Live Well

Understanding Desire

April 19, 2020

I still don’t know what “satisfied” means. But I know what it doesn’t mean: having all your desires fulfilled. It doesn’t even mean being able to fulfill them. In fact, the more I learn about desire, the more it confirms a truly depressing sermon I heard by John Mark Comer. 

“Desire is infinite. Meaning it has no limit. There’s no point at which desire is ever satisfied. And because we are finite (we inhabit time and space, I’m in one body, one gender, one marriage, one city, one job, one family, one life, one story), the end result is restlessness. We live with a chronic state of unsatisfied desire. Like an itch that just no matter how often you scratch it, it just does not go away.” -John Mark Comer

Depressing, but helpful. Desire is endless. The more you feed it, the more it grows. We have a name for someone that is constantly “satisfying” his desires but never satisfied: glutton.

If I’m ever going to be satisfied, I have to put desire in its proper place.

“Desire is a great motivator. It’s essentially the engine of our life, its function is to get us out of bed in the morning and propel us out into the world. But if at any point, desire is no longer under our control […] we’re in trouble.” -John Mark Comer

To paraphrase him, desire is a great engine and a terrible steering wheel. How do we keep desire from being our steering wheel? By setting limits.

Some days I love limits. Other days I fight them. I love rules. But there comes a point when I’ve been so good that all I want to do is break a little rule. A sad narrative that seems to play out over and over is that everyone else is allowed to break the rules, but when I do, I pay the consequences.

It seems so unfair. 

But then I realize that my thoughts reveal my belief that good things lie on the other side of those limits. I’ve fallen for it like Eve. I don’t yet believe that all the good things are inside the boundaries.

Limits are not a result of the curse. They are part of our God-given design. They are part of what it means to be a creature. Only God is limitless. Trying to live without limits is trying to be God. Like Eve. Like the men building Babel. They grasped for something their soul was not meant for. And they paid the price.

It’s not unfair when I pay the price for living outside my limits. If anything it’s kindness that I’m paying now when I can still turn things around. 

We were meant to live within limits. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to desire more. Christian satisfaction has more to it than just contentment. We don’t diminish desire because it hurts to want. Sometimes it’s good to want.

One of C.S. Lewis’ arguments for God is called the argument from desire. It goes like this:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” -C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

I’ve found that to be true. Some of my closest moments with God have had a haunting emptiness. That seems strange to say. But I’ve laid under the stars and felt drawn towards heaven yet pinned to earth. I’ve felt the closeness of God and still his absence. I can’t describe it better. Something was made alive in my heart but only in reaching for it. It wasn’t something I possessed. I was present with God but longing for more.

That’s a desire I want to feed.

Desire has a proper place. Desire moves us towards action.

This can be a really good thing. 

Or a really bad thing.

Desire is only a good thing in that it moves me towards the right things. When desire is moving me towards the wrong things it is unhealthy.

My first step towards satisfaction then is to acknowledge my desires. To sort out where those desires are taking me.

Then, prayerfully, to set limits on the desires that are moving me towards actions I don’t want to take. Moving me towards a life that I don’t want to live.

I’ve been dong my best to live within my limits. I’ve separated myself from what lies on the other side of those limits. I’ve made a conscious decision to live with what I’ve been given all the while desiring more.

It’s not the end of the journey, but for me it’s where it started.

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  • Reply Bruce Davis April 20, 2020 at 7:12 am

    Love your post. I was also thinking that when we have a desire beyond our limits but it is in line with God’s will, and it gets fulfilled, we can thank him for a miracle.

    • Reply denad May 6, 2020 at 1:38 pm

      Thanks Bruce, that’s a great way to frame it!

  • Reply Kelsey April 20, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    so good, Dena! This definitely gives me something to chew on.

    • Reply denad May 6, 2020 at 1:39 pm

      Thanks Kels!

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