A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Does What I Want Matter? On Desire, Dreams, and Ambition as a Christian

It had been one of those days.  I was trying to stomach a failure of mine in my job, and I sat at the kitchen table with my husband, shaking my head. I explained that this past year, one of God’s key messages for me seemed this idea of making “no graven image”. I had to be really careful, I told him, not to remake God as “the God of what I want”–that Divine Waiter I wrote you about.

But my husband’s hazel eyes leveled with my blue ones. “I think you also have to be careful not to make an image of Him as the God who represents whatever you don’t want.”


He’s not that far off. After all, he met me back in college. In those days–back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we were all newly on dial-up internet–I lived by the general rule that if I didn’t want to do something, I should probably do it. If  I didn’t want to talk with someone, I’d go overboard to build a relationship. If I wanted to chill, I made sure there was nothing else productive or meaningful I could possibly be doing. I exercised; I fasted; I packed my free time with ministry opportunities.

And there’s some merit to this, right? Galatians 2:20 was my verse. I was all about dying to self. I liked John 3:30, too: He must become greater, I must become less. If I wanted it, it probably needed to be severely curbed. (Is this the point I should mention my abilities in self-denial produced a near eating disorder? …Probably not.)

Of course it got a little hairy that at a Christian college, this people-pleaser found a lot of voices intoning what I should do. (To this day, when I’m stressed, my husband occasionally points out I’m using the word “should” a lot.) But then there was my Comparative Religions class, that pointed out it’s actually Buddhism that sees death to desire as its nirvana.


I’m reminded of God’s words to the Israelites:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Deuteronomy 8:3

Did you hear it? Did you hear how God created desire in them, just to create space for Him to fill it? God is the creator of passion, of dreams, of hunger, of thirst. Because He’s also the Bread of Life; the Living Water.

I like what blogger Larissa Marks writes in her post, Permission to Want and Desire:

What if God has deposited your deepest desires into you? What if he designed you to know him more intimately in those desires? Consider the reality that Jesus often asked that very question: What do you want? What do you want me to do for you?

(See more thoughts on hope and longing in this post.)

Humility is not a fabric softener on our aspirations–smoothing, softening, and tempering our dreams to the point we’re too modest to reach for anything.

This ability to perceive, prize, and pursue is part of our essential humanness, and it’s the essence of ambition…

God has incited your interest because God wants to speak to you.

Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

I’m reminded of this constant tension within us between our two natures: Image-bearer of God, and Infected with Sin. I like the (non-biblical) parable form of this:

An old grandfather told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery.”

The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”


So I believe the challenge with our desire isn’t that it’s categorically bad, but that it’s both. Both wolves are clamoring to be fed. (Paul communicates this beautifully.) The challenge is identifying which wolf is which, right?

We are self-centered, but we always carry with us abundant proof that this is not the whole truth about our nature.

….The image of God–the image of holiness and love–is still there, though defaced.

William Temple, bishop in the Church of England

God gives us creative choices; works through our desires (otherwise, we’d never eat, never get married, never shower)–as well as freeing us from their chains. Our lusts are maniacally clever, with Satan actually portraying himself as an angel of light. We know Paul’s words: My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent (1 Cor. 4:4).

Truth: If we don’t acknowledge what we truly want–even wrongly want–we allow those desires power to subtly manipulate us. We can even “Christianize” our lusts. As Donald Whitney writes, One way to clarify your spirituality is to clarify your ambition.

Desire, Pixelated

To use a separate analogy, imagine looking through a magnifying glass at a black-and-white magazine photo. What looks like a “black” portion may actually be full of pixels black, gray, and white. We have to look more closely to scrupulously sort the black from the gray and the white.

Jesus’ gut-level prayer in Gethsemane reveals that not even He could tell the difference from His position on earth.  So He simply presented His desire, and asked God to do what He wanted more than what Jesus wanted:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” It’s the model to plaster before our eyes, right? Here’s what I want. But my hands are open. I can’t see like You can. Your will is the one that needs to happen here. That’s what I want most.


God’s plan works through our choices, not around or despite them. Our choices have consequences, and we are never forced by God to do anything–we always do what we most what to do. God works out his will perfectly through our willing actions.

Timothy Keller* (emphasis added)

Like this post? You might like

For the Day You Feel Powerless: On Hope and Longing

Serving in Your Sweet Spot? 

“That’s Not Who You Are”

On God and the Dreams of Women


*Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.

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“It’s Around Here Somewhere”: On Looking for Joy–and Fighting to See

fight to see joy

Blogging about your personal life can be a little weird.

See, I’m hovering around the six-month mark of our move back to the U.S. from Africa. And when I’m truthful, this last month in particular has been a low point I haven’t hit in a long time. I wonder sometimes about what’s appropriate to share. I believe it’s Brene Brown who says she thinks it’s okay to be vulnerable on a larger scale if first she’s been vulnerable with those close to her. Yet there was also a point  last year where I was like, All of this cyber-honesty is making my blog a real downer. All I need is a few posts about puppy mills and cancer and we’ll be all set!

But a common thread through all of these ideas on practical spirituality and relationships is, yes, the story God’s writing around me. Hence the classification “blog”. So I thought I’d let you peek in on my curious occupation this past week.

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My #Blessed Life? On Developing-world Countries and the American Dream

#blessed money prosperity
You guys know I’m not big into getting political. Promise I’ll try hard not to go all soapbox-y on you. Yet I gotta admit: I was pretty hot under the collar last week over some rumored comments regarding African nations like the beautiful one I raised my kids in. In my gratitude for this place, with its remarkable people and so much to offer the world–people who’ve changed my life–I was more than a wee bit appalled.

I admit to thinking something like, REALLY? 

And maybe some other things that were not so generous nor gracious.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 11 Super-simple Ideas to Encourage Confession (FREE Printable!)

Missed the earlier posts in this series? Get ’em here.

One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.

Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.

I’ve thought about Sarah’s insistent words a lot lately, because I see them in myself: I did not laugh. We so naturally want to avoid shame’s nakedness like the plague. (See this all-time top post on shame-parenting vs. guilt exposure.)

I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.

But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?

THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.

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Guest Post: Raising Kids on a Mission

She was already cuddled up for the night beneath her comforter, pillows blooming around her olive skin. While I perched beside her, we spent a minute chatting about her favorite teacher.

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A Body Good, Part II: Soul-questions before I Begin (…or Quit) My Workout Routine

body image good soul-questions

This is one of those posts where I’ve still got so many issues that I wonder if I should be writing it in the first place (possibly passing on my corrupted thoughts to all of you?). Body image and I have a long and gnarly history. (See the first post of this series, A Body Good: Naked Truth about Body Image…and this one.) I still wrestle with it in real-time, so consider this a post of someone thinking out loud.

In my recent conversations with Western women, I’m getting the idea that I’m sadly far from alone. Body image certainly influences our confidence. The way we spend our time. Our sexuality and marriages.

I think it paralyzes us more than we realize.

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7 Journaling Prompts for a New Year of the Soul–and a Freer 2018

New Year Soul Journaling
My son asked me today about my New Year’s resolutions.

Weeell…I’m not really the resolution type. But I told him I do like the new year for new beginnings. For reevaluating, for seeing with fresh eyes and finding some intentionality in things that can run away from me in the tyranny of the urgent. (In the past couple of years at this time, I’ve shared ideas and questions to take your relationships to the next level, and some questions to bring your relationship with God to the next level, too.)


Maybe you still have a day or two of holiday time left. If so, I hope these journal prompts (designed for you to “prink” over–that’s pray and think) can help breathe some fresh air into your soul in 2018. Maybe you won’t know all the answers to these, and they need to rattle around in your head awhile.  

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New Year’s 2018: When You’re Hoping for Hope

He must have been two, I think, when it happened: back when his cheeks still looked like he was storing up nuts for winter. The store’s fluorescent lights buzzed above, and it must have been the time of year that the air conditioning was running full-blast there in the South. I was pregnant with our third, and making one of those fly-bys mothers of young children perform in a store when they have to look at a rack before one of her kids starts crying, whining, distracting, throwing things out of the cart or into the cart–you get the idea. The store wasn’t busy. Which must have been the reason I lifted him out to explore for a moment.


But in just that span of time, he was also…gone.

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Best of the Best: Top 10 Posts of 2017!

My family, 2017

I gotta tell you guys: Blogging’s a humbling venture. Sometimes it’s like sending a piece of my heart into cyberspace, and just trusting God to do whatever he wants with it. Sometimes it’s less than I hope; sometimes it’s far more. My husband reminds me that instead of numbers, I can look at the hours of worship God is hopefully generating. He’s continued to do more than I imagined even through a tough year.

But really, this is the part where I get to finally thank you, readers. So many of you, I don’t know–and yet you continue to care about these things along with me. Thanks for caring about the relationships that matter most, and for sharing these posts with people you care about. Here were the posts that resonated most with you this year.

  1. Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families series: We don’t just have fun spiritual stuff for kids to compete with Nickelodeon. We want them to pursue God out of pleasure they’ve already enjoyed with Him. Topics from this year: ServiceFastingStudySharing our Faith (Evangelism)Simplicity, Hospitality, Praise, and Submission and Respect.
  2. ADHD and What Works for Us: Tips, tactics–and hope: Coralling ADHD can make a girl want to take a bat to her soup tureen. But with perseverance, help, & discipline, it’s also vibrant and full of depth.
  3. He Loves Me, He Loves Me NotDo you remember the moment that first made you wonder if He truly loved you? This year—or, just today—what makes you afraid?
  4. On God and the Dreams of Women: After all the years of setting dreams aside for the dream that is loving a family, I wondered why I seemed to hold in my hand the short straw.
  5. A Mountain of [Surprising] Reasons to Get Our Kids Outdoors this Summer (…and Maybe Follow Them):Outdoors–the God-art we live within—changes us. And it changes our kids. Here are five reasons to boot our kids outdoors this summer…and maybe follow them.
  6. How am I supposed to have joy when my world’s a wreck? What in the world does “joy” in hard times mean? What’s joy look like when the edges of your world curl black?
  7. 11 Ideas toward More Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting: Here, I’ve compiled some new and best-of ideas to offer all of us a head start on more whole parenting. Never underestimate the impact of a healthy home.
  8. Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #1-4 and #5-7Think of these as gold keys to the future, getting kids into a lot of places! Sadly, without them–some doors are shut. In the first post: phone skills, table manners with a guest, conflict resolution, greeting. Then, gratitude, poise, and respect.
  9. The Broken Heart: On Leaving AfricaI’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.
  10. I’d Rather Be Whining: Complaining vs. Healthy, Honest ExpressionIn two words: unbelief and entitlement. Here’s how I boil down the difference between complaining and just speaking the truth in love.

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Holiday Rerun: Tackling My Inner Grinch

Ever feel like your heart’s two sizes too small for the Christmas season?

I may have recently given my radio the stinkeye for its heartfelt counsel for me to have a holly-jolly Christmas this year, when I really felt like sulking, washed down with a swig of wassail and one of those little chocolate-dipped pretzels with sprinkles.

The Grinch stealing Christmas stockings

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