Imagine if we spiritualized other areas of life the same way we did relationships?
“If you want to have a job, just pray and wait.”
“God will give you an organ donor, in his time.”
“Learn to be content without a house before buying one.”
Believing that a romantic relationship is the only source of fulfilment leads to desperation. We’ve seen desperate men asking out every woman who says ‘Hello’, and girls obsessively psychoanalysing every text’s comma placement. However, wrong action is better than no action.
When tending to our hearts we advise passivity, inaction, wait, stop. Never to pursue. Extremism breeds extremism. Observing the extremism of trying to fill the God shaped hole in our hearts with flimsy mortals we’ve responded with an extremism of our own.
Avoidance isn’t the answer
Babies die without touch (Svalavitz 2010). Loneliness increases premature mortality (Novotney 2019). Relationship is written into our DNA, vital for survival. When noticing the pangs of this need within ourselves we rush to starve it, and we are surprised when the neglected corners of our souls turn feral. Have you ever felt attracted to someone, and then immediately tried to kill the part of yourself that dared to feel?
Has it ever worked? Or has it resulted in your thoughts becoming increasingly rabid? Perhaps instead of taking a chainsaw to our inconvenient emotions, we should converse with them?
I remember developing a crush on a friend. It was highly inconvenient. I asked myself what I enjoyed about him. The answer was the great conversation that he provided. Instead of trying to crush my feelings for him, I invested in other friendships that provided stimulating discussion as well. The uncontrollable desire that I had transformed into warmth and appreciation. I also received a few awesome friendships from the deal.
Both desperation and avoidance can be stopped if we have good conversations with ourselves: what do we genuinely desire? Desperation occurs when we believe there is only one possible source of fulfilment for these desires. Misery occurs when we refuse to even listen to them.
I’m not promoting a dating website, or even dating. I simply wish that we had a relationship with God in which we are honest with what we wanted. To begin with, that may look ugly, but keep praying, keep chatting. It might look like a prayer I once prayed, “I hate you God…” that didn’t quite feel honest so I continued, “No, I’m angry with you…” Still not right. “I’m hurt, and I need you.”
There. I pushed, and I was rewarded with a deeper authenticity with God. Where honesty seems ugly, keep digging, ugliness is just an invitation to discover a greater beauty.
We inspect the conflicting desires and presume that the mess inside needs sanitizing. Yet such a perspective ignores the reality of an architect capable of infinite complexity. If we are designed in His image, and we have a God shaped hole in our hearts, why are we automatically suspect of our desires? Do you believe that God is the fulfilment of our desires?
Ignoring the recent politicization of the show, Doctor Who, provides a neat insight. Where others encounter aliens, their reaction is horror and fear. The Doctor, however, is curious. When others run away, he runs towards the aliens. Likewise, there are parts of ourselves that seem alien and dangerous, perhaps they are dangerous. Running away won’t help, though.
Understanding will. Cars are extraordinarily dangerous, but we see the benefits of learning to drive. Likewise, our emotions when misunderstood can appear alien, even monstrous to us. Yet they are apart of us, a reflection of God. We must learn to master them, even the scary and inconvenient ones. We cannot do that if we refuse to acknowledge them. Asking questions, embracing the uncomfortable, approaching with cautious curiosity and honest prayer.
This not to say that everything we think we want is godly. It is to say that everything we truly desire is godly. Knowing the difference though... I do not believe I am capable of telling you the desires that God has placed in your heart.
Had I seen Hosea marrying a prostitute, I would not have guessed it was the work of God. Likewise, God has said some surprising things to me. Not quite as extreme as marrying a prostitute but surprising enough that I suspect his work in your life may not be entirely predictable either.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
Both extremes in relationships leave us miserable. So let’s not starve ourselves of connection, or gorge ourselves on obsession. Let’s converse and actively pursue those desires worth pursuing. In this pursuit, I am confident that a greater authenticity with God awaits.
Frances Ducommun is from Brisbane Australia, a student of philosophy and artistic endeavors. She thinks she's funny, is constantly covered in cat hair and will substitute sleep with reading if no one keeps an eye on her.