“I have been, madam, a wicked creature, as you and all flesh and blood are.” –Shakespeare
These words of Shakespeare sound like the Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah, who said, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who knows how bad it is?”
Our desires – in and of themselves – are not bad, sinful or unnatural. They are God-given and, when aimed toward God, they produce amazing outcomes. I believe, for example that all of humanity share at least three fundamental desires,
The Desire for Personhood. Desire for personhood constitutes a longing for my internal and external worlds to be lived in a seamless and meaningful way. We might express such longing with the words, “I am who I want to be or who I know I can be.”
The Desire for Placedness. We might express a longing for placedness by saying something like, “I am where I want to be; meaningfully involved with the people and places around me.”
The Desire for Purpose. One would express a desire for purpose in the following way, “I am doing what I was meant to do,” or, “I feel alive because I know I am doing exactly what I am gifted to do.“
The desire for personhood, placedness and purpose are good and noble desires that take refuge in and offer hope to our heart!
As Jeremiah, however, observes, every human heart struggles with distorted and often misdirected desire. We tend to aim our desires at or direct them toward things that ultimately cannot satisfy us and could potentially devastate us.
LONGING FOR MORE, SETTLING FOR LESS!
The pursuit of desire is central to human nature – a creational hold-over if you will! The pursuit of personhood and desire for a sense of identity is a reflection of our God-given image. A gift of creation bestowed upon us when all was right with the world. God himself said,
“Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves.”
Our relentless pursuit of personhood, however, is often misguided and directed. We tend to chase personhood down the avenues of self-elevation, absorption, accolade and status. Experience and the wisdom of the ages reveal that person-hood is often discovered in and through a journey of selflessness.
Our abiding desire for placedness springs from the image of and mandate from God himself. In the Creation narrative we are deemed the height of creation. We are granted the gifts and given the mandate to cultivate creation. With the advent of humankind, you and I were placed within a vibrant community of life under the guidance of a vital relationship with God.
Our transitory culture, which moves at a break-neck pace, obscures this creational gift. Yet, we remain haunted by and ever aware of its presence in the moments of despair and confusion that life often offers. Rather than exploring those subtle urges and shadow-cloaked hopes, we pursue fleeting and unsatisfying pleasures. We often define our sense of placedness with goal laden terms like conquest (particularly in relationships) and achievement. Both conquest and achievement may provide momentary satisfaction and help us locate our place within community.
One’s truest sense of placedness is more closely related to the condition in which our soul is at rest or the place in which our heart finds its strength. Such an internal condition of rest and peace – a strength of heart – provide for and support the external reality we face. An internal condition of rest releases us to say, ‘yes, this is good – truly good,’ regardless of or in spite of the external dynamics in play all around us!
Third is our desire to know, experience and pursue a purpose. A sense of purpose holds the power to sustain us through any moment or anytime. Lack of purpose has the power to keep us frayed at the edges of life in any moment at any time. Indeed, this force is so potent that it has become a franchise industry in our culture. We porn books, magazines, seminars, etc. to a culture both adrift in and addicted to purpose.
A sense of purpose is also a creational gift of an ancient age. God has uttered words – to us – that are saturated with purpose and life-shaping meaning,
‘Be fruitful and multiply’
‘Cultivate – work – the Garden’
‘Love God with all your heart and others as yourself’
‘As you are going in this world, make disciples’
I could go on and on and on. Suffice it to say, purpose and meaning are close to the heart of God.
The problem is not our desire or longing for purpose. It’s the ways in which we pursue purpose that distort people. We tend to seek purpose through avenues of success and popularity. While a fleeting sense of purpose may be obtained through success and popularity, it is deceptive at best and destructive at worse.
Purpose is more related to sacrifice and suffering than success and popularity.
When the power of a heart bent toward evil and the capacity for self-deception converge, our internal world becomes slowly – but surely – detached from our external experience. Our pursuits become all about us, rarely about others and never about God’s greatest good at work in and through our life! The ancient warning of the weeping prophet now sounds prescient, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things.”
So, how might our desires be shaped toward God and His good in our life and in the world around us?
The Scriptures, in Colossians 3:2, encourage us to keep our hearts focused on things above. Knowing that my heart is bent toward deception and my desires are easily distorted, I find this simple exhortation to be difficult. Therefore, I have begun practicing some disciplines that – when practiced – hold the power to captivate my heart and direct my mind upward toward Him.
I have found these disciplines or, using Ruth Barton’s terminology – rhythms, helpful in my pursuit of personhood, placedness and purpose. I am going to share three of them in this post. Before I share them, I urge you to consider this essential truth,
The discovery of personhood, placedness and purpose is a gift of God’s grace to us. He is ever and always at work! The rhythms are ways in which we might be more attentive to His presence and receptive of His grace!
- The Rhythm of Gratitude. This is the functional practice of finding some moment in which we can express and reflect gratitude. Just try to be thankful and grateful on a consistent basis for one day. I promise, you will experience joy!
- The Rhythm of Hobby and Interests. This discipline is not often considered in discussions of spiritual formation. Developing and being involved in a hobby or interest that helps us turn off the mechanism is, however, a great way to renew the soul and rejuvenate the heart!
- The Rhythm of Examen or Review of the Day. I discovered the value of this rhythm while participating in a Transforming Community Group offered through the Transforming Center (http://www.transformingcenter.org/). Every now and then Melissa and I practice this rhythm together. During this time, we note the ‘highs and lows’ and share in each other’s joy and pain. Practicing this single rhythm might revolutionize your marriage and life.
I have included a version of Examen- designed to be a mere introduction – on this website. Others, such as Ruth Haley Barton or James Bryan Smith, who are more practiced in these disciplines, would provide even richer resources for you as well.
If you are interested in more resources, I have included a list of web pages beneath this post that I enjoy!
Disrupting to Renew!
http://www.transformingcenter.org/ruth-haley-barton/, This blog is an excellent resource for leaders who are committed to soul-care as a high value priority!
http://mysteryoffaithblog.com/, This blog often posts worship related articles. I find them challenging and encouraging and believe anyone involved in ministry would find this blog to be a beneficial resource.
http://www.chattingatthesky.com/, This is a wonderful blog which explores and exposes the movement and rhythms of the soul. Anyone would benefit from the ‘soul keeping’ practices this blog offers, but it would be especially helpful for people in positions of leadership!
http://apprenticeinstitute.org/blog/, This resource provides comprehensive and diverse material related to soul care! It’s strength, in my opinion, is found in its various series of articles that explore significant topics over the course of a few weeks.