"Both what you run away from – and yearn for – is within you." These words by Anthony de Mello S.J. reveal that deep desires and deep fears that are intimately interwoven in the depths of the human heart.
There are two currents: First our deep desires, implanted in us by God, draw us toward fulfillment of our personal vocations and deeper relationship with God. “I desire to help those in need,” “I desire to use my gifts to their fullest,” “I desire to be connected to other people in meaningful ways.” etc.
Deep fears, however, draw us away from God and our truest selves. Our fears can sound like painful experiences of self-doubt. “Maybe I’m not meant for this,” “maybe I don’t have what it takes,” “maybe I am not worthy enough to have it,” “what is wrong with me?”
The difficult part is trying to identify from which source we are motivated. For example, I may really want a leadership position. Does that want comes from a deep desire to use my talents in service to others or a fear of not being in control or not being esteemed? Or, I may want to get married someday. The question is if that want comes from a deeper desire to be intimately connected to another person in a love relationship or a deep fear of being alone or unloved.
St. Ignatius strongly advocated for attention to our desires. In paying attention, we can discern more clearly how God is active in our lives and where God is calling us. Awareness can ultimately lead to empowering that desires that come from God and rejecting the fears that are not from God.
The meeting, The Voice of God, explores related concepts and might be helpful to review.
Ask for the grace to be able to articulate our authentic fears as well as be able to name the deeper desires that are at the heart of them.
Was there a time this week when you felt either afraid of something or strongly drawn to something?
Invite the group to break into partners and read the passage “Our Desires and God’s Desires” by John Neafsey.
Afterward, invite members to share in pairs about their reflections on the reading as well as the questions that follow in the Listening section. Encourage members to pray for the grace of openness and honesty as they share in their pairs.
- What words or phrases stand out to you from the reading? What do they elicit within you?
- Share one fear and see if you are able to articulate an underlying desire. If you are unable to name anything, take some moments in silence and listen. See if anything surfaces. Then, have the other partner share.
- How do you feel when you are listening to your fears? How do you feel when you are listening to your deep desires?
- Do the things you’ve shared have anything in common?
Invite the group to regather, then ask someone to read “An Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves.” Follow the story with a few moments of silence for reflection, then lead discussion with the points in Listening Deeper.
- How does the Cherokee tale resonate with some themes shared in your partner conversations?
- Where do we find ease or challenge in the feeding of our two wolves?
- How do we feel when we feed the Good Wolf? How do we feel when we feed the Evil Wolf?
- Where do we sense an invitation (individually and communally) to respond to these voices in your daily experience? How can the group help one another be accountable to one another? (Consider encouraging the pairs that met earlier to be accountable to one another this week.)
When you feel a fear arise in the coming week, take notice of it as if you were an outsider gazing upon it through a window. Look upon your fear with compassion and ask God to look at it with you. Listen.
Loving God, help us to see our desires as pathways to you. Help us to embrace and befriend them as holy and sacred. When we hold them up to the light, they remain in truth and they are intertwined in our very being and give us energy. Help us to also recognize and befriend our fears so that they no longer have power over us. Help us to be gentle with ourselves in these moments and be drawn into greater trust of your promise. May we rest in knowing that you will fulfill our desires beyond our wildest imagination if we only make ourselves available to your workings. Amen.
“We recognize particularly the necessity of prayer and discernment, personal and communal, of the daily examination of consciousness and of spiritual guidance as important means for seeking and finding God in all things.” (CLC-USA General Principles #5)
“For St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Society of Jesus, desires were an important way to discover one’s vocation. Your desires—not your surface needs, but your heartfelt desires—were one indication of the way that God was drawing you to happiness.” (James Martin S.J., “Be Who You Is”)
“We ought to desire and choose only that which is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” (Spiritual Exercises )
But the Lord said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey… Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God answered: I will be with you…” Exodus 3:7-12
After arresting him they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. When a maid saw him seated in the light, she looked intently at him and said, “This man too was with him.” But he denied it saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A short while later someone else saw him and said, “You too are one of them”; but Peter answered, “My friend, I am not.” About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly. Luke 22:54-62