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 4 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’s tempting to conclude this series on desire with the pattest of pat answers: If I were truly holy and pursuing God, this fire would be quenched and I would never again face the dichotomy of flesh and spirit, as if my body is evil and my spirit is good.


Except God made me, body and spirit. Adam needed a helpmate and so he was given Eve, before the Fall, before separation from God. Sarah needs a helpmate and so she is given Brandon.


We are made for connection, with God and with others. This connection is rooted in two things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.


If God is love and we learn to love God by watching Jesus, then loving our neighbors as ourselves is one of the only ways we can express and experience that love for ourselves. It’s a give-and-get kind of relationship, a pay it forward, a pouring out to be filled again and again.


What it means to love God and to love others is to turn our eyes from what we feel we need in order to be filled and look outward upon the world and those who are in our worlds, and delight in them. Delight yourself in the Lord, he says, and he shall grant you the desires of your heart.


We all long to be filled, and when you are running on empty, the temptation is to be filled with anything, whether it is good and real and true and beautiful or bad and fake and false and ugly. Pornography, harlequin romances, online flirtations, over-indulgence in alcohol or drugs, obsessions, the idol of work and busyness, the idleness of distractions (ahem, Facebook) and more are our desperate attempts to fill that deep need in a quick and easy but empty and meaningless way, void of real connection with others and with God.


I know! I know! It sucks! Why are relationships so hard?!


My husband and I had fallen into the routine of our lives—after nine years, who doesn’t wear out from the same old patterns, who doesn’t grow tired of trying all of the time? We had begun to take each other for granted. Sometimes one of us would reach across the gap. Sometimes we sat next to each other on the couch and stared at our individual screens, never engaging. And sometimes our marriage was amazing.


We hit roller coaster highs, weekends away and dinners out and conversations after the kids went to bed and all kinds of sexy time in between the sheets, we had inside jokes and songs and movie lines, we could finish each other’s sentences and predict the way the other might react, the buttons to push, the buttons to avoid.


We love each other. We love God. And yet there’s still threats, still weakness, still temptations.


John Milton, in Paradise Lost, begins the sequence before the temptation in the garden with these lines:


The wife, where danger or dishonor lurks

Safest and seemliest by her husband stays

Who guards her, or with her the worst endures.


Desire leads me two directions: toward goodness and purity and love and beauty, toward holiness and peace and rest and safety, into the arms of my husband, into the freedom and peace of Christ. Or away. Away to the quick and hungry, the ghastly sweet places where the right words or actions come from the wrong sources.


In the book of Hosea, a woman named Gomer turns away from God and away from her husband. She tries to find comfort elsewhere, and instead, she finds barrenness. A wall of thorns. That hunt for satisfaction leaves her ruined, stripped of contentment and empty. Her festivals and celebrations are over, her joy in life is squelched.


I have felt this way. I have fallen into the briar patch. I have scrambled out of the briar patch and into drought. I have driven out the demons and stood empty. Foreclosed. Unclean spirits scurrying to fill the gaping holes.


But my God is a merciful God, and my husband is a man after God’s heart. In Hosea 2, God tells Hosea how he must speak tenderly to this wife. He must betroth her to him. She will acknowledge him. And she will again be fruitful.


“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”


It is a metaphor for God’s love for His people. But in order for a metaphor to have power, the story in literal form must also be true: there is a real Gomer. There is a real Hosea. There is real betrayal, real brokenness, real mercy, and real forgiveness. There is the kind of love and grace that declares I love you, unconditionally, even though you have hurt me deeply. I love you in your remorse and in your gratitude. I love you in your pain and in your joy. Remember that whole “for better or for worse” bit? Here it is.


This is so hard! But friend, it is so worth it. It is worth the risk of vulnerability to show your true self, to confess and to receive that confession, to show your hurt and to be sorry for causing that hurt. To give mercy. To receive mercy. It is the very fuel of love, as hard as it is, but I know no greater direct link to deep intimacy and connection than this: to forgive and to be forgiven, to love and to be beloved.


The Directions Desires Take Us | Off the Page


By planting each other in this garden and tending this relationship, hedging in each other with each other’s love, the briar patches will have no room to grow, the thorns are sent to the corners. Because you tell each other everything, now, when the thorns start to climb again, your partner can be there in a hurry to guard you, or with you the worst endure.



This Part 4 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