following desire

Jun 17, 2019


In every moment, any human is motivated by attraction, or by resistance. Those who are beginners in life’s journey simply go with attraction and act against whatever they consider to be distasteful.

The prisoner of this behaviour lives compulsively by the motto: if it feels good, do it, if it feels bad, avoid it.


We ignore our feelings at our peril. However the feelings we have are simply a starting point for discernment. Feelings are the raw material with which we discern movement towards or away from God.

At this conscious level it may be that God is calling me to do what feels difficult, even painful, at least on the surface of my heart. It may be instead that the evil spirit is shrewdly enticing me to evil by attracting me to something that feels good.


As Ignatius highlights in his rules for discernment, the evil spirit can be a subtle tempter. If I am just beginning a life of faith, the evil one does not have to try too hard to derail my efforts and confuse my desires. But as one becomes more aware of the subtleties and intimacies of life with God, the technique of the evil spirit also becomes more refined.

As we practice the presence of God, we begin to see with the eyes of the heart. Now we see false advertising for what it is: so much of what the world offers fails to deliver what it promises.

At this ‘wake-up’ moment, we begin to grow in Christian maturity. We notice that when we follow our deepest desire we are never disappointed. What appears to be the hard road can pave the path to joy beyond my imagining. I begin to realise that my feelings, at first glance, appear to impel me towards what promises everything, yet fails to deliver. This is a painful and wonderful moment of awakening. I begin to ask questions that lead me beyond my previous limited existence. ‘There must be more to life?’ ‘What do I really want from life?’ ‘What am I created for?’


A difficulty can be that most people equate feelings with impulses. An animal responds instinctively and cannot ‘feel’ in a human sense. An animal behaves impulsively. An animal cannot savour the life of the heart. This life of the Spirit of God is reserved for humans.

Human happiness can never be found by instinctively satisfying our animal instincts and impulses. The human heart is created for much more. As St. Augustine proclaims: ‘you have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you’.

At the deepest level of the human heart, our longing and desire is for God and for all that God offers us. This unfulfilled desire is an intrinsic part of the human condition. It is not a flaw. Longing is the characteristic of the human heart. This desire is planted in us by God to direct us to the purpose of our human existence, that is, life with God.


Our deepest desire is our personal compass. This compass is a divine gift. It is our heart-experienced desire that orients us to God. Understanding this desire is the key to human purpose and happiness. I might think that my desire is for money, for food, possessions, for sex or for good wine. These gifts of God are all good in their time and place. But none of these gifts, (or even all of them together on a busy evening) can deliver the fulness of satisfaction they seem to promise.

At the surface level, our impulses (often the only motivations in our consciousness) are formed by fashion and fear. Most often these urges are little more than the product of our culture and upbringing.


A healthy child learns that it is not a bad thing to delay pleasure. The cake looks attractive, but it will taste even better if I spend at least a few moments looking forward to eating it. The anticipation has a pleasure all of its own.  Then fear kicks in. If I do not eat the cake now, perhaps someone else will grab it and I will miss out?

As the child grows, she also learns the pleasure of sharing. I do not need to eat all the cake to be happy. I give some of the cake to my friend. Now I have some cake, and my relationship with my friend is also strengthened.

Then I realise that, at its best, the cake can bring happiness only momentarily. While I feel attraction to the cake, and I want to eat it, this is not my deepest desire. There is something else at work. I wake up to the wonderful fact that I am being held in the loving embrace of the one who will see that I have the cake, and eat it too.

My greatest maturity is reached when I seek opportunities to give all I have and possess to another. In this decision of the will my superficial feelings are transcended and I relax in the embrace of Jesus. When I leave this embrace, and grasp at whatever appears to offer satisfaction I am left feeling empty and lonely. When I relax into the embrace and provision of the one who loves me more than I could ever dream, then I experience all that I have ever desired.


To be caught in the tension between attraction and resistance, is a mark of the ‘fallen’ human condition. Most of the time we don’t think about this. We simply move through the day responding to the demands we experience. We like to do what attracts us. We try to avoid what we do not like.


Take a moment to think about it: in every moment, I am motivated by attraction or resistance. Let’s put it another way. The forces of both love and fear (which is the opposite of love) are acting upon me in every moment. So what am I to do? Is every decision I take to be determined by these inevitable forces?

Faced with the strength of such pressures, what freedom do I really have? Well, for a start I can acknowledge that my idea of what constitutes both love and fear is severely distorted. At times I fear love. In other moments I seem to hold on to the motivation of fear. I can be uncontrollably motivated by the fear of failure and vulnerability. There are times when I resist love. In other moments I am trapped by resistance. In these moments thoughts of anger and revenge flood my consciousness.

In the midst of this human condition, what does it mean for me to be a disciple of Jesus? This is where the good news meets our human experience. Yes, we do live with these tensions, but Christ offers us another way. He offers us a freedom that transforms and transcends the snares of all that confines us. If I seek to follow Christ, I am choosing not to be slave to fears and fashion. Neither am I opting to follow a path of restrictive moral guidelines and religious practices. This is a commonly held and ultimately fatal misunderstanding of the Christian life.


In choosing Christ I am seeking to live in relationship with Jesus. Like the first disciples, we choose to follow an attraction. No doubt fears floated in the minds of Andrew and John, but they had encountered the ultimate relationship. They felt at home in the loving gaze of Jesus. They had found the relationship that they had spent their lives seeking. And when he called them saying “come and see” they could not resist.

In our healthiest moments we too know that following Him is the path to our greatest happiness.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Follow this link to hear the St. Louis Jesuits singing this prayer of Ignatius


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