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When We Can’t Stop Wanting

What toll has this past month taken on you? If it’s yet to remove the outer layers of your sanity, hack its way through the brush of your daily routine and expose the deepest, darkest places in your heart, you have my congratulations. I’m being overly dramatic here, but chances are all or most of us have felt the disruption in unexpected ways. Ways that have challenged and confronted us. Confronted our patience, our gentleness, our desires, our contentment.

Let’s think for a moment about desire. Isn’t it interesting how our desires have a way of taking shape in the background regardless of our awareness? Our desires for big things (community), small things (pizza) and things in between are ever in motion—growing, shrinking, evolving, becoming more or less specific, conforming to or diverging from our present reality and revealing the lesser known places in our hearts. All this movement coupled with our inability to see any better than dimly into ourselves makes it difficult even to know what we want. Often we are all or mostly unaware of desire until we experience some disruption.

What can we learn from all this inner movement — this restlessness, discomfort or even pain — we may be enduring? What should we do when we seem to have an excess of desire or, as poet Christian Wiman asks in He Held Radical Light, “What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting?” Is there a principle or inward discipline that can help us? The Apostle Paul said, reflecting on his own experience,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11b-13, ESV)

This secret that Paul discovered in his tumultuous years as a missionary was that his contentment didn’t need to be determined by his surroundings. Instead, he learned to let it flow out of his communion with Christ, unswayed by external circumstance. He understood the stirring within him caused by his temporal reality to be pointing to a deep desire for God. In a time when our many layers of pleasure and comfort begin to erode, exposing our tendency to lean on them for gratification, we are presented with the opportunity to find our contentment in Christ alone.

Another unique feature of this season is that we all share it in common. Of course, each of us is in a situation with particulars that others do not share, but at the same time we are all enduring the same struggle. In the normal (non-pandemic) course of events, it can be easy to forget the things that unify us and to let our minds default to our own interests. We even fall too easily into the mindset that the Christian life is an individual experience. Let’s resist those temptations and be reminded instead that we are still the body of Christ even when we cannot gather in the flesh. Let’s continue to pray together and for each other, to worship together and to find our contentment in Christ until we are able to meet together once again.