Jesus Never Said, 'Be True to Yourself'
The uncertainty probably has something to do with the way my story of faith began. My conversion to Jesus, at the age of 16, played like a homecoming. After my prodigal return, it felt immediately necessary to give up on desire. Hadn't it been the very thing that had recklessly gotten me into trouble?
Then there's my life now: I'm a wife and mother and church staffer. Where does desire fit into the sense of being on call for everyone else's emergency? On being readied for the desires of those I love? And most of all, if I'm following the One who "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant [and]… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7, 8), how can it ever be right to insist on something I want?
It has long seemed necessary to resist desire as a trap. I've read Scripture as a cautionary tale of desire; I've formulated the cross of Jesus Christ as the ultimate denial of desire. Desire was eliminated from the holiness equation.
These were the half-truths I told myself, and like half-truths often do, they worked for a time—except when I wanted to pray. Really pray. It may never have seemed safe to trust my desires. But I wasn't sure how to pray without them.
"What do you want?" was a question that Jesus loved to ask of people. There may have been many reasons behind his question. Maybe, by having them name their desires, Jesus was also nudging them to identify the hesitations and fears that obstructed their transformation. Maybe Jesus was calling the sin and sin-sick into the necessary commitment that change always requires of us as we participate with God. But no doubt Jesus was putting before them a great risk, the risk that is involved in prayer at its best: to admit our desires and believe that God wants something for our great good.
To be human is to want, and to want requires courage. It's not Peggy's courage we need, though. We need the courage to surrender to God's will. We need the courage to risk on God's goodness. We need the courage to pray as Jesus says we should when he describes the man, who won't quit knocking at his neighbor's door at midnight until his neighbor is out of bed and heeding his request for bread (cf. Luke 15). We need Biblical courage.
And holy desire.
But even if the Bible inspires a call to desire, it also issues a caution. We aren't brave and virtuous to live only by our desires. Indeed, as Paul describes so eloquently describes in Romans 7, on this side of heaven, we're still suffering the catastrophe of our contradictions. We commit the evil we hate and neglect the good that we love. Honestly, there is still so much work to do—in the reformation of our desires.
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