Dealing with Unfulfilled Desires
"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4: 12 - 13
"For a long time I have not belonged to myself since I delivered myself totally to Jesus, and He is therefore free to do with me as He pleases." ~ St. Therese of Lisieux
Do you have unrealized desires? They have a way of burning up our insides, don't they? Perhaps you wish to be married, but year after year remain single. Or you wish for children, but remain childless. Or maybe you want to write books, but never make any headway.
Confusion and despair over unrealized desires feel the most intense when they seem natural and God-honoring. Doesn't the Lord want me to be married? Didn't He place in me this desire to be a pastor? Didn't God give me these gifts? So why do all the doors remain closed?
I've been noticing a theme lately in the stories of revered Christian heroes. Most of them had personal desires that were put on hold or even went completely unfulfilled - at least from the outside observer's perspective. Some of these desires seemed especially holy.
Take St. Martin of Tours for example. From an early age, this Christian convert's sole desire was to be a monk. But the laws in 4th century Rome required him to be a soldier - an occupation that did not suit him well. Even after the military finally released Martin, his plan to dedicate his life to solitary prayer never played out as he hoped. Martin's unique spiritual wisdom drew crowds to him and ultimately, the beloved monk was ordained a Bishop against his wishes.
St. Therese of Lisieux is another example. This French beauty from the 19th century longed to be a Carmelite nun and a missionary. While Therese's first desire came true at the early age of 15, her second never did. At 22, tuberculosis limited her to her French convent.
Why does God allow some desires to go unfulfilled? There's no simple answer to that question, however, I think it's fair to say that when good desires lay dormant, God does important work through us that might not otherwise have been possible. Paul articulates this when he is torn between two holy desires: a desire for heaven and a desire to continue to build up the Church on earth. Through eyes of faith, he sees how God can work through both outcomes.
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith Philippians 1: 23 - 25
The same peace we see in Paul can be found in the stories of countless Christians who set their personal preferences aside.
In her autobiography Story of a Soul, St. Therese reflected, "God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness aspire to holiness." Therese recognized that her earthly desires really boiled down to a desire for God, and while her personal limitations frustrated her, they did not limit God's work in her life. Therese spent her remaining two years on earth "in the mission fields" by praying for and corresponding with missionary priests who drew much strength from her support.
St. Martin of Tours also accepted God's calling with peace in his heart. He made an excellent Bishop in spite of his introverted ways. The key to his contentment? His love for God enabled him to love needy souls more than his solitary lifestyle.
While it's hard to accept that our personal desires sometimes have to be put on hold, it's also incredibly freeing. I think if you had a chance to speak with Paul, Therese, or Martin they'd all agree that life is much more fulfilling when the Creator of the Universe is in control instead of our little selves.
What desires can you hand over to Him today? What dreams have been put on hold in your life? Think of ways God has worked for good in your waiting. Write down one (or more) blessings you may not have received had your original dreams come true.
Sarah Phillips, Crosswalk.com’s Family Editor, embraced faith in Christ at an unlikely phase in her life: as a skeptical undergraduate at Virginia Tech. She now enjoys putting her VT English degree to use at the Salem Web Network by observing and reflecting on cultural trends, marriage, family life, and the human condition through the lens of Christianity. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband, Corey.