The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

March 25, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson
2 Comments

Lately I’ve been feeling like my dreams are no longer something to nurture or indulge, but instead something to be  pinched between two fingers, picked-up by the tail, and investigated at a healthy distance until dropped into proper containment.

Suddenly, I’m 35 and sheepish about sharing my desires, a bit embarrassed to lay open my palm and reveal that I still clutch something as frivolous as wishes. I’m wondering if hopes are too volatile, a liability to the stability of the life we’re so busy trying to keep tacked firmly to the ground.  I worry that wanting something else might give the impression that I’m not grateful for what I already have.

I don’t know if it’s my age or stage of life  or maybe it’s just unique to crazy, old me but I feel as if desire and aspiration have become suspect when just a few years ago they were the fuel that we were told would take us to the stars.  Those stars that seemed so dazzling and noble a destination 10 years ago now seem silly or maybe even dangerous.   I grow irresolute thinking that to fire-up my engines might be too difficult a disturbance for others who share my orbit.  It’s ok to “dream” within a certain safe perimeter- retirement, conventional vacations, kitchen remodeling- but beyond that, any rigorous wishing or wondering or wandering often seems to evoke discomfort or even fear and sometimes defensiveness (why aren’t I, isn’t this, isn’t it enough?) from those around me.

Or maybe it’s not just me?  I’ve had conversations with a few others, women in particular, in which we have a difficult time coming up with a list of hopes for ourselves.  We can talk for hours about dreams we have for our children- opportunities we’d like them to have, specific ways we’d like to help develop their talents, plans to ensure that everything that is unique and special about them is cultivated to proper fruition- but when it comes to ourselves, we find we are tongue-tied.  I think the leashes on our tongues are thoughts like these:  What do I have left after all of this?  If I were a good wife or a good mother or a good Christian I wouldn’t bother to distinguish mine from theirs.  Am I being selfish?  And already I have so much, isn’t this enough?  Why can’t I just be content?

A proper understanding of desire can be especially difficult to arrive at when coming from a Christian perspective.  The word “desire” can barely float to the surface without immediately being muddied by other darker associations like burning, temptation, flesh, sinful.  It feels to me that Christian culture has sometimes run the risk of making desire most often suspicious and contentment most often a goal.  But isn’t it true that contentment can be just as misleading as desire?  To be content with the wrong thing is at least as dangerous as to desire the wrong thing.  I wonder how often it is the “good” things which make it all the harder to pursue the right thing or the “bad” things which drive us to cling to the best One.

I know that desires can be godly because God who is whole and complete unto Himself did not create us humans or the world because He needed to but instead because He desired to.  And He continues to desire us! Desire existed before sin and can exist apart from sin as well.  The Song of Solomon graphically depicts but also celebrates the desire of a lover and his beloved which is also representative of the relationship of Christ and the church.     

Proverbs tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.  Actually Proverbs doesn’t need to tell us that, we all know it to be true from personal experience.  But somehow, to hear it as an expected and perhaps even appropriate pattern of human experience is so affirming.  God tells us in Psalms that He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing and that He satisfies the the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  Desire can be painful and even scary because it is a recognition of where and what we feel lacking.  But without desire- without acknowledgement of our hunger and our thirst- what movement would there be towards God, towards good, towards anything?  In perfect contentment, we would be completely still.  But God places desire in us so that we would seek, reach out and grasp what is good!   Desire is the heartbeat of creativity, reconciliation, reformation and renewal, all pursuits which can reflect the character of God and which can all lead us deeper into Him.

When I think about God, I fear I think of Him too often as withholding.  I am afraid to ask because what if He says no?  Or what if I ask for the wrong thing?  And lots of times I am asking for the wrong thing. But if I am asking the right Person, He will make my joy complete nonetheless.  I am an imperfect mother whose own life is sometimes subsumed by my desire to see my children’s hopes and dreams fulfilled, but He is a perfect Father who wants to give even better things to those who ask Him.  The more I read what He says and come to know Him as He is, the more I understand that it doesn’t matter what I ask,  He wants to fill up my desire.  He won’t always give me exactly what I ask for, but His answer to my every request is better than that: To pour out His perfect goodness into each part of me and my life that I bring to Him to fill.

Who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.  Psalm 103:5

Check out a great quote by CS Lewis on desire.

 

So you got what you always wanted and it is still not enough

October 5, 2013 by Rachel Gustafson | 0 comments

There’s this passage in Isaiah that has come to mean a lot to me these last few months. It depicts a desert. A wilderness where there is no water. A barren wasteland without enough shelter or shade or sustenance. If you saw my life from the outside, you might wonder how I could relate. I certainly have enough of what I need to live a nice, comfortable life in a material sense. I don’t lack for the basic necessities and on the surface I’m relatively well-established in my home, my marriage, my current chosen career of motherhood, my community. But those who know me well, know that this last several years of my life has been a wilderness time for me.

It’s amazing how God can arrange a wilderness meeting with us at anytime and anyplace he needs to (more accurately, when we need Him to). We can be smack dab in the middle of the land of plenty and somehow we find ourselves with a parched tongue lolling from our mouths like a dog, a stomach engaged in a painful and distracting constant rumbling, uncomfortably sun-burned, on the verge of heatstroke with beasts of madness circling around threatening to become our most intimate company.

I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for not just being able to be satisfied with what I have here. And honestly, the world tells us that we can be satisfied, that we should be satisfied, with what it has to offer.  In fact, the most well-meaning people, myself included, can be heard saying, “Look at what you’ve got.  You’re so blessed.  Just be grateful!”  And it’s true.  But what if it is not The Truth? What if it is not greedy to want more, but instead if it is exactly what we should be wanting?  Recently, I’ve tripped over John 7:37-39 a couple of times. Something new stands out and I find myself being called to attention, bending over to examine it.

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

The Jews are celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles. It’s the last day of this eight day long festival, considered one of the most joyful of the Jewish holidays. On this day, Jesus stands up and raises his voice to make the invitation. It has been a week of partying, being filled with good food and drink and company, and the point is made in scripture that this is the best day of the feast. Everyone is revved up and satiated and ready for the culmination of this merry affair. The religious people have already held daily water-drawing ceremonies that have been surrounded by great joy.  On this last day, this part of the celebration is even more elongated and elevated, serving as an exciting climax to all that has proceeded. “This was a time of joy so great that it was said, ‘He that never has seen the joy of the Beth he-She’ubah [water-drawing] has never in his life seen joy.’”  Apparently, even the most serious and stoic of religious followers were literally dancing like crazy at this point. Theoretically, everyone should be happy and full, but Jesus chooses this time to announce loudly that anyone who is thirsty should come to Him to drink.  

I can imagine a similar scene at the Emmys. It’s a room full of some of the richest, most powerful, best accomplished and famous people in the world and all night they’ve been relishing the best-of-the-best in terms of food and drink and clothing and luxury and entertainment. No one should be feeling too sorry for themselves. Now imagine Jesus breaking in at the end of the night and running up to the front and saying to the winners clutching the gold-winged award figure in their hands, “Hey, if there’s anyone out there that’ has still not quite had her fill, come to me and I’ll give you what you need.”

At that point, who is going to admit that they are still thirsty? You have to be feeling pretty desperate or greedy or maybe even a little crazy in the world’s eyes to run up front and say, “Yeah, um, all that was okay but I still want more. Give me what you’ve got.” Or really, couldn’t it be an act of humility to run up in front of everyone and speak the truth? “I’m willing to admit it: I may look like I’ve got it all, but I certainly don’t have it all together. I need you.”

See, I think that might be exactly why Jesus waited until the end to make his offer. Maybe he was waiting until all other options for being filled had been exhausted. The people had eaten their best foods and hung out with all their closest friends and family and even completed their religious obligations for that time. In that moment, they should feel pretty darn good. But maybe they didn’t. Maybe deep down inside, they still wanted more. I can’t think of anything more deflating than doing everything you thought you should do or finally getting everything you thought you’ve always wanted, only to realize it just doesn’t quite cut it. That thing that you’ve always thought would bring you so much fulfillment only makes you more aware of how ineffectual you are at trying to fill yourself.

The life I have is a blessing and everything in it is a gift but it is nothing- it is absolute rubbish, in fact- compared to the deep satisfaction of communion with Christ. Everything we have in this world, no matter how good it might appear, is simply not going to quench that deep-down, soul-thirsty desiccation that we all know we’ve felt in the wee hours of the night when it’s so quiet that there’s not a sound in the house loud enough to drown out the terrifying moaning of all deepest longings and fears of your heart.  In the lunchroom surrounded by a crowd people when you feel nothing but drenched in loneliness. In the arms of the person who just can’t quite hold you close enough to soothe that thing tearing you apart inside, that thing that you thought you’d buried and blockaded safely enough. After you’ve reached the height of your career, worked long and hard and sacrificed so much, and find you just don’t feel quite as satisfied with yourself and everything you’ve achieved as you thought you’d feel. Let’s all admit what comes to mind first in those moments: That if we just had that one more thing or that one perfect human relationship then we’d finally feel fulfilled. The truth is, you or I can get everything we’ve ever wanted and still be dying of thirst.

You may wander around and find a bit here or a bit there of something to wet your tongue, but it won’t last for long and it won’t, I promise you it won’t, reach down to bring refreshment to those parts of you that feel shriveled and dry deep down inside. There is only One source for that.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

This new version of this old song has been circulating this week.  It’s a good one.

I Need Thee O I Need Thee