The Paradox of Desire (Mar-Apr 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Chris Gonzalez
March-April 2002

If I’m not blind why can’t I see
That a circle can’t fit
Where a square should be?

There’s a hole in my heart
That can only be filled by you
And this hole in my heart
Can’t be filled with the things I do

-Extreme

Hunger, thirst, want, appetite, need, desperation, longing, craving, passion ….desire.

You know what, I haven’t changed a bit. No matter how much I eat, I’m always hungry again. No matter how I drink, I can’t go but a few hours without needing something more to drink. No matter how many things accumulate in my house, when I go to the store, I want more. I can see Jerry Seinfeld was right when he said that it is impossible to ruin your appetite because in a few hours you’ll just have another one that’s just as good.

I can’t seem to cure my problem of wanting, needing, longing…. in essence, I simply can’t help but to desire. I wish it only applied in the area of food, which is bad enough, but I’m chronically desirous in all directions. It’s been over thirty years and I keep getting tricked into believing that my desire will be satisfied. I amaze myself with the creative new ways I find to do the same old thing, seek to satisfy my desire. I also feel foolish when I realize that I, once again, did what I promised I would never do. My desire lies to me, leads me on, teases me into thinking that this time it will be different. It never is different. It’s always the same.

I want it to go away, but it won’t. I try to starve it out, but it only grows bigger the less I feed it. The more I want it to leave the larger and more impatient it becomes. Then I start desiring for my desire to go away and then I have double desire. Vicious cycle. I can read Ecclesiastes until I have it memorized and spout off brilliant nuggets of wisdom in Bible class until I’m blue in the face, but at the end of the day I realize that I am just one more of those things under the sun that is not new. I remain unchanged. My desire is ever present.

So what do I do with this thing called desire that I can’t seem to shake? A rigid church background informed me that getting rid of it might be a good idea. Desire itself was set up as the criminal. The unwritten rule was that if you had desire you were bad. And passion, forget about it. Might as well put it on the daily planner to go forward for the altar call every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday evening and confess my sin of passion and desire because it was never not with me. Sad and disillusioned, one day I realized that all I was getting for hopelessly trying to rid myself of desire was a dangerous mountain of molten guilt. Having the desire was difficult enough, but this volcano of shame was going to erupt. There had to be a better way. It was years later that I realized guilt is only another form of desire. Vicious cycle. No, desire is not something you can get rid of.

So what do I do? Indulge my desire? You know, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Perhaps rather than simply reading about Solomon trying out everything he desired, I could have my own experience. I could do the Ecclesiastes Project and try out all of my desires for myself. So I did just that. Freeing myself from the guilt of having a desire for anything was a chore, but then engaging in activities and thoughts I’d never had before was highly risky. Allowing myself to experience feelings rather than seeking to repress them was harder than it sounded. But I did to some extent, only to realize my desire built up immunity to what it desired. The more I got of what I wanted, the less I wanted what I got. So I tried to get more of the feeling I received where I got it, only to get less from more. It’s like this: life is bag of Doritos. The first whaft from a newly opened bag is glorious, and the first crisp crunch of the first orange-yellow chip explodes like taste bud perfection in my mouth. Nothing can compare with that initial taste. And that’s the problem. I exhaust the rest of the bag seeking the flavor experience I received from the first chip. It never comes. That exercise fails every time. And the cost? Have you ever eaten a whole bag of Doritos…I mean the pounder bag? The feeling in the stomach is horrible. For hours I have a chip hangover. And the ironic part of it all is that I am still not satisfied. The edge is taken off of my desire for the chips, but it is replaced by my desire to feel better. My desire was not so much satisfied as it was morphed, displaced, rearranged. No smaller, just in a different location. It’s like the kid who picks up all of his dirty clothes off of the floor and shoves them under the bed. No, indulging my desire did not work either.

I can’t make it go away and I can’t feed it enough for it to remain happy. There is seemingly nothing I can do. I am hopelessly treading the waters of desire and I can’t see land anywhere. My desire is a spoiled, insatiable, adolescent brat who has too much energy and zero common sense.

Or is it like that? Is my desire such a bad thing? Augustine said that there is a God shaped hole inside of each of us. Funny he didn’t say that there is a food shaped hole or a sex shaped hole or a work shaped hole inside of each of us, but rather he said that it is a God shaped hole.

My whole life I thought that the problem was that I desired too much, that I had overactive desire disorder. What if my thinking was wrong? What if my problem is not so much that I desire too much, but rather that I desired too little? What if all the things I tried with my desire (to kill it or indulge it) never worked because they were not supposed to work. What if by killing my desire I was actually killing my opportunity to experience God for who He is? What if by indulging my desire I placed something else in God’s place? What if I invested my desire rather than spent it? What if desire is holy? What if I have this desire thing all wrong?

What would happen if I let my desire grow, neither killing nor indulging it? What if desire is like water being heated? Perhaps something happens when desire is allowed to heat up on its own and boil over like water heats up and begins to turn into steam? Maybe the bags of chips, the workaholism, the endless stream of Diet Cokes are an insult to my desire…not worthy of it. That question begs this question. What is worthy of my desire?

Full-blown desire will not settle for little satisfactions, little comforts and little idols. These things are beneath it. These little things we use to quench our desire that are so available and easy end up accumulating in our souls, leaving no room for what could really help. These little idols we have are not worthy of our desire. It’s like the math genius who works sweeping streets, like Michael Jordan playing hop scotch, Martha Stewart buying Oreos. It just doesn’t fit. Our desire potential is damaged when we settle for minor and temporary satisfactions.

So why do we settle for these little satisfactions? I think we settle because we are afraid that if our desire is ever allowed to grow beyond its adolescence then we’re going to start sinning big time. If a little desire leads us to little sins, then what terrible sins will large desire lead us to? And you can just forget about enormous and ever expanding desire. With desire like that we would end up in jail or dead or the leader of a rogue nation. No, we’ll deal safely with a little desire. It’s manageable, controllable and acceptable in church. We’ll medicate it with TV, chips, sex, work, anything to make the discomfort of its presence go away, even for a minute or two.

What an ingenious lie of Satan. As if desire is actually the culprit. God intentionally, purposefully and wisely created humans with an enormous desire potential. Without desire we could not love. Without desire we could not give. Without desire we could not live. Without desire we are left to merely calculating like a computer or mere instincts like an animal. Without desire we could not receive love, rather, we could only note that love took place. Without desire there is no room for God. He made us with an infinite God shaped hole inside of us and that hole is called desire.

If we settle and only let our desire grow until the quickest satisfaction, then what faith is there that God can be our satisfier? If we allow little gods in first, what room is there for the Almighty God? Why eat junk food before the feast?

I know that it is risky, feels all wrong and flies in the face of everything you may have learned in church, but let your desire grow. Learn to desire desire. Know that only when desire grows can you relate to God more deeply. Don’t try to kill it for it cannot be killed. Don’t try to indulge it because all of those objects that indulge desire are specs of dust thrown into the Grand Canyon. Forget about filling it up. No, just let it grow. Endure the growing pains in the presence of the God of grace rather than the god of goodies. The more mature your desire becomes the more and more sense it will make that God and only God can satisfy. And He will. His grace reaches to the extent of your desire and beyond. His grace brings peace in the storm of your desire. A little desire has room for only a little grace, but an ever-expanding desire can be filled by infinite grace. So, how much room does a mighty, enlarging, expanding desire have for God? More than your wildest dreams.

Let your hunger devour Psalms. Unleash you passion in prayer. Quench your craving in uninhibited worship (whether you are at a church service, stuck in traffic, or home alone). Go all out. It is guilt free, hangover free and costs you nothing. There is no law of diminishing returns with God.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataFebruary 12th, 2014
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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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