Sunday, September 10, 2006

life in the tension

Desire is a scary thing. I don't mean those little desires- the ones for cheese sticks or a new shirt or season tickets. I'm talking about the deep desires, the ones that have the potential to rend your heart and knock the wind out of you. The kind that dominate your thoughts and direct your actions. To really feel that kind of desire opens us to a deep vulnerability, which is the scary part. A lot of people, and especially Christians, figure that makes it a bad thing and basically try to pretend it doesn't exist. That tactic never works, of course, because desire is just a part of how we were created.

When it comes to dealing with this inevitable desire, it seems to me that we have three options. The first is to try and shove it, which seems to be the most popular Christian approach. But as I mentioned above, this never works. It will fester inside us, and eventually it will rise to the surface and demand attention. Our second option is to try and fix it on our own. This is the situation where we grasp at any counterfeit we can find (whether a lesser desire or an easy solution) in the hopes that it will ease the ache. This approach is equally futile, because counterfeits never really fill the void.

The third option is the scary one, but the approach that I believe we were created for; it is, as a mentor used to tell me, to "live in the tension". There is a great inner tension when we allow ourselves to really feel desire- the deep and aching kind- even when there is no immediate guarantee that it will ever be satiated. So why tough it out, why live in the tension? Because there is life in it. When I am deeply desiring something, be it love or the fulfillment of a life-long dream, a part of my heart is open that is not open at any other time. That means that there is an opportunity for God to reveal himself to a part of me that is only accessible in that place of longing. The most life-giving intimacy we will ever experience with Jesus is found in the midst of deep and vulnerable desire.

I think of the Old Testament characters Hannah and Moses. Both went to God with deep and aching desires, one for a child and the other for a chance to see the long-awaited promised land. One recieved what she hungered for, the other was not granted what he asked. But both Hannah and Moses found a deep intimacy with and knowledge of the Father in the process, as evidenced by two of the most powerful passages of praise to be found in the Bible (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Deuteronomy 31:30-32:43).

All the good that we desire in this life is just a shadow of the greater reality that is our God. If we never allow ourselves to desire the shadow- to mourn its absence and learn to hope for its fulfillment- then we shut off any chance me might have had to glimpse the great reality of God's love. Our desires and longings are meant to be placed in the hands of the one who created us to feel them. There is life in that tension, if only we will make the difficult and courageous choice to live there.

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