This month on the Catholic Bird Lover we’ve been reflecting on discernment. In particular we’ve focused on the importance of our desires in discernment. God desires our happiness more than we desire our own happiness. Thus, our desires aren’t something to be squashed, but something to be pursued.
Yet, we all know that sometimes God’s will doesn’t line up with our own will. If our desires are so important to God, then why does he sometimes ask us to go against our desires? Why does God ask us to do things we don’t want to do?
Let’s begin by clarifying a couple things.
- Our desires aren’t infallible.
- Not all desires come from God.
- All desires aren’t created equal
When I refer to desires in this series, I’m talking about more than things we want. I’m talking about what our hearts long for. At the root of all desires, is the desire for God. Desires for things like love, beauty, happiness can all be traced back to our desire for God.
Though we might think we have it all figured out, sometimes our desires won’t lead to happiness. Thus, God asks us to go against them. Let’s take a look at the top 3 reasons God might ask us to do something we don’t want to do…
1. Our desires are out of order
Original sin messed up a lot of things and that includes our ability to pursue our own good. Eve, desiring to taste of the tree, ate it in spite of God’s command not to. She asked herself, why would God keep me from pursuing my desire? But the truth is, not all desires should be pursued.
If Eve had stopped to discern, she would have found that her desire to taste the fruit was superficial. The deeper, truer desire was the desire to enjoy God’s Creation. This is a good desire, and one God encouraged. But her desires were out of order. She prioritized her desire for the taste of a singular fruit.
How does this manifest in our everyday? Let’s take a look at the desire for love. The desire for love is humanity’s deepest desire. After all, the desire for love is the desire for God.
The desire for god is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God. (CCC 27)
But this desire for love might manifest itself as a desire for physical intimacy outside of marriage, or as attachment and dependency on a friend.
God asking us to wait until marriage or to allow a friend to move away might seem like he’s asking us to sacrifice our desires. However, it’s actually an invitation to fulfill the deeper desire: the desire for Him.
The desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the good of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. (CCC 2548)
2. Our desires will be fulfilled in an unexpected way
A dear friend and spiritual mentor of mine is a nun. From a young age, she had great dreams of motherhood. She envisioned a large Catholic family and a loving husband. When she first felt the call to religious life, she was frightened. What would become of those desires?
Years down the road, she has the biggest family: the entire Catholic Church. She has been a mother to me and to countless others. Her desire for a large family was fulfilled in an unexpected, but no less potent way.
Let me share a little of my own experience. My senior year of high school I was accepted to my first choice college. I had dreamed of this college since middle school and even received the acceptance letter on my birthday.
So, I sent God a simple prayer. If it’s meant to be, please let me get financial assistance. I was certain that God would comply. He had already arranged everything so perfectly. Why would he let me get accepted only to have me turn the offer down?
Turns out, my financial aid application hadn’t ever been submitted. I was devastated. God asked me to turn down my first choice college. All of my dreams of studying under the bell tower, of watching sunsets on campus with new friends, of rigorous classes shattered. I couldn’t understand it. But what were my deeper desires?
A desire for rigorous study. A desire for community. A desire to exercise the gift of my mind.
All of these and more were fulfilled at Texas A&M. Years later, I realize that A&M was a better environment for me than my first choice would have been. God fulfilled my desires in an unexpected way.
“for dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed” (Sirach 34:7)
(For a fun story of how my desire to go to Mass was fulfilled by crashing a wedding, check this post out!)
3. We are afraid
When God asks us to go against our desires, perhaps it’s not actually against our desires. Perhaps fear is blocking our desires. Fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of hardship.
Frozen II’s song Into the Unknown perfectly captures how the Holy Spirit helps us battle our fears and engage with our desires. Elsa’s fear is so great that she refuses to acknowledge her own desire. When she hears the call, she blocks it out. She is afraid of losing happiness: “everyone I’ve ever loved is here within these walls.” If she follows the call, won’t she lose everyone she loves?
On the surface she is being asked to go against her desire—her desire of being loved and being with her family. But eventually, not even fear can suppress her desire for the unknown. The song ends with a hopeful and longing explosion of desire: “Where are you going? Don’t leave me alone, how do I follow you into the unknown?”
In my own life, God once asked me to go to the funeral of a woman I didn’t know very well. I had only met her a few times, but those few times had a significant impact on my life. She was fully alive and I longed to discover her secret (educated guess: God!). I deeply desired to go to her funeral, but I was plagued by fear. To get to her funeral I would have to go on a 15 hour road trip with some mutual connections. What would they think that a stranger who didn’t know her very well was going to her funeral? What if the family asked me how I knew her?
My mind told me that it didn’t make any sense for me to go to the funeral of a near-stranger, but my heart demanded to go. And God had also asked me to. Just like Elsa, the Holy Spirit enflamed my desire until the fear was quashed. The funeral and the entire road trip was a powerful and formative experience.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37)
When God asks us to go against our desires, it’s because he’s calling us to a greater desire. Just as a married person gives up all other romantic prospects for the sake of one person, God might ask us to give up some desires to pursue a greater good. Or perhaps God has a different plan for fulfilling our desires. Or perhaps it is fear rather than lack of desire that holds us back.
The key takeaway is this: God wants our happiness more than we want our happiness. And he knows how to achieve it better than we do!
So next time God is calling you to do something you don’t want to do, take a breath. Remember these three things and pray the Litany of Trust. You can’t go wrong when following God, I promise.
PS Want to view this through a fictional lens? Check out my analysis of Ariel’s desires in the Little Mermaid!
God desires our happiness more than we desire our own happiness. For more from the Catholic Bird Lover, check out my Instagram @birdloversmusings