When Good Desires Go Unfulfilled

What do you want?

I’m in a Bible study on this topic called Teach Us to Want. As Christians, we often have this idea that desires are bad or selfish or sinful or can’t be trusted, that we must strip ourselves of our desires to be content.

First, let’s agree that not all desires are good. Also, not all motivations are good. However, many desires themselves are good, and can show us places God wants to work in our lives through our actions. For you, the desire that’s come to mind may be a relationship, a child, a home of your own, to travel, to be well, to preach, to publish, or something else entirely. And you may or may not have any confidence that that’s ever going to happen for you.

After some feedback about my last post, I want to encourage, specifically, single women who desire to marry. That may not describe you and you may be tempted to click away or to skip down to the starred paragraph for more biblical analysis of desires. You can do that. But I pray that, if you keep reading, you will find this encouraging for you unmet desires, too.

I’m not going to tell you all the “your time will come” stuff that people told me. I’m not going to quiz you on where you go to meet people or if you’ve tried online dating. I’m not going to say that God has someone out there for you. That might not be true and I don’t believe it’s kind to lie and promise that your deepest, most painfully unmet desires will come true. We don’t know that, you or I.

To be honest, as of the week before Tyler and I went on our first date, I didn’t have much hope that I would ever get married, that I would ever find someone who’d want to seriously date. I’d dated a few guys, been on occasional dates in the past few years, but I’d never had a boyfriend, never kissed anyone, and sometimes found myself wondering what was wrong with me. I overanalyzed every missed connection, finding fault with what I’d said or done, trying to feel in control over what I had no control over. “I was too nervous and came on too strong,” I chided myself. “I was too afraid and didn’t let him in soon enough.”

My most painful relationship experience was when someone changed his mind. He dropped me without explanation and without regret, for all I saw. In the aftermath, I wanted someone to tell me I wasn’t worthless. I wanted someone to say he was wrong to have treated me that way. I struggled when I realized that God loves him as much as he loves me, because God doesn’t favor any child above another, even when one hurts another. That works to my favor most of the time, but in that pain I wanted God to be more like my earthly parents, who would have been furious if they’d known how he’d hurt me. (If they’d known about him at all.)

My desire to marry hadn’t really wavered. But, even knowing that life is long and we should never say “never” to God, I was less and less hopeful that my desire would ever come true. Previous experiences, including more than one man who dropped all communication without explanation, had made me guarded. Who would hold out long enough to earn my trust, enough that I could let him in? I knew myself better, including my quirks and selfishness. How do people build lives together after so many years alone? How do marriages ever work, really?

I saw the examples of others who had married later in life and clung to theirs stories, but I also knew that, no matter how desperately I want to get married, it truly may not happen. That was—and still is—reality. I told myself that over and over, facing the waves of disappointment while there was still some hope, preparing myself so the possible, future, final realization wouldn’t devastate and embitter me beyond repair.

I’m so sorry for the pain of waiting. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not doing anything wrong. You are worthwhile. You’re wonderful. You wouldn’t be a growing Christian or a sweet friend if you weren’t. That is evidence of what so many people in your life see. That is evidence of God’s work in you and through you. And what a tower of ability you are! You can do so much. You do.

It doesn’t mean you don’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you don’t want someone to share in all these things with you. Loneliness really wears down on you, catching up with you at odd times. It’s like grief in that way. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself as much grace as you give to others.

A friend of mine frequently says that contentment is a daily choice. Every day while single, we have to choose to be content with where we are, the plan thus far, and fight to remember and act as though God has a plan for the future. Whether or not it’s a future I would choose, we fight to believe there is good in it.

*As I think about the thing we desperately want, I think of two women in the Bible in particular: Hannah and Jehosheba.

Hannah, you may remember, was the mother of Samuel, the prophet during Saul’s reign who anointed David (1 Samuel 1-2). But Hannah, for many long, painful years, was barren. In her culture, having children (especially sons) was a woman’s only public sign of worth.

Her husband didn’t understand, saying crap like “Why are you sad? Aren’t I better than having 10 sons?” He married again, probably so that he’d have children, and the second wife was cruel to Hannah. When Hannah went to Shiloh to pray for a child, she was so distraught than Eli, the high priest, thought she was drunk and yelled at her. Even here in an ancient text, we see men confused by emotions expressed by women and actively belittling their hopes and disappointments.

To Eli’s sort of credit, once Hannah told him she wasn’t drunk, just really upset and crying out to God—exactly what you’d expect to be happening in a place of worship, to be honest—he was like, “Sorry! I hope God gives you what you want.” And God did. God heard her and she became pregnant and gave birth to Samuel. When Samuel was still a boy, to fulfill her part of a deal she’d made with God, Hannah took her son to the temple to be raised by Eli in service of God. And then she had other children.

I’m thrilled for Hannah. She hurt, desperately, and had only shallow support around her as she struggled with this unmet desire. Eventually, she got what she wanted. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, our stories go more like Jehosheba’s.

Jehosheba was the sister of the king of Judah and had married the high priest (2 Kings 11). When her brother died unexpectedly, her mother took the throne, killing all her grandchildren who might be heirs. Except, Jehosheba hid one of her nephews, smuggled him out of the palace, and raised him in secret in the temple. When he was old enough, Jehosheba and her husband presented Joash to the people as the rightful king, overthrowing Jehosheba’s mother.

Jehosheba had no children. In her culture, she was considered worthless, unblessed by God. The only recorded marriage between a princess in the line of David and a high priest, and they had no children. And yet, Jehosheba saved the line of David. Through her own initiative and courage, she rescued and protected her nephew, the great-grandson of evil King Ahab. She raised him to know God, and Joash became a good king who led his country to followed the Lord. We can see how she preserved the monarchy and blessed the entire country for generations! But she never had children. She was always barren. She got to help raise her nephew, but she never had children herself. She didn’t get the thing she likely wanted just as desperately as Hannah.

Wanting to have children, though far from a universal desire, is a good one. So was David’s desire to build a temple in Jerusalem. But, David was told no. Jehosheba eventually realized, though we aren’t told of the moment, that she would never have children, either.

If you are like Hannah, and after a long time you are blessed with what you desire, I will rejoice with you!

If you are like Jehosheba, I will mourn the loss of that desire with you.

I will mourn until you know for sure which woman you are, but I will also ply you with truth. You have other desires. God hasn’t forgotten those. You’re doing good work. You aren’t worthless or a failure if your desire doesn’t come true when or how you hope, or at all.

Remember, friends, that like Hagar realized in the desert, God sees you. God hears your cries of pain, and God is far from indifferent to pain. Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died, even though Jesus was a few minutes away from bringing him back to life. Loss and pain are always sad, always hard. God understands that. God isn’t being cruel if God isn’t giving you what you want. God hears the crap other people tell you to try to placate you. God knows. God sees you.

You are not worthless. You are mighty. You are a child of God. You’re getting stuff done. You’re doing the work God has for you. I thank God for people like you!

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