How many of us have found ourselves, standing high on our tiptoes and straining with all our might, peering over the fence we stand behind, desperate to see what’s on the other side? Whether our fence is our marriage, our work, our faith, our friendships or relationships, what is on the other side sometimes seems so uniquely appealing. The other side is uncharted territory, brimming with adventure and intrigue. We become entranced and our minds create the reality we think the vision before us will provide. The longer we gaze over the fence, the more we are pulled in, and our eyes and ears become increasingly blind and deaf to what we leave behind.
Desire, the main theme of the book Fill These Hearts by Christopher West, is a real treasure trove of insights into our yearnings as humans. Drawing on his own experiences, the lives of the saints, and Catholic contemporaries, West gives us much food for thought. “Our life is a gymnasium of desire,” said St. Augustine, who knew well the struggle of our human hearts. “There is no escape from the burning desire within us for the true, the good, the beautiful,” states Fr. Peter Cameron. “The burning yearning for ‘what is real’ is incorporated into our design. This burning can lead either to the torment of pain or the torrent of love. It will either consume us or consummate us.”
So what do we do with this burning desire? Some search for it everywhere, desperately hoping they’ll find it and be content. It’s reflected in our culture – music, art, books, movies, tv, advertising, etc., that either tout the “fix” we need or lament our “broken” condition. Some, having given up the futile searching, turn desire into a thing to be despised. Fr. Tugwell knows the danger that thinking can create, “Though we may, from time to time, have to brake firmly to stop ourselves rushing headlong into silly satisfactions… we must not make braking a whole way of life. It is more important, eventually, to know how to say ‘yes’ to a desire, than to know how to say ‘no.’ At the end we shall have to surrender ourselves utterly and recklessly and without any inhibition to the overwhelming attractiveness of God.”
Ultimately, therein lies the answer to our desires….in the overwhelming attractiveness of God. G.K. Chesterton expressed it well, “And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.” And run wild we can. Many saints have spoken of “divine madness” or “holy intoxication.” We are wired by God to desire and to desire boldly. In the words of St. Therese, “I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire.” The emptiness we feel is our longing and desire for Him. That emptiness must be there, for without it, we wouldn’t seek Him. “The ‘wanting him to fill it’ becomes our most ardent desire, out most ardent hope. It is that living hope which enables us to bear with the torments of our yearning in this life.” (Christopher West, Fill These Hearts)
So, again, what do we do with this burning desire? Let it become our prayer. “Desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.” (St. Augustine) “It is ‘not with the noise of words’ that God hears us”, says St. Teresa of Avila, “but with longing.”
The grass is infinitely sweeter on the other side of the fence, but that fence is what separates us from the divine. While jumping over the fences of this world may be tempting, what is written on our hearts is jumping over the fence into His greener pastures, where we can truly run wild.
I want to run on greener pasturesHeaven Song by Phil Wickham
I want to dance on higher hills
I want to drink from sweeter waters
In the misty morning chill
And my soul is getting restless
For the place where I belong
I can’t wait to join the angels and sing my heaven song
What fences are you peering over? What on the other side seems so appealing? What is behind you on your side of the fence? What are you not seeing that is there?
Take this time to reflect on what God is trying to show you on your own side of the fence, even if it doesn’t seem very green right now. He will water it with grace, if you let Him.