Born and raised in Southwest China, I loved reading European classical fairy tales. I loved so much the illustrations of the styles of Victorian or Baroque palaces and houses that I eagerly learned to mimic them with pencil and paper.
I also dreamed about playing the piano, but my dad brought home a second hand Guzheng— a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, which was more accessible than a piano for us. However, I was not fond of the feeling of plucking strings to play on Guzheng. So I gave it up before I could sketch the sleeping beauty trapped in her palace.
I didn’t know what I loved or disliked in my childhood said about me. But I knew the first time I landed in Europe– the hometown of all my fairy tales, at Geneva International Airport, some part of my dream came alive.
Since becoming a Christian at the age of 19 and committed to a full-time ministry at 22, I had heard so many talks from Christian leaders about “laying down oneself and desires.” So I pressed my desires down to the bottom of my heart, trying to only focus on the big vision of “extending the Kingdom of God on earth”. Several years into chasing that vision, I felt incredibly empty inside.
After my dad passed away on that winter school holiday when I was 17, I tried to press down my emotions and pretend nothing had happened as I went to school for the new semester. On that first day back to school, I tried hard to be normal, staying focused in class and talking to classmates.
One class that morning required reading in the library. I randomly picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages. When my gaze landed on a title with the word “father” in it, my tears immediately welled up and rushed down my face uncontrollably. I realised that nothing was normal.
The next day, I read a short English article on the English reading test. It said something like this: “If we try to hide the negative emotions, it would be like hiding bananas in a cupboard, closing the door and pretending they weren’t there. However, a few days later, the bananas will be rotten inside the cupboard, and the bad smell will attract many fruit flies.” I understood for the first time pretending and pressing down my feeling of grief was a bad idea.
Similarly, our desires can’t be hidden for too long, or we will feel dry and empty inside.
Desires can be eternally beautiful and terrifying. Before I was a Christian, I was the master of myself without a King of my soul. My passions had led me to some vain and harmful things. When I received the forgiveness of Christ and His atonement for my sins, God gave me a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 36:26-27). Living in this new faith day by day, my desires were changing and renewed.
However, because of the destructive misleading of my old desires and my superficial understanding of the teaching about “laying down oneself”, I was terrified to admit that I had any desire other than “living for God”.
I’ve come to understand that “laying down your desires” isn’t about suppressing our redeemed desires but placing them in the right place in surrender to the lordship of Christ. And, before putting them where they should be, we should first name them.
I had to learn to push aside my fear, take a deep dive to the bottom of my heart, look at my desires in their faces and call them out by name.
What do I desire? What makes me come alive? I realised it comes back to what I loved doing as a child. Our childhood hobbies often give a hint to our design and speak of our desires. They are most likely the things we are meant to do as an adult to feel alive.
In speaking of Christ, John 1:4 says: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (ESV)
One of the most important Early Church Fathers of the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus of Lyon, wrote, “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.” In other words, the glory of God is man fully alive.”
It turns out that our desires are the paths leading to becoming the most authentic selves, fully alive in Christ, reflecting the glory of God.
As a little girl who lived in her classical fairy tales most days, I was fascinated by everything European. Now, I live in Europe with my family, doing what makes me feel alive — writing, painting, and learning to play the piano— as my desires hinted at by my childhood hobbies and dreams. I feel like I’ve finally found my wings.
It’s one thing to name our desires and another thing to have them met in the right way. But that’s for another post or a book.
If you feel stuck or deeply unsatisfied today, my friend, I want you to take out a pen and a piece of paper and write down your desires. However many or few they are, give each one of them a name. And trust, they matter deeply to God, for His glory.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37: 4)
( This article is inspired by Emily P Freeman’s book: A Million Little Ways, Chapter 3 )