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A Theology of Desire

By Lisa Meadows Garfield

Like you, I’ve spent my years here on earth trying to figure out what life is all about. You will be thrilled to know I’ve finally got it, and I’m going to share it with you. Here it is: you get what you truly want.

Now, before you protest that you are getting very little of what you want, hear me out. It’s about our heart’s true desire. Very few of us know what we really want, especially in this era of strident, competing voices telling us what we need to make us happier: more money, more things, more youth or beauty, more fun, more technology, more . . . more . . . more. I am not suggesting that a minimalist lifestyle will still all the voices, though it may help. I am inviting you to question — constantly — if the way you are living is getting you what you truly want. This requires a lot of deep inner exploration, a lot of focused quiet time, a whole lot of honesty.

To compound the difficulty, we who trust our religion to guide us, have to also confront a whole lot of “you should wants” in our quest to find our heart’s true desire. “You should want” to serve more, believe more, learn more, do more, be more. And it’s not even couched that way; what you want is simply assumed. If you ever have that niggling feeling that you are an imposter in a pew, you are not alone.

Here’s the problem: we tend to believe that to become a better person, to have our righteous desires fulfilled, the only way to do it is by strict discipline, by “overcoming”, by striving and willpower. I’ve tried this — numerous times. I have failed every time. You?

What if, instead of pushing against our “evil” nature, we do more leaning into our divine nature? More exploring our deep desire for connection, growth, service, peace, joy? Or more investigation into the level of our desire, “. . . even if you can no more than desire to believe . . .” as Alma advises? What if we shake off the reins of restraint and run free? What if we really live our heart’s true desire?

I know what you’ll say: I’d just sleep in every day. I’d play video games at work all day. I’d overeat and underperform, I’d never do anything  useful or satisfying. But is that really true? Maybe, for a while. On an institutional level, I believe that is the main focus of the church — to keep us from going completely bonkers as “natural” men and women. So instead of “shake off the reins of restraint and run free” we hear “don’t do this, do do that, stay away from the edge, be safe.” And as children, this is exactly what we need — strict boundaries, clear instructions. Until we grow up.

As adults, we build upon the foundation of rules we learn as children. That early strict discipline is critical to our spiritual success as we mature. Just like an accomplished musician or writer, you cannot be a great artist until you have mastered the rules of your art. But nor can you be a great artist until you are willing to “break” those same rules. And in our spiritual life, that can feel very risky. The one great spiritual rule that circumscribes them all is, as Jesus quite plainly taught, “Love God whole-heartedly. And love one another the same way.”  When your desire to know and love God with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength is deeper than any other desire (and all other desires are of the ego, not the spirit) then you are completely willing to say Yes to anything God commands, even when the command is against the rules. “Sacrifice your child of promise.” “Cut off Laban’s head.” “Marry more women.”

Growing into this level of divine desire is the work of a focused lifetime, maybe more. But even the desire to Desire is powerful enough to move us into the realm of transformation. It’s a choice at every step of the way: how much do I want this? How deep is my desire to know God? How fully am I committed to developing the divinity in me? What at first feels like great sacrifice evolves into unstoppable love and perfect faith, as we lean into the sacred desires of our eternal spirit. It’s worth asking, every day. . .

What do you truly want? 

About Lisa Meadows Garfield

Lisa Meadows Garfield is an award-winning poet and author of “For Love of a Child: Stories of Adoption.“ An avid traveler, she is generally away from her homebase in Vancouver, Washington 9 months of the year, exploring the wide, wonderful world. Mother of 6 and Nonnie to 11, Lisa loves sunshine, words, good friends, and especially, Jesus.

5 thoughts on “A Theology of Desire”

  1. This was lovely! And I find myself agreeing – I hadn't pushed this idea to its natural conclusion, as you have, but I've always understood that God asks for our heart, and then allows us to make the decision. We can keep it, if we want, but holding it safe and tight instead of allowing it to show us where it is broken will lead to ossification. If we bring our broken heart to God, together, we can make it whole.

    Thanks for stretching this out a little further! I'd love to see some more exploration about how we can learn to figure out what we want, and how we can trust God (and ourselves) enough to share that.

  2. "What if… we do more leaning into our divine nature? More exploring our deep desire for connection, growth, service, peace, joy?" has been with me for days, Lisa. It's intriguing, and terrifying, and the potential and magnitude and promise of it hasn't left me alone…. I want to do it!

  3. A few years ago I was reading a book about making dietary changes, and the author suggested first adding in more healthy foods before cutting out the bad ones. Eventually, as you eat better you will feel less desire for unhealthy eating, and you won't have room for it anyway. I haven't really tried it, but I've been thinking about that concept for quite some time and have tried it in other areas of my life. I've spent a lot of time in my life thinking that change and growth come from cutting out the bad things and making more rules, but I've actually found that the more I focus on cultivating good habits and good desires, the lesser things just go away because I don't need them anymore. Thanks for giving me something more to think about today!


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