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When Our Desires Disorient Us


Jul 15 2014
Recognizing what we want allows us to stand exposed before God.

Recently, a new field of psychology has spawned to address the task of examining desire. Wantology, of which Arlie Russell Hochschild makes mention in her New York Times article, "The Outsourced Life," is a field of expertise aimed at helping people discern their desires and work towards getting what they want. A wantologist helps clients verbalize their latent, unrequited desires and moves them toward achieving happiness by identifying the ways they can satisfy those desires. The goal of wantology is to help clients connect the dots of desire: what do they want and how do they get it? I suppose if we are paying people to help us in this task, we're admitting both that it's difficult and that most of us lack the skills for doing it on our own.

But wantology can't offer all the answers we as Christians need. As followers of Jesus, we're asking different questions and in need of different answers. We're asking, not just What do I want? but Is what I want right? We're interested in congruence: Is what I want what God wants for me? Am I following God's will? But this kind of reflective, prayerful examination of our heart's desires, when we're honest about it, can challenge us see the ways we've clamored to get what we've wanted and ultimately failed to trust. It's not a truth we find easy to see. It's often a truth we're rather avoid. Our dismissal of desire may be built less on our holy hesitations about desire. In fact, ignoring our desires may serve as the convenient way we remain ignorant and resist change.

* * * * *

In an early chapter of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard recounts what she learned from stories of blind patients who recovered their sight after surgeons had learned how to safely remove cataracts.

Though we might imagine that these newly sighted people felt ecstatic, in every instance, their new capacity was disorienting. In many cases, it was even terrifying. Patients struggled to make use of their new sense, and some rejected it altogether, "continuing to go over objects with their tongues," writes Dillard, "and lapsing into apathy and despair." One patient, a fifteen-year-old boy, cried, "No, really, I can't stand it any more . . . If things aren't altered, I'll tear my eyes out."

Spiritual sight gives us the frightening capacity for recognizing what we have loved and desired more than God.

In the Scriptures, one of the most prominent metaphors for spiritual conversion is recovering sight. When we come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, we are healed of the spiritual blindness into which we were born (cf. John 9:39). This repairs our ability to see Christ as well as to see ourselves. It's this new "sight," which causes us to acknowledge both that Christ saves and that we desperately need such saving.

From: July 2014
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