What is this thing in both men and women that longs for love, respect, and attention, where does it come from and why does it get so screwed up? Sarah Wells writes about her journey and how Jackson Browne, War and Peace, empty houses, and John Milton influenced her understanding of desire.

This Part 1 of a four part series on our Desire to Be Desired. Access the rest of the series here:

The Desire to be Desired | What Good Guys Do | Empty HousesThe Directions Desire Can Take Us



I ran as fast as I could through the wood chips and up the wooden steps and beckoned from the highest point of the playground equipment. “You can’t catch me!” I shouted, grinning and staring down into the faces of Nick Germano and Jason Ream, and when they motioned for the steps, I squealed and giggled, sliding half-way down the stainless steel slide, its hot metal burning my hands and thighs. I stopped and waited to see which way they chose to go so I could make my break-away run, away from my chasers.


So went every day on the playground in first grade, then second, then third, sometimes different boys, eventually new playgrounds, but always the same game. Tag, freeze tag, TV tag, hide-and-go-seek tag, You can’t catch me! No one wanted to be caught, not really, anyway. What would you do when you were caught? That was the end of the game, the end of the chase. The thrill was in the running, the pursuit, the simple and potent knowledge that someone sought to catch you.


I watch it now from my living room window, the same game of my childhood enacted between the neighbor kids and mine. They dart in between the trees, they scream time-out and leap onto the deck, they laugh. Some of them handle the chase well; my daughter happily takes up the role of chaser until she tags her younger brother, but when it is his turn to be the chaser, his sprint slackens to a crawl. He slouches. He pouts. He doesn’t want to be the one to chase after someone else. He wants to be pursued. The game ends with him walking away, head down, shoulders hunched. His sister chases after him calling his name, beckoning him back to play the game again, and there it is. He’s gotten his wish—to be pursued again. He turns quick on his heel and leaps after her, grabbing her shirt sleeve and shouting, “You’re it!” The game resumes again with giggles and squeals and arched backs aching to stay just a few inches out of reach, close enough to be attainable but far enough to be safe, not “it.”


I am safe inside, caught contentedly by my husband of almost 12 years, the dart and dodge and tease and chase far in our past. We look together into the uncertainty of all of that running and sigh, “Thank God we don’t have to do that anymore.”


There are moments, though, when the desire rises up inside again, the desire to be chased, the desire to be pursued, the desire to be desired.


The Desire to be Desired | Off the Page



We all want to be desired, male and female, son and daughter, man and wife. I want to know that I am worthy of pursuit, that I am worthy of love, that I am worthy of someone’s attention.


When someone takes the time to keep pursuing you—even after you’ve been “caught,” say, in marriage—they answer that deep need for appreciation, affection, and love. That need we have is the latchkey that grants the one who is trustworthy entrance into our most sacred space. (“She’s got a secret garden” just started playing in my head.)


To need and to ask for that continual pursuit from a spouse or partner or lover or parent is exhausting, though. It doesn’t ever seem enough.


I’d like to blame Adam and Eve and the Fall, as if because one man and one woman stepped into disobedience the whole world is now condemned to be in a constant state of longing. That’s an awful big burden for two people to carry. But even before that, Adam longed for a suitable helper. Even before Adam, God created. Was God lonely? No, I doubt that. Perhaps there’s something in God’s nature, too, that desires to be known.


Whether you believe in a real Adam and Eve, or think of the Garden as myth, whether there was an actual Fall or that this is only the Creation story we Christians tell ourselves, the beginning of Genesis is one explanation for how we have become separate from God, and how we spend all of our lives pursuing him, being pursued by him, trying to satisfy the god-sized hunger (cue Jackson Browne) however we can, with whoever we can, with whatever we can find, if it isn’t God we discover.


You can’t catch me!


But that’s what we want, isn’t it? To be caught in the embrace of love and adoration? To rest in the security, after the chase, that we will always be loved and cared for, that we will be “loved with an everlasting love”?


Why else would the God of the Universe make these declarations to us throughout the Bible, except that he knows his creation, he knows our longings, and he wants us to be filled. God created us in his likeness. God knows this desire in us.


“There is a God-sized hunger underneath the laughter and the rage,” sings Jackson Browne. He placed it there, didn’t he, that God of ours? This desire to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, it is physical down to the cellular level, it is intellectual and emotional and spiritual, this hunger, worldly and otherworldly. We chase and want to be chased because it is a motion of love, to be desired this way, and when we chase and are chased, we enact the greatest pursuit of man, to know and to be known by God, to love and to be loved.


Tag, you’re it.



This Part 1 of a four part series on our Desire to Be Desired. Access the rest of the series here:

The Desire to be Desired | What Good Guys Do | Empty HousesThe Directions Desire Can Take Us