What is Your Heart's Desire?

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it."
- George Bernard Shaw

Last weekend the young adult fellowship at our church went camping. Our theme was "Mute." We wanted to take a break from the noise and have a chance to "be still and know God," to paraphrase a classic.

According to scripture, stillness and quiet are necessary to hear and know God. Yet, most of us find these two things extremely difficult to endure.

We spent two days away from home, without electronic devices, and away from some of the noisy clutter of our normal day-to-day, and this was itself a stretch. As we started the car for the journey home the radio came on and one of the men breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Ahh, music!"  (To be fair, this individual is a musical person)

Of course, knowing this part of human nature was what drove us to 'mute'. We tried to be as helpful as possible and ask people attempt stillness in a place where they were, by default, half way there. 

The inevitable question, when a group of Christians does something like this, is what do you want? What do you desire? If we all accept the witness of scripture, as well as numerous individuals throughout the ages, that we really must be still and know then we have no easy way to explain why we have failed to do so. We must either admit that our desire for God is not strong enough to overcome our distaste of stillness, or we must seek to be still. I am, of course, not speaking of achievement but only intent. Even those who seek stillness will fail many times. 

I was encouraged by the many people who want just this. But, I was dismayed by the number of people who did indeed admit that they had no such desire for God. The reasons varied: I doubt the truth of this practice. I am content where I am and do not need more of God (with the implicit: after all, I am saved already). It's just not a priority right now. I can't do it.

The right answer is that of course we desire more of God. And we ought all to know that God is worth it. That He  who became incarnate, died, continually intercedes for us, and is willing to live in us has done more than enough to deserve the response of longing and love. The right answer is that this is Almighty God we are talking about, and if there were ever anything in life worth chasing it is Him... but the right answers rarely suffice. 

And we're waiting but our eyes are wandering 
To all this earth holds dear 

Look at all the pretty things 
That steal my heart away 
I can feel I'm fading 
'Cause Lord I love so many things 
That keep me from Your face 
Come and save me

Long ago, St. Augustine realized and noted, as he commented on the psalms, that "the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. Not for nothing did the apostle tell us to pray without ceasing." Much closer to our day, C.S. Lewis made 'the argument from desire.' He pointed out that there are desires in the human heart which no earthly object can satisfy. Yet, it is logical to assume that we can only desire that which is attainable, else whence this desire's origin? So, he concluded, we are made for another world. 

What, then, is your heart's desire? What beauty pulls you from God? For I have no doubt that for most of us it is not a thing of evil and darkness which pulls us away, but a good creation of God put in the center rather than the periphery. The human heart is a desire factory, and our age more than most panders to this deceitful beast. 

Thus we have become expert in the cultivation of desire. You may never think about it, but you know. You have been trained in this art since you were a toddler. The subtle maneuvers of need creation which cloak the initial desire in respectability. The furtive glances frequently placed to stoke that desire into longing. The comparisons, with what you have and what you do not, to once again justify what is now close to covetousness. The purchase, bitter sweet, as you fail to realize, and yet live, the fact that it was the chase which brought you excitement. Then, the eager expectation for the next one to come along. 

Yet, desire itself is not evil. The story only ends in despair if we build up treasures where moth and rust destroy. Nor are most of the things we want evil, not alone. It is wrongly placed desire, desire which stands in the way of God, or desire which is placed in an object that is incapable of answering.  

Shortly after returning from the retreat, I read a sermon by Francois Fenelon on prayer. He lays it out as our way of getting to know God, and begins by telling us why we should pray. As he comes to the end of his first section, he pauses to reflect on those who do not desire to pray. He could just as easily be speaking of stillness and silence, so intertwined are these practices, and so I wish to conclude with His words, as admonition to myself as much as to anyone else.

     "But some will say, 'I have no interest in prayer; it wearies me; my imagination is excited by sensible and more agreeable objects, and wanders in spite of me.' 
     If neither your reverence for the great truths of religion, nor the majesty of the ever-present Deity, nor the interest of your eternal salvation, have power to arrest your mind, and engage it in prayer, at least mourn with me for your infidelity; be ashamed of your weakness, and wish that your thoughts were more under your control; and desire to become less frivolous and inconstant. Make an effort to subject your mind to this discipline. You will gradually acquire habit and facility. What is now tedious will become delightful; and you will then feel, with a peace that the world cannot give nor take away, that God is good."


Charlotte said...

How timely this blog is, as I have just been reading a chapter from a book, and it talks about this very habit, or discipline, of prayer. Praying+waiting=unceasing prayer. But your blog deals with another aspect of prayer or the lack of it in our lives: some people's non-desire to pursue God.


Andrew said...

Your welcome :)

Jen Guitard said...

This blog really spoke to me about a desire of my heart that I have been struggling with understanding. I was reminded again as seems to be the need in my life right now that my desire is in deed not wrong in fact healthy but I must carefully examine if I am seeking that God would meet the desire of my heart rather than asking my husband, friends, son, or others to fulfill a need that is ultimately only filled if Christ becomes my source. Thank you.