. It is in this moment that He offers me grace. And it will only ever be in the current moment. He has plans for my future, great and beautiful plans, but He is with me in the now.

Continue reading “No Place I’d Rather Be”

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The longing of God’s chosen people fills the Old Testament.

For generations they are waiting for God to redeem them, to restore their nation, and to enter into a new and lasting covenant with them. They tell their children and their children’s children about His mighty works and the promises God has made to them. While they don’t know how these promises will be fulfilled, they trust that they will be.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on all your mighty deeds….You are the God who works wonders, who have manifested your might among the peoples. With your arm you redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:11-12, 14-15

For years I’ve viewed the birth of Christ as the end to their waiting and a fulfillment of their longing. All that they were waiting for was there, wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. The King they were waiting for had come. We celebrate Christmas with that in mind: the Hope of the Nations is born and so we rejoice.

Yet this year I was filled with a recognition that one of the most important moments in human history happened and yet virtually nobody knew about it at the time. Similar to the quiet yet monumental yes at Mary’s Annunciation, the birth of Jesus took place in a relatively hidden way. Angels told some shepherds and wise men arrived from the east, yet as a whole, Israel was unaware of what was happening in their midst.

On the day after Christ’s nativity, they awoke….and didn’t know that anything was different than the week before. They still longed for a king and awaited the redemption of Israel. Yet He was there, the little King, already laboring to save them. When they gathered in the synagogue to pray, recalling the promises and the works of God, they did not know that the incarnate God was with them. As they provided work for St. Joseph, they did not know that it was the God-man who crafted and created alongside him.

Christ was living and working in the world and yet the world did not know it.

For thirty years, Christ was hidden. He lived the ordinary life of a son, a neighbor, a faithful Jew, and a carpenter. People laughed, worked, ate, prayed, talked, and experienced life with the God-man and did not know it. The One an entire nation longed for washed His feet to remove the dust, ate His mother’s food, and slept deeply after a day of laboring.

He was there, known and yet unknown.

Continue reading “The One Longed For And Yet Present”

Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room

GK Chesterton wrote Manalive, a novel that revealed his desire to gaze at the world through a life-giving haze of wonder and awe. I was reminded of this recently at a talk and it made me reflect on the stories that he speaks of taking place in the fictional life of Innocent Smith.

(If you haven’t read the book and want to, you should probably stop here because I need to ruin a few points in order to reveal what is so attractive about his life. This is your warning. Stop here! Proceed no further. Or, if you don’t care, carry on.)

Continue reading “Maybe I’ll Climb Into My Classroom Through the Ceiling From Another Teacher’s Room”

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable

For the past few semesters, I give something called ‘The Preference Test‘ as a way to lead into the Argument from Desire when speaking of God’s existence. This test gives a series of would-you-rather questions but proposed in a slightly different way. I understand why the students sometimes find it silly because it pits options like You are loved against You are not loved. It seems easy enough to be clear about what you would truly prefer, but so many times the students struggle to admit that they desire something when intellectually they are convinced it doesn’t exist or isn’t real.

One question asked if they would rather have their value be innate or dependent on their abilities. This one is always interesting, because the hard-working, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality comes out in full force even if it isn’t really what anyone would truly want. I asked what they preferred. Did they prefer to be worth something just because they exist or did they prefer to strive for worthiness?

So many of them argued that culturally our value is based on our net worth or the skills we’ve acquired or how gifted we are. I told them I understood that, but asked how do you want your value to be determined? Still some insisted that they would prefer that measuring rod of value.

Interestingly, some seemed to fear nobody would work hard if they just knew they were valuable. I wonder if it is because they work hard to be good and then they wonder what it would be like if everyone had value regardless of their skills. Perhaps it is because they feel validated by meeting certain expectations and don’t know what it would mean if those measuring rods were broken and thrown away. Who would they be without grades or athletic giftedness or money or determination?

And it just made my heart ache to see them striving so much. So many of our problems seem to stem from not knowing our true worth or identity. If we all fully understood it, perhaps we wouldn’t be compelled to step on other people or gossip or give up or lie or do whatever we do to get ahead. Or whatever we do to numb the feeling that we aren’t worth anything or can never amount to much. People suffer from not knowing their own true value more than being too full of their own giftedness. I’m quite confident that the ones who seem the most full of themselves are so because they recognize within themselves a radical insufficiency.

Continue reading “Quit Striving: You Are Already Valuable”

Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison

Humans are surprising creatures.

They have the unique capacity for acts of tremendous, selfless good. Yet they also carry within themselves the capacity for unspeakable acts of horror. Perhaps even more significant, though, is the capacity humans have for change and transformation.

I spent this past weekend helping with a retreat at a men’s prison.

Several times, I was asked by the inmates and the volunteers if it was what I expected. The truth was I didn’t quite know what to expect from the weekend. I was a bit nervous to enter in. Not nervous for the gate to slam behind me or to be locked into the prison. Not nervous that a riot would start. Not nervous that I would be injured or harmed. Rather, I was uneasy about how I would be received. What would we talk about? What would the men be like? Would they make me uncomfortable or would they be kind?

In the reality, humanity inside the prison is very much like humanity outside the prison. Some of the men were very kind and genuine. Others seemed to want an unhealthy amount of attention. Some wanted to share their hearts. Others wanted to stay only on the surface. Some admitted they made mistakes. Others insisted everything was fine or that they weren’t treated fairly. Some respected authority. Others used each opportunity they had to poke at the officers responsible for them. They reminded me an awful lot of my students and the world around me. Which isn’t all that surprising, but it was different to experience it instead of just think about it.

There was a unique point in the retreat when the group reflected on how God uses all for His good. In our small group, my sister mentioned that God uses everything and that even though they were in prison for something wrong they had done, they were still encountering Him on a retreat. Maybe this time in prison was a good, because God can use all for good. And it was beautiful to see at least some of them agree. They talked about how it was likely that they could have been dead if they weren’t in prison. If they continued on their previous course, it was easy for them to see how it would have led to their demise.

Continue reading “Amazing Grace: A Weekend in Prison”

To Begin

To Begin

You’ve got to start somewhere.

When I was little, I remember looking at the Minesweeper game on my family’s computer but having no idea how to play it.  (Kind of similar to the Risk computer game…except I’ve never taken the time to figure Risk out.)  I would click random boxes and then numbers would appear until, eventually, everything would explode.  Not knowing the purpose or goal of the game meant success was unlikely to happen.

However, even now that I know the game, I still find it slightly frustrating that there is no perfect way to start it.  Usually you don’t end up selecting a mine right away but sometimes you do.  And there is no foolproof way to avoid it.  You simply need to begin in a random place.

Sometimes I feel that way with life.  Transformations that I desire to happen or significant projects I would like to complete often baffle me by providing no clear entry point.  Where does one begin?  What is the correct way to start?

For years, I’ve wanted to write a book.  When I was younger, it was simply the broad idea of desiring to write a book.  Now I know the topic, the title, and the general idea, but I still lack the plan I believe I need to be successful in the endeavor.  I want some clear outline or step-by-step process that will enable me to have a fail proof starting point.  However, the perfect beginning eludes me.  Continue reading “To Begin”

Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

In the movie Sweet Home Alabama, there is one line that has always stood out to me.  The main characters Jake and Melanie are talking about their past and present, the ways life has changed from when they were high school sweethearts to their current situation of estranged spouses.  Melanie expresses her confusion about loving her life in New York and yet returning home to find that her hometown fits, too.  Jake then says, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.”

So often my own heart is caught in that same clashing of different longings.  I want to fly away and yet I want to be home, grounded and steady.  One moment I’m desiring to be a missionary in a far-away land and the next I want to stay in my cozy bedroom, reading and considering life.  One day, I’m wanting to buy a home and make it my own oasis.  The next day, I am wanting to be detached of all earthly possessions, living simply and being prepared to fly off to wherever whenever.

Roots and wings–the desire to be secure and the desire to be free–mark the desires of the human heart.  We want to be home, but not confined.  We want to be free to wander and yet not be lost.  All of it, flying or remaining, hinges on the longing we have for happiness and contentment.

Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.

Philippians 4:11-12

I am not quite like St. Paul yet, able to find contentment in whatever situation I find myself in.  Perhaps my students would even be surprised with the restlessness that is within my heart.  I am slow to act, yes, making changes at a glacial speed.  And yet…change is what I often long for and deeply desire.  What is the solution? Continue reading “Roots and Wings”

Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing

Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing

Recently, I came into possession of Alanna Boudreau’s “Champion” CD.  And I’ve been listening to it on repeat pretty much since then.  As with all CDs, there are some songs I like more than others and certain lines in songs that move me more than others.

Her song “Controlled Burn” is one of the songs on repeat a bit more than others and I want to highlight a couple of the lines that stand out to me.

“And I ache, I ache, I ache / When I see all the nothing / That could have been something / That should have been you”

This line is perhaps the most perfect summary of these months of summer and maybe even the past year.  From the silent retreat near the beginning of summer to my sister’s home visit to being on the brink of school beginning, I have felt an ache for the nothingness that surrounds me.  Sometimes I am a bit fearful about the judgment that will come at the end of my life and how I will need to answer for all of my time.  The “nothing” that I did should have been replaced by the Lord, by perfectly following His will in all things.  Someday I will regret that wasted time even more than I do now.

I’m not saying that every moment needs to be filled to the brim with productivity.  Americans, however, aren’t particularly good at true leisure.  We binge watch TV shows, waste time on our phones, and fastidiously document our lives on social media.  Obviously, these are all generalizations, but our inability to truly embrace leisure is evident.  So when I say I waste time, I don’t mean I neglected to work, work, work.  Rather, I was isolated too much, preferring to spend time on my own rather than setting up numerous coffee dates or road trips or nights out with friends.  As an introvert, it is an easy hole to fall into and an even easier one to justify. Continue reading “Controlled Burn: A Song of Longing”

Being the Adventure

“Someday, I want to be the adventure someone chooses.”

The words resonate in my heart, even though I’ve never quite thought of it like that.  My friend is telling me that she has encouraged men she was interested in to pursue their dreams.  Yet what she really wants is to be the adventure they choose to pursue.  I hear her ache and I feel a similar one in my own heart.

We are millennials.  In many ways, I do not believe I fit into my generation.  However, in this regard, I do: I desire greatness.  I do not mean that I long to be recognized or praised in front of all.  Nor do I want empty words of admiration or platitudes repeated just to satisfy a longing to be great.

No.

I want to contribute, in some meaningful way, to society.  I want to leave an impression.  I want to fill a need.  I want to embrace adventure and travel and see new sights.  I want to feel the exhilarating rush of being absolutely, irrevocably alive.  I don’t want to do this by getting high, imbibing too much alcohol, or living a way that is less than I am.  I want to live fully my humanity.

At times I feel like I haven’t done much in my twenty-something years of living.  And by some standards, I haven’t.

I have:
-graduated from high school
-graduated from college (and completed English and Theology theses at 20 pages each)
-studied abroad
-gone on three mission trips, leading one of them
-been a small part in saving at least one child from abortion during my time sidewalk counseling
-been a Confirmation sponsor for two people and godmother to two others
-been published in two newspapers and a college student publication
-traveled to: Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Vatican City, and 32 of the states in the US
-successfully taught high school for 3.5 years
-walked El Camino de Santiago

 

Yet despite these “accomplishments” I am left longing for more adventures.  Namely, the adventure of marriage and family.  The person I immediately turn to when thinking of marriage as an adventure is the ever-endearing G.K. Chesterton.

The supreme adventure is being born.  There we do walk suddenly into a splendid startling trap.  There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before.  Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush.  Our uncle is a surprise.  Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue.  When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made.  In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.

So my dear Chesterton would tell me that I am already living the supreme adventure: I have been born into it.  I would argue with him (since it is often my nature to be non-compliant) that my current life is not the familial adventure he speaks of since I am in the “in between” time.  I have a house but it is rented.  I live with friends and not a family of my own.  It is good, but not what I long for.  Perhaps he would agree with me in these points.  In this hypothetical argument, he might remind me that marriage, for all my silly idealism, is not perfection.  He might say this:

When we defend the family we do not mean it is always a peaceful family; when we maintain the thesis of marriage we do not mean that it is always a happy marriage.  We mean that it is the theatre of the spiritual drama, the place where things happen, especially the things that matter.  It is not so much the place where a man kills his wife as the place where he can take the equally sensational step of not killing his wife.

I remember the look of confusion and a bit of shock on my mom’s face when I read her that quote once.  But isn’t it true?  Sometimes the more sensational thing is two human beings, undeniably different even if undeniably in love, not killing each other.  Clearly, Chesterton was a married man.

However, I do not wish to simply quote Chesterton all day, though I love his writings even if I haven’t read many of them.  Rooted deep in the hearts of modern man, I believe, is the desire to give entirely of oneself, wholly and without reserve or end.  This is the longing for marriage.  The desire we have to be the adventure that someone else undertakes.  What adventure (apart from that of pursuing God) could be greater than looking at another human being and saying, “You.  I choose you and only you forever.  I choose to journey through life with you, come what may.  I choose your heart to pursue and cherish always.  And I know time will change us.  In ten years, you will not be the same person I married.  But I will still choose you.

It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word.

As much as this millennial longs to do all kinds of things and pursue all sorts of adventures (pilgrimage to the Holy Land, run a half marathon, go to jail for a night*, or fly a plane), I long for the simple adventure of a home and a family.  In many ways, my desires are not so adventurous or dramatic after all.  They are little things, daily things.  The adventure of simply being the adventure.

The old-fashioned Englishman, like my father, sold houses for his living but filled his own house with his life.

*Naturally, when I say I wish to go to jail for a night, it is with the idea that I went standing up for something I deeply believe in.