Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith
Why I picked up this book:
This book is authored by Jen Pollock Michel of the Redbud Writer’s Guild in which I am a member, so I try to support these women as I am able. Additionally, I thought, “A book about desire and being a Christian. Who writes about that? Is it even allowed?” I was intrigued.
Who Should Read Teach Us to Want:
This is a liberating book…I don’t mean liberating in an embrace “feminism and run to the hills” type of way. The book frees readers from the shame and guilt that sometimes accompanies our desires, even the good ones. It’s a beautiful gift to the universal church, and is beneficial for anyone who is wondering, “Is it okay to want? Does God care about my desires?”
What’s in Store for You:
In addition to sharing personal stories of conviction, triumphs, and failures, Jen’s book is surprisingly theological. You will wrestle with the Word and what we have grown to accept about our desires, and that’s a good thing. Much of her theological reflection centers on the Lord’s Prayer. This is also a book that embraces the spiritual disciplines of prayer, confession, and community. Throughout it, Jen takes us on a journey of pondering:
- How might our desires draw us closer to God?
- How do we respond faithfully when we feel that a desire of our heart has been denied?
- What is the relationship between desire, obedience and holiness?
From the beginning, she acknowledges:
“We’re asking not just What do I want? but Is what I want right? We’re interested in congruence: Is what I want what God wants for me? Am I following God’s will? (pg. 43)”
Asking these questions over and over again will help in our contradictions, and free us from the hypocrisy of what we claim to know and what we actually desire. Christ has come to make all things new! Therefore, “the redemption of desire is an infinitely bigger project than making sure Christians toe moral lines and recite right doctrines. Unfortunately, as the Pharisees prove, we can be virtuous and theological—without having ever loved (pg. 59).”
The idea is not that we want to reject our desires, but rather, we need God’s help to want rightly.
My personal take-aways?
There were two quotes that stood out and demanded that I question my longing, ambition, and the life of faith:
- On being an abandoned woman:
“When a woman has lived so long abandoning the impossibilities of desire, it is not easy to pick it up again (98).”
With the exception of a few life experiences, I have not suffered the pain of abandonment. I do know from my personal life and from a life of ministry to women, however, that by-in-large women spend much of our lives laying stuff down. Some of this “laying down” is the work of Christ in us. After all, Christ revealed his love to us by laying down his life for our sake, therefore, we are called to lay down our lives for the sake of others (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16)). We lay down our lives for our spouses. We lay down our lives for our children. We lay down our lives for those who have expectations at work, at church, at school…We lay down!
My growing concern is in the midst of all that “laying down,” women are not finding Christ. On the contrary, we are without question yielding to all the desires of others which leads to schizophrenic thought of martyrdom or Savior complexes, or feelings of anger, disappointment, guilt, and shame. We have abandoned our own desires because of the fundamental belief that embracing those desires are selfish, unholy, and unlike Christ.
Christ did not abandon all desire. When he was hungry, he ate. When he needed his friends, he asked for them (Matt. 26:37-38). He understood his authority and did what he wanted (John 10:17-18). What we see in Christ is not simply a perfect life of abandoned desires. We see a committed life to the ultimate desire of doing his Father’s will (Luke 22:42, John 6:38 and John 4:34).
Because of fear, we stuff or abandon the impossibilities of our desire, and in so doing, we can miss God and lose ourselves. Being a disciple of Christ demands, however, that we consider: What is God’s will for my life? How can my desire be aligned to God’s will?
- On becoming a brave woman:
This book has encouraged me to be brave. There are things I want to write that I have put off because of fear. Then Jen wrote:
“Brave is the only way to write, and brave is the only way to pray (122).”
By the grace of God, therefore, I have committed to write and pray more boldly.
The truth is: The divine power of God has given us everything we need to live a life of godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Pet. 1:3). The power of the Holy Spirit is at work, even now, to empower us—our entire being individually and collectively—to live in a manner that pleases God. “Our desires say something about us—who are have been, who we are and who we are becoming. They tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy (190).”
Teach Us to Want: “Desire is primal: to be human is to want.” @Jenpmichel
Teach Us to Want: “Desire, if it is to be made holy, must remain committed to truth.” @Jenpmichel
Teach Us to Want: “Brave is she who owns her story of desire.” @Jenpmichel
“The simple question, ‘What do I want? Can lead to important change (43).” With a few other brave souls, I took the plunge and dared to answer that question on Jen’s blog: My answer.
So, what do you want?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015
3 thoughts on “Book Review: Teach Us to Want”
Thank you for your honesty about the “secure” financial life you tried to build. That approach to finance is promoted as the only responsible one, which creates a quandary for Christians. The inspiring stories in scripture do not usually follow the model of Joseph’s advice to lay up grain in barns against a prophesied famine, which is not to deny that approach has its place. However, following in the steps of Jesus seems more often to involve risk, including huge financial risk– the important but less-well-paying job; the giving and sharing of what little one has; the trusting that God will somehow provide when the usual source of income falters or fails; or the faith mission such as George Muller’s huge orphanage for children in Bristol, England founded at precisely the time Charles Dickens was exposing the destitution of the poor http://mullers.org/timeline#year-1837.
Thank you for reviewing this book. I’d heard of it, and actually wrote on my personal development plan for this year that I would read it. But I’d put it off until I read your review and response. Thanks for sharing so openly both your thoughts about desire and your story!
Thanks for reading, Kara. Glad this one is on your reading list! It is so worth it. Come back and dialog as you are going through. 😉