Deep desires

St. Ignatius, founder for the Jesuit order, in his book, “The Spiritual Exercises,” discussed praying for what you desire. He also wrote about praying to understand what you desire. The first time I read those thoughts, as a student nearly 40 years ago, I was dismissive. I felt deep down that there has to be something more important that operates in prayer than just asking for what you want. Something about praying for one’s desires seemed to me to be incredibly selfish. I had a vision of a world full of people who concentrated solely on getting what they wanted and that vision wasn’t a very pretty one.

Some ideas, however, take a long time to mature and now I think I am beginning to understand that teaching in a new and different way. At least I think I may be ready to try to learn to pray to understand my desires.

A quick example from this moment in my life. Yesterday our daughter and son-in-law flew to Seattle, and were picked up at the airport by our son. The two families get to spend today and tomorrow together before our daughter and her family fly on to Japan where they will live for four years. Part of me really wishes that I could be there with them for these days. I knew about their plans early enough to have purchased airline tickets, arranged for time off, and gone to be with them. But I didn’t do it. I rationalized my decision by thinking of the tasks that need to be accomplished here at work, the coming cold season and the folks who need firewood, and my sense that our adult children need to form their own independent relationships that will sustain them beyond the span of my life. The reasons are complex, but the bottom line is that I didn’t make the trip. That leaves me with the question of what I really want in the first place.

On the surface our desires come across as a kind of wish list. I wish I had a little more time off. I wish I was more organized. I wish I had more disposable income. I wish, I wish, I wish. One thing about being a bit older is that the wish for items, consumer goods, new cars and other things diminishes. But there is still a long wish list, when I take time to think about it.

My deepest desires, however, aren’t really about possessions. When I think about what I really want it comes more in terms of becoming a better person. I want to become more loving, more open, more free. Those desires are not selfish at their core. When I take time to really concentrate on my deepest desires I quickly move beyond the selfish wish list. And there, beneath that wish list is a genuine desire to serve other people faithfully, to live in lasting covenants, to establish relationships that endure.

St. Ignatius might have been right after all. When you get down to your deepest desire, you discover not just what you want, but what God wants for you.

When we were preparing to adopt a child, we filled out all kinds of questionnaires and forms and event through interviews in which we imagined what adopting might be like. There was a generic sense that there was a need in the world for adoptive parents and that there were many children who could benefit from a family. If they had handed me a catalogue and said, “Here, choose a child.” I would have been overwhelmed and unable to make a choice. Instead, one day we received a phone call and the next day a case worker placed a tiny baby in my arms. Looking back, I have no doubt that God worked through the bureaucracy of the state and the structure of the agency and the processes of the courts to place not just any child in our family, but the one child who was right for us. Even now, I have trouble finding the words to express my sentiment. I believe that it was meant to be - that somehow in the process we discovered true vocation - the calling of God. When I took time to really listen to what I wanted, I discovered God speaking to me in that desire.

I know that I will never become a mystic - a fully contemplative person who can totally focus my attention inwardly. When I meditate, even when I dedicate a long time for a breath prayer, I find that my mind is directed to other people and relationships. That discovery, however, might be a revelation of who I am. Who I am before God is a person who is called to care about other people.

It makes sense to me when I think about it. God made me. If I look inward, I’m bound to discover the creator - the one who made me. To discover who I am is to meet God.

Of course there is another truth, which Ignatius might have known, but which I don’t remember reading in his book: God isn’t just in me. God is in all things. If you look deeply enough into a drop of water, you will discover the miracle of creation. If you look toward the stars, you will discover the vastness of God’s realm. God, who made all things, is present in all things.

As much as my life is caught up in the institutional church, as much energy as I invest in public worship and prayer, when I am honest I have to admit that God is not confined to the church or worship services or prayer groups or bible study. People are constantly glimpsing God in their daily lives, in the work that they do, in the experiences they have and the emotions they feel. When I listen, I find that people often report to me sensing God’s presence in a sunset or in a family dinner or someone they met at work.

Perhaps the time is right for me to pay more attention to my desires - not my wish list, but my deepest desires - to discover what it is that God is calling me to do and to be.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!