“Desire” by Snavely
This is a story about desire and desires in conflict with one another.
I was in seminary studying for the United Methodist ministry. I had completed enough of my studies to apply for my deacon’s orders. (The United Methodist Church has a two-tiered system of ordination. Deacon’s orders are given first, then after graduation and a period of service, elder’s orders.) For the deacon’s orders there would be an interview before a committee.
I went to the retreat center where the interviews would be held. Though I needed to be there for both days, my interview was scheduled to be one of the last on the second day of interviews. This meant that I had the “pleasure” of seeing other candidates come out of their interviews upset and in tears. Despite this reaction, they had made it through and been granted their deacon’s orders.
When it came to be my turn I went into a room where I sat encircled by a group of men who would ask me the questions. One man asked me my view of baptism. I knew he wanted me to insist on infant baptism for all, but I had grown up in the Evangelical United Brethren side of the merger that created the United Methodist Church. In the EUB church, influenced by German anabaptists, the tradition had been to allow families to choose whether to baptize children as infants or not. I knew what the man wanted me to say, but I would not say it. I did not think there was any harm, and I thought there was much merit, in letting families decide for themselves. The man asked the same question in various forms multiple times, obviously seeking to get me to change my answer.
I did not change my answer, but tears of frustration and anger began to flow from my eyes. I was not granted my deacon’s order. I had to come back and apply again the next year. When I arrived home to my seminary dorm room a box of Girl Scout cookies that I had ordered had been delivered and sat by my door. I took them in and ate three-quarters of the box in one sitting.
Desire. I desired to obtain my deacon’s orders. I also desired to maintain the integrity of my own beliefs. My desires came into conflict with one another. I felt disheartened. Perhaps one of my desires would not be fulfilled. I wanted/desired to feel better. I ate cookies. I ate so many cookies that I felt sick not better.
I know I am not the only one who has tried to heal the pain of an unfulfilled desire with food or alcohol or drugs or work. I also know that it did not work for me, and it doesn’t work for anyone else either.
The Buddhists say that desire is at the root of all suffering, but the Buddha tried and gave up asceticism. He did not deny himself all his desires.
I obtained my deacon’s orders the next year. I did not change my answer on baptism. I don’t remember that it was even asked in my second interview. I still eat cookies, but today I am aware of emotional eating and try hard to only eat a cookie when want I want is a cookie and not something else and much more.
What do I really desire? And of those desires, what is most important?
I desire to do good. I desire to live my life with integrity. If doing what I need to do to fulfill those desires leads to suffering, so be it. Those desires are worth it.
I desire to be a minister, but should I never have obtained my credentials way back when or if I am never hired for a position as a minister again I would have been/will be sad, but fulfilling this desire is not basic to my life. It is not worth suffering over this.
Desires. I hope I have learned which desires I must fulfill, and which, if unfulfilled, I must let go. Perhaps I knew this, in some sense, as a twenty-something at a retreat center for an interview many years ago, but today I know it more fully in both heart and mind. With that knowledge my life is more serene. Whatever comes or does not, I know I can be content.