What do I want?
I’m growing convinced that this is an important question for all of us to be asking – even if asking it means open ourselves up to a host of threatening possibilities: the disappointments we’ve had from God, the self-suspicions we try to smother, the process of change (and necessary repentance) to which God is leading us.
What do I want? This is no tame question. It’s a bit like letting the lion out of its cage.
And yesterday, I needed this question. I needed it after having had a difficult conversation with someone I love. Worse, I know they love me, which is always the problem with difficult conversations. Why can our humanity be so hard? Why are we each so fragile? Why, when I love people, do I so easily misunderstand and feel misunderstood?
(P.S. Joe, this is NOT about you.)
I left the conversation feeling sad, discouraged, afraid. I even cried when recounting the conversation to Ryan. But I now realize that my ego was bruised more than anything else. This man – my friend – hadn’t hurt me: he had hurt my pride.
I picked C.S. Lewis up this morning, turning to chapter 8 (“The Great Sin”) in Mere Christianity.
“There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.
The vice I am talking of is Pride.”
Pride, says Lewis, is the root of all other vices. It’s essentially competitive in nature, he concludes.
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, of better-looking than others.”
Then Lewis exposes the worst of all pride – that which grows in religious people. Here’s a test he proposes for determining whether we are among the smugly spiritual set:
“Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good – above all, that we are better than someone else – I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. . . It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life.”
“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step,” writes Lewis, “is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
I am a desperately proud woman. Recalling the conversation that had left me reeling for the better part of an evening, I saw this: that I had been hurt by a slight, bruised by someone’s disinterest. I came unglued because I had not been recognized as extraordinary enough.
What do I want? Oh, the truth is that I want your admiration. And I must it in greater degree than you give it to others. And when it comes to the book I’ve written? What do I want? I realize that it is not enough that the words get said. It matters to me that I have said them.
What do I want? Yes, a lion indeed, prowling and ravenous.
What are we to do when our desires are skidding off course? When we want something that can only be had by disaster? When we do not want as God wants? When our desires have been misshapen, as mine have, by selfish ambition and vain conceit (Phil. 2:3)?
First, we see. And in seeing, we confess.
And then, we ask God for better desires and new prayers. We don’t put them on and immediately feel they fit. We put them on and ask God to make them fit. For me, it looks like this prayer, which I wrote in my journal:
“Father, move your church to a fuller understanding and appreciation of desire and its role in spiritual formation. Help us to no longer exclude questions of wanting because of fear, and move us into greater authenticity, allowing ourselves to be seen, known and by Christ. Desire feels like something feral: it is easier to deal with cognition and behavior, for these feel more under our control. But our hearts—in all of their wild unbelief and rebellion, their melancholic discontent and bottomless greed? What can be done about that? Father, we need brave conversations beginning in the church. We need greater grace—for the willingness to admit our sin and confess it, even to despise it.
I pray for more good theological work to be done in the area of desire. Thank you for the recent renaissance of interest. Thank you for James K.A. Smith and his work. I pray for more female voices in this conversation, and I thank you for the ways in which men and women are so different in their capacities for listening and for speaking. I celebrate whoever is speaking on this subject, and I want to confess my desperate need to be singular and special, to be the absolute best. Forgive me for the egotism of this project and this book. And teach me (gently, Father) the ways of humility.”
This is my new desire and my new prayer: that more able voices will be able to challenge the church toward a conversation I feel is so necessary for the church. That it will begin to matter less to me that I have said the words and matter more that they are being said.
I am proud. You are, too. And by grace, God will illumine this in each of us, leading us out of the cramped space of our small ambitions and into the spaciousness of living for his glory.