The Weakest Reed

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

March 25, 2014
by Rachel Gustafson

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.