The heart wants what the heart wants. And what the heart wants is something that will make us know that we are loved right down to our toes. People tell me this all the time, even if not in so many words.
One morning a young woman called me up. On the phone she said that her life was falling apart. She had to see me right away. So I told her to come straight to my office.
Within half an hour she was sitting across from me. Panicked.
I was a little panicked myself. My ordination to the priesthood hadn’t been that long ago. So I did the one thing I knew how to do. I listened.
Her husband had walked out. She worked mostly on commission for what had been only a secondary income. Now it wasn’t cutting it. The bills were piling up. Mom and dad had refused to come to the rescue.
Finally, to crystallize the crisis for me, she sort of shrieked, “I’m going to lose my membership in the country club.” Full stop.
Now you may be tempted to roll your eyes about this. I mean, people are being bombed out of their houses in Ukraine, children are going hungry, and eviction rates are climbing across my state and others. Country club membership? Really?
Okay. I get it. But here’s what I heard:
“This is the last straw. Everybody is going to know. People will see me for the loser and the failure that I’ve always been. Nobody is going to love me now.”
That really is a crisis. At least it was as I heard it.
She wanted what everybody wants. To be loved. No matter what. That is what the heart wants.
And her crisis was not really that she couldn’t afford a country club membership. The crisis was a devastating realization.
Everything she had counted on to make her feel loved and secure had let her down utterly. She hadn’t just wanted the the membership, the house, the clothes in and of themselves. She loved these things because, as she saw it, they made her worth loving.
Emily Dickinson, Woody Allen, and Selena Gomez have each said that the heart wants what the heart wants. St. Augustine thinks that they’re right. And it was Augustine who said that loving the right things the wrong way is our chief spiritual problem.
Okay, it’s possible to love the wrong things. And that’s a problem. But strictly speaking it’s sort of easy to spot. If you like pulling the wings off flies or torturing puppies you know that the rest of the world will frown on you.
But mostly, we want good things. A successful career, a happy family, material comforts.
We run into trouble when we begin to depend on any of these things to win affection, respect, and love from those around us. Even worse, we can count on these things to make us love ourselves. If we lose them, we can feel worthless in our own eyes.
Strictly speaking, this is our greatest temptation: to doubt that we are God’s beloved. No matter what.
Not because we’re so capable and clever. Not because we’ve racked up flashy achievements. Not because we can make things happen by the sheer force of our own will. But because God loves us. Period.
This is what Jesus is showing us by confronting the devil in the wilderness. The devil’s opening words are: If you are the Son of God. Each of the three temptations boils down to one thing. Prove it!
Initially, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. He’s saying, “Show the world what you can do. You’ve got skills, brother! Miraculous skills. People are going to love you.”
Jesus refused. In essence he says, “I don’t have to have crazy skills for God to love me. God just loves me.” And the same goes for everybody.
Next Satan tempted Jesus to leap from the Temple’s roof. After all, God wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him. And crowds will go wild.
Once again, Jesus refused. “God doesn’t need to be impressed by my achievements. Neither my career achievements nor my religious achievements. God just loves me. Period.” And the same goes for everybody.
Finally, Satan takes his last shot. He shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers him power over them all.
And this time Jesus says, “Powerlessness is the real power. The point is not to win God over with my will. It’s to be willing to love what God loves how God loves it. I can do that because I trust that I’m already the beloved.”
The heart wants what the heart wants. To be loved. Radically. Unconditionally. And God has already given us our heart’s desire. We are already the beloved. Period.
To check out my latest book Looking for God in Messy Places click here. Thanks to all who have reached out to schedule a book study, retreat, or Q&A session. I love getting together with my readers in-person and via Zoom. To schedule a time you can contact my EA Holly Windham (firstname.lastname@example.org).