mine and Saul’s. At school they
started calling me “Church Lady,” a
nickname warranted by my scan-dalous decision to stop sleeping
with my boyfriend. At the time
however I lacked confidence in
God’s grace. Could I make permanent my repentance? Picturing
conversion as the precarious act of
taking hold of God’s hand, I feared
without proper vigilance I might
lose my grip.
The prophet Jeremiah describes
the human heart as “deceitful above
all things, and desperately sick”
(17: 9). For prodigals like me this is
no ancient adage. We are suspicious
of desire because we drank the bitter
dregs of our own depravity. The only
reasonable conclusion we are left to
draw is that human desire is the
snake that can never be charmed.
We can’t trust ourselves to want.
OBLIGATIONS OF LOVE
I stand in line to pay for my groceries, praying for the frazzled young
mother in front of me whose toddler refuses, upon being asked for
the 53rd time, to sit down in the
cart. She fumbles with her credit
card and leans toward him, whispering in his ear. Perhaps she barters for co-operation. Perhaps she
warns of pending consequences.
All I know is that her whispering
falls upon stubborn, deaf ears and
her face darkens. I see the thread of
her patience pull taut, and I pray
harder for his compliance. I will
him to make this easier.
Now that my children are school
aged, I go to the grocery store alone.
And I won’t lie. Pushing the cart at
leisure is a greedy pleasure, freedom hard won from the early
frantic years of parenting five
young children. If, after my conversion, I had feared falling prey to my
own lusty will, in my life as a young
mother desire became a luxury
impossible to indulge. Most mornings I was lucky to brush my teeth.
Taking care of young children, an
ailing parent or an infirm spouse is
necessarily a daily act of kenosis,
obliging us to the self-emptying of
Jesus Christ Paul describes in Phil-
ippians 2:7–8: “He made Himself
nothing, taking the form of a ser-
vant . . . [and] humbled Himself by
becoming obedient to the point of
death, even death on a cross.”
In fact love in all its most prac-
tical forms requires breaking and
spilling out our lives for the sake of
others. What room can be made for
desire (if we mean self-will) when
our lives are constrained by our
commitments of friendship, par-
enting, marriage and ministry?
When we are needed by others?
If, as Martin Luther insisted, we
are homo incurvatus in se – people
curved in on themselves – doesn’t
entertaining our own desires
move us further from our obligations to love, to give, to serve and
We shouldn’t be troubled to want.
GOD’S GREAT AMBI TION
Several years ago I was reviewing a
book for another publication and
startled at the author’s wrong-head-
ed advice about discerning the will
of God. He warned readers about
the dangers of human desire and
his advice was simple: “Write out
all the things that you have wanted
from life. Finally, draw a cross over
it as a symbol that you are offering
it in sacrifice to God, saying, ‘Not
my will, but yours be done.’ ”
Years ago I would have formulat-
ed it exactly as that particular auth-
or did. You are a selfish and greedy
being, and your desires promise to
catapult you over the proverbial cliff.
If you want to be faithful, you must rid
yourself of the contaminant called
desire. This was my practical theol-
ogy of desire meant for safeguard-
ing myself from myself.
But I don’t think of desire in the
ways I used to.
I had a thousand reasons for mistrusting my own de- sires, many rooted in my prodigal story. For despite having parents who faith- fully took me to church on
Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, even Wednesday nights for
all-church dinners and prayer
meetings, I led a wild early adolescence so terribly cliché as to be
uninteresting. At the time I didn’t
abandon belief in Jesus so much as
put it off. Save it, as it were, for the
more settled years of adulthood. I
wasn’t not a Christian, I told my
boyfriend at the time, who had also
been raised by Christian parents.
But he was less convinced than I
was about our orthodoxy.
If my teenage rebellion was unimaginative, my conversion was
equally ordinary. At 16, I was the
girl whose heart broke into a thousand repentant pieces when a
summer camp speaker pleaded for
us to surrender all. What do you
want? Where are you headed? Will
you follow? These are the questions
the resurrected Christ put to me,
and I answered them in the only
way possible when the Damascus
light both blinds and illuminates.
More than 25 years later I continue to marvel that life can change
as immediately and irrevocably as
IN A CULTURE
OF GREED, ARE
BY JEN POLLOCK MICHEL