Around this time last year, as we were contemplating our upcoming move, I started doing something brave. I started telling a few people – family and close friends – about a desire I had, something I thought I would like to do in the not-too-distant future. It was something that had been simmering in me for a while, but it was easier to tell myself it wouldn’t work out. I’m not disciplined enough. It’s too expensive. It doesn’t fit in with my life. And who am I to do this anyway?
Like an owl you must fly in moonlight with an open eye,
And use your instinct as a guide, to navigate the way that lays before you,
You were born to, take the greatest flight.
Like a serpent and a dove, you will have wisdom born of love
And carry visions from above into the places no man dares to follow
– Josh Garrels, White Owl
Growing up in the evangelical church culture, there was this strange idea that God would call you to do something that you didn’t really want to do, and whether or not you did it would be the great test of your faithfulness. Simultaneously I was hearing that the truest test of faith was your willingness to give up the things you loved the most.
These preachers would call on the story of Moses to make their point, this man desperately seeking for excuses not to go back to Egypt, even as the bush burned in front of him, God’s voice speaking from it’s glowing centre. They’d call on Abraham, knife raised over his beloved son as the angel waits until the last second to stop him.
Something struck me as distorted in this message even back then, but still it stuck to me as I grew up. Anything I started wishing for too strongly would be met with the thought, Would you be willing to give it up for God? I learnt to doubt my own desires, to assume I would not receive them.
What you seek is seeking you. —Rumi
In her memoir, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor quotes Susan B. Anthony, saying, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”
It reminded me of something I once heard my uncle say of the students he taught at seminary, commenting on the surprising number who felt “called” to a ministry in California or Hawaii, and the relative few willing to head to less desirable locations. I laughed at the time, because I thought I’d felt it too, the pull towards the easier, or more beautiful, or more trendy option. I’ve heard it warned against so many times, and it’s one reason I have rarely allowed myself to truly go after the things I want, just in case it’s only my own selfish desires taking me there, just in case they draw me on a path away from God instead of towards God.
And yet Barbara Brown Taylor goes on to write, “I recognise the enormous energy in [our desires], which strikes me as something that God might be able to use.” She noticed that in the stories of the Bible, “their desires propelled them in ways that God could use.”
Maybe I’ve allowed the fear of going the wrong way to keep me from going the right way. Maybe my worry that I’ll miss what God is calling me to, has caused me to miss one of his clearest signs of direction: my own desires.
And then I became a mother. And suddenly there are these two little people dependent on me for everything.
It has been my biggest fear around this life transition – will I lose myself in motherhood? Is it too late now to do all the things I’ve wished to do? Should I have travelled more, risked more, tried more, accomplished more? Is all the hope of becoming the person I want to be over?
People tell me what a wonderful calling it is to be a mama. They’ve told me that I will find this new life so rewarding in ways I don’t expect. They’ve told me off for worrying that my life is over now. They’ve reminded me how long I wanted this, how many women want this and never get it for themselves.
I believe them. And yet I still frequently feel the panic rising. I adore our daughter and son. I will always do everything in my power to protect them and give them a full life. But my desires, those other dreams, they are no less strong, no less bright and hope-filled than they were before. I’m not ready to give them up yet.
So I’m taking a risk. It might not look that way to the people I mention it to, but I’m speaking out a desire in my heart and it feels dangerous and powerful.
Maybe it won’t work out exactly how I expect it to. Ok, probably it won’t, because life rarely does – it’s paths twist and turn in ways unexpected. But I’m hoping that by embracing my desires, digging into them, exploring their roots and winding histories, I might discover myself on exactly the right path, the one taking me further into an understanding of who I am and who my Creator is.
“Without vision, the people perish.”
So the proverb goes and I understand that now. Without dreams to chase, without desires to embrace, a cause to fight for, my life begins to feel faded and empty. Each day passes by in a blur of sameness.
I want to be on a path to somewhere. It doesn’t need to be a path of glory and riches and fame. In fact I’m hoping for something a little simpler, a little gentler, a path that includes growing tomatoes in the garden and going for coffees in the park cafe with dear friends. But I’m reclaiming some of the vision in my heart, without guilt, and daring to hope it will come to pass.