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Please, please, please, let me get what I want

I'm pensive as I pair the socks. A mournful sigh or two escapes my lips. There is a dramatic flourish to the manner in which I add each newly-reunited couple to the growing pile. "What is it, darling?" -- Mr. W, resigning himself to my woes in generous acknowledgement of my none-too-subtle signals. "Oh, I dunno, you know, the usual" -- I try to keep it brief. His magnanimity takes a turn for the mischievous: "Awww. Do you feel like the kid who didn't get the presents they wanted?" A horrifying, hilarious, humbling hiatus... I feel profoundly diagnosed, with no choice remaining but to laugh at myself and my hitherto noble sense of weighty sorrow. (The sorrow lingered, but its pride and self-satisfaction were sorely dented).

Indeed, the major part of my more recent miseries could be aptly described in that way: I don't get the presents I want. 'Tis true I have, in my own way, had 'stuff to contend with' over the years -- and by the grace of God, am able to see His hand at work in the midst of even the toughest of those struggles (cf. Romans 8:28). But actually, right now, not much of that 'stuff' is causing front burner issues, and some of it, I'd venture to say, feels pretty firmly in the past. What's more, I am hardly short of examples of blessing, provision, specific joys -- things which are good even in tangible, unambiguous ways. But my folly is of a uniquely creative variety, and it seems I am set on inventing novel ways to be disappointed.

Take friendship, for example. For various reasons (some of them all too identifiable, some less so), social contact has, throughout substantial periods of my life, been in conspicuously short supply. During those times I convinced myself that friendship was 'the missing piece' that would solve all my problems ... make me happy ... enable me to be a better person ... I'd pray in all earnestness: "just give me friends and then I'll have everything I need and will be able to serve You properly". I didn't understand how God could withhold this requisite good from me when it was so clearly the key to all my spiritual and personal flourishing. In short, I idolised it -- and, I am now learning, idealised it beyond all realistic expectation...

For various reasons (again, some more identifiable than others) I have become increasingly socially connected over the past few years. "Praise God!" I hear you say. (Or "That's nice!", maybe, from those less inclined to accredit divine providence). Indeed, I am grateful for this sea change...but not that grateful, it turns out. Because friendship is not quite what I had in mind. It is imperfect and inconstant; it requires hard work; there are disappointments to contend with. Some of my friends don't understand me (actually, most/all of them, most of the time). Some of my friends frustrate me by being interested only in things I find boring (and almost all of them are bored by the things I find interesting -- especially when I get to talking about them :-/ ). [1] Some people who I would like to be friends with reject me, and this still hurts even though I have other friends. Of course, none of this is surprising or strange: the only surprising thing is that I should find it so. But, in truth, I didn't have much to go on before. I learnt most of what I thought I knew about friendship from Douglas Coupland novels, in which profound and unbreakable bonds are forged between unexpectedly perfectly-matched persons in the furnace of strange, postmodern adventure and conversation. I thought that if only I could progress my relationships to that 'stage' there'd be no going back -- another friend 'banked' like in the British TV game show The Weakest Link. But friendships, even at their best, aren't perfect ... all-fulfilling ... fixed ... dependable. They are, like individuals, messy ... flawed ... transitional ... fluctuating ... They need to be, really, if they are to stand a chance of keeping up with the participating individuals; that they are dynamic should be a cause for celebration, not fear. But I like certainty, and I like control, and I quickly become sad and petulant when things don't go my way.

All in all, the increase of relationship in my life has been, and is, a huge blessing, but not always in the ways I want. In my more rational, detached moments it is quite easy to see that this is a good thing -- most of the things I think I want would be pretty disastrous for me. God has spared me the ability to bind people to myself and control them; He has spared me the opportunity (and subsequent temptation) to find my needs met in them instead of putting my trust in Him; He has shown me sustaining providence and grace in extended periods of loneliness. In short, He has refused my demands and instead supplied my needs. But emotions will out and there are many moments of disappointment or uncertainty when thankfulness is harder to come by...

This is just one example. Sadly, I can cite many blessings for which gratitude has quickly turned to dissatisfaction. My PhD, for example: 10 years ago I wasn't sure I'd make it through my undergrad degree; now I'm soon to graduate as Dr. Mrs. W and I am lamenting the fact that my thesis isn't more impressive. And, how about employment: for a long time I was doubtful about ever being able to manage the world of work (at least, not a job that required me to think or to interact with people); now, (and following some really enjoyable roles before my PhD) I've been given the opportunity I was dearly hoping for to stay on as a research assistant, and I begin to resent the fact that no-one wants to pay me to write poetry for a living. (OK, so, this ludicrous resentment entertains me more than I it, but still...)

Seems the more I get my own way, the less grateful I become, the more demanding. I am less willing to trust God, less inclined to surrender my life to Him...

"Please, please, please, let me get what I want...", sing The Smiths [2]. "Haven't had a dream in a long time // See, the life I've had // Can make a good man bad". Oh! the misery! the disappointment! No attempt at poetry -- they're just saying it like it is, no? As for Morrissey's distinctively despondent singing voice -- one wonders about the training by which such levels of canorous self-pity were achieved. Perhaps he just allowed the muscles most people use to smile to atrophy through disuse...this theory would certainly fit with the visible evidence.

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart", sings David in the Psalms (Psalm 37:4). I can well see that God, in His mercy, sometimes withholds the things I ask for because of the harm they would bring me. But if I truly believe that relationship with Him is the basis of all human flourishing and fulness of life, the rational response is to seek Him first and foremost and to trust that He truly knows what is best for me and is working to supply those needs. As I get to know Him more, and the desires of my heart become aligned with His loving heart for me, I increasingly see those desires met because they are the sort of longings that I don't need protecting from. As Jesus says in Matthew's gospel, He wants to give us 'good things' if only we would ask:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
But we do need to learn to recognise those good things, because as long as our hearts are set on that which brings destruction and misery, we inevitably remain either resentful as a result of not getting it, or damaged as a result of getting it. [3] And probably, as part of that, we need to learn to recognise and receive the blessing that comes in the midst of apparent brokenness: that bit in Romans 8 -- "for those who love God all things work together for good" (v 28) -- is not a promise of an easy life. But it is, I think, a promise of a life that is underpinned by concrete hope, ongoing redemption, character transformation, &c &c....

I'd like to leave behind the endless heartache of getting and not getting what I want. I'd like to leave behind the folly of ingratitude for blessings not acknowledged because they don't fit my narrow, pre-specified agenda. Now, I'm not one for New Year's resolutions (I prefer to sieze on my resolve whenever it dares peep over the parapet, rather than attempt to summon it forth on demand at specially-determined junctures). However, as 2012 rolls into 2013 I do perhaps have a New Year's prayer -- more to the tune of the Psalmists than of the Smiths: "Please, please, please, let me want what You want"....

[1] If you have the misfortune and/or the grace to consider yourself a friend of mine, be assured that I very much acknowledge all of the aforementioned problems to be of my own making and responsibility, and not of anyone else's. In between my attacks of self-pity and social anxiety I am repeatedly surprised and delighted by the kindness and patience so many of you seem willing to demonstrate. So -- thank you! love you! you're brilliant! -- and all the other expressions of genuine warmth and affection which I feel so sincerely and communicate so inadequately.

[2] I've never really cared much for The Smiths. I've heard them plenty over the years and not particularly understood what the fuss was about. But the right cocktail of environmental and emotional factors and I can find myself finding debatable levels of profundity and quality in all manner of music which would normally pass me by. So when the charmingly disobliging barmaid at the tiny, ramshackle, real-ale pub (with cats, and non-matching furniture, and a hoover propped against the bar, and different wallpaper on every wall, and a clientele that had barely changed since the 80s...) set the record player going and it happened to be The Smiths, I was instantly inordinately taken. It's OK, though, because certain compassionate associates have taken it upon themselves to supply the requisite supporting evidence for an expeditious disenchantment.

[3] That is not to say that I think it is wrong to ask for things which might not be 'right'. My take has always been that we can, and should, ask God for anything that we want... But we should be prepared to hear and receive the answer even if it's not 'yes'. Bringing our silly or our selfish desires before God is, at worst, to invite Him into those parts of our characters that foster silly or selfish ideas. What better opening for transformation and liberation? And sometimes we might even find that the desire isn't so silly after all... Either way, He knows our hearts better than we do, so there's no point trying to keep secrets, and talking to Him about whatever's going on in there is always better than not.


Anonymous said…
Next article - what to do with the odd socks? It's a great subject to explore in your many 'worlds' - how do we deal with oddness in ourselves and others - God seems to have a pretty good way of using the 'odd socks' to execute his purpose/plans. Discuss.
loving listening in to your 'rambles'

whilst reading it I thought I'd just share a quick thought on the verse you quoted
""Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart", sings David in the Psalms (Psalm 37:4)" I love this verse and read it as the desires of my heart will be the ones He gives me if I delight myself in Him. When I am prepared to put Him first and desire Him above anything else then the desires that I will find in my heart will be the ones He has suggested for me because he knows me and cares for me like no one else ever can. He knows actually what will be the best, most exciting, most fulfilling things that I can desire and when I put myself into His hands and delight in Him (not for what I can get but just because He's wonderful) then I will find that what I desire over everything else is what is from Him.
That probably reads as extreme ramble but I find it exciting. :D

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