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 3 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



It has been three years since I sat in a dark bar on the dark side of town alone with a colleague, out for a drink to talk about writing and family and his failing marriage. It has been three years since he confessed to having a crush, his hand flitting like a fly on and off of my thigh. Three years since I laughed and blushed, stunned to be so openly admired by someone other than my husband. I didn’t know how to handle this advance, how to stand and stare down disaster before it could take root.


Instead, I wanted to be nice. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My “no” was mushy and clouded with desire—not for this other man but for this other man’s words, this other man’s advances, the unabashed expression of his desire for me. Me! Goofy and ridiculous me, flabby around the middle me, mother of three, me! “But I love my husband,” I said, again and again, with a grin, because I also loved to hear how beautiful this other man found me, how lovely, how smart, how good.


I would like to say that I stood up and slapped him. After all, he had just shook hands with my husband in our living room, just stood in the presence of all our wedding pictures and smiling faces of our children. I would like to say that I insisted he drive me home, immediately. I would like to say that every email conversation and text message from there on was strictly professional and never slid slyly into flirtatious, that I reported his advances to my supervisor and ended it, ended the confusing, terrifying, anxiety-inducing friendship and work relationship. But I didn’t.




This is a briar patch I’ve fallen into before, thorns scratching against my skin, even drawing blood. I get so tangled, the briars are so sharp and their hold is so fast, I’m not sure I’ll ever get out. It is scary and painful. It is dark and lonely. I am afraid to move for fear of being pricked but afraid not to move for fear of being consumed.


How long I’ve wanted to be desired and adored. I can trace it back to the kindergarten school bus, holding hands with some anonymous boy from my class. I can trace it back to playground tag, to middle school notebooks of names and initials doodled, to roller rink couple skates and amusement park packs of friends all walking with a flirtatious eye on another pack of the opposite sex, wondering, always wondering if they were looking, were they looking?


I wanted to be loved so much. I didn’t want to be alone.


For a season, this seemingly insatiable desire subsided. Brandon and I were married, and for eight years, I threw my passion into making babies. God had promised, delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. My whole-hearted desire was for love and connection, and I sought to achieve that fulfillment by way of my family. Through miscarriage and scary deliveries, through NICU visits and D&Cs, through the sad losses of four and miraculous births of three we achieved, Brandon and I, the finality of our family.


After our last son was born, I wrote:




There is nothing

between us now,


No guilt about too soon,

no shame before

the wedding day,

no hope for babies,

no fear of losing new life,

no grief after it’s lost,

no infertile anxiety,

no baby taking up

space between our bodies,

no infant crying,

baby monitor muted,

bedroom door locked,

no sheets, no clothes, no air.


It had been eight years of baby making, and now I was my own body again, not carrier of potential new life all of the time. I had my body back. From there forward it would be us, intimate and alive, together as man and wife, mother and father. There was nothing between us now, nothing to separate us. The empty spaces I thought would stay filled up once we had children, they were still there. Emptying and emptying.


Jesus tells this crazy parable about impure spirits. He says, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation”.


I imagine our marriages sometimes turn into foreclosures in the country. Grasses, vines, and briars swallow the house, slowly gripping its foundation and crumbling the concrete that held it up. Without regular maintenance and attention to the structure, all things degenerate and are consumed, governed only by the laws of nature.


The marriage left unmaintained by both parties is vulnerable to these spirits. We might think we’re invincible and untouchable, that our love and our vows will be enough—after all, we built this house!—but it is not enough. The minute I think that it will never happen to me, the roof starts to leak. It starts slow, the degeneration. You might not even notice that patch of mold, that creeping vine, until it takes over.


It is not enough to kick out the demon or turn away from the temptation. It is not enough to drive away desire and sweep the house clean. Something better needs to move in, or else risk being taken over.


Either we fill ourselves with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, or we will be filled with sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Galatians somethin’ somethin’.)


Them’s fightin’ words. I flinch at my reflection.


Empty Houses | Off the Page


It shouldn’t be so hard, to love the ones you’re with, but it is. It’s a constant laying down of self in order to tend to the other. Who doesn’t love the idea of love, the idea of patience and kindness, honor, protection, trust, hope, and all of that? But love itself, love that perseveres, love that never fails? This house is in constant need of maintenance.


Sweep clean the house. Tear out the briars. And then, plant the fruit of the spirit. Plant Christ in the middle, in the garden of everlasting love, and love one another.



This Part 3 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