By Lauren Deville
I just watched these ropes give way
where they were tied.
I could have reached out quick when the ropes first
slipped, if I had tried,
but I was wondering where the wind was trying to take me
overnight, if I never did resist, and what strange breezes make a sailor want to
let it come to this,
with lines untied, slipping through my fist.
That metaphor has described the journey of my last year and a half. My roommate and I are living different stories right now but with a similar bottom line: the desire for things we want but cannot arrange for, nor can we make ourselves, by force of will, cease to desire the things that linger just out of reach.
I would go so far as to say that I have lived at least the last seven years of my life in exactly that place. It’s maddening. The thing that I want may change a bit, but not the fact that I can’t have it (usually the power to grant or withhold rests with someone else) nor the fact that I can’t make myself stop wanting it.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to force the hand of others, or the hand of God, and when that doesn’t work, I’ve tried to distance myself from the object, hoping that I would trick myself into forgetting or growing numb. I’ve tried forcing myself to want something else instead; I’ve tried reasoning and rationalizing until I’ve analyzed every possible angle of a situation and everyone around me is exhausted from my effort.
Usually when all of these options have failed yet again, I come back to a book called The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, but the reason it stays fresh is precisely because it doesn’t offer answers; it offers tension. It teaches fellow seekers to learn to live in the tension between desire and contentment, to never give up on the former, while striving to dwell in the latter.
Most of what I write about, what I think about in relation to the lifestyles of the people around me, tends to concern either settling for a small life or continually striving for things that will never satisfy.
They are two sides of the same coin, of course; settling is the response that many choose to the fact that we are incapable of arranging for the life we want, and striving is the response that I tend to choose instead. The problem that we all face is that “very few of our desires are self-fulfilling; all our deepest longings require others to come through for us. Inevitably, someone stands in the way” (26).
So what do we do? Some anesthetize themselves through distraction. Pascal, in his Penses, writes, “The way to render a man happy, is to engage him with an object that will make him forget his private troubles… But it will be a false and imaginary happiness, arising not from the possession of real and solid good, but from a levity of spirit that obliterates the recollection of his real miseries, and fixes his thoughts upon mean and ridiculous objects, unworthy of his attention, and still less deserving of his love.” Sound like some addictions you can think of? The rest of us manipulate, control, and find ourselves, time and again, thwarted.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Paul, Philippians 4:12). Well, I haven’t learned the secret. I know what it is, but I haven’t learned it. How do you choose to embrace a desire for a thing you cannot have (or at least that you cannot arrange for)? And yet, the paradox seems to be that, at the end of the day, embrace seems to be the only option.
I am reminded of Hegel’s concept of the dialectic, in which he said that to choose one side of a controversy is always, in some sense, to choose the other, because the two are always mutually reinforcing. Lose your life in order to find it. Though you may ardently, passionately hope to guide your ship to the shoreline, you cannot fight the wind and so all you can do is let the lines slip through your fists.
“The more comfortable we are with mystery,” Eldredge writes,”the more rest we will know along the way” (180).
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Lauren holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Arizona, and she is currently studying naturopathic medicine in Tempe, Arizona. She also has a background in the arts, particularly theater and creative writing, and she hopes that (sometime prior to graduation) she will eventually stumble upon the perfect integration of her seemingly disparate interests.