From Craving to Longing

After hearing these words from God the Father “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life,” [1] Jesus leaves the place of his baptism to enter into the wilderness (also known as the desert). From a place of abundant public belovedness to the quiet and solitary dismantling of all that is more easily relied upon, namely food and comfort, Jesus moves toward the unknown in his desire to hear God’s voice.

Speaking of food, because it is definitely on my mind, my husband, Bill, and I are doing the Whole30 nutritional plan to address some health goals while eliminating those foods that tend to create more cravings and addictions. We’re in the phrase where all I can think about is what I’m not eating, and wishing I could. It happens that our decision coincides with Lent which helps in the motivation to join Jesus in his fasting while in the desert.

However, I’m not so sure I have the same attitude as Jesus. While I would like to hear God’s voice, all I can hear right now are my cravings for foods that don’t really satisfy over time. Craving by definition is a “powerful desire for.” As I admit the reality of my cravings, I find some comfort in realizing that it’s not that far off from what Jesus was having as a craving, only his was to be in communion by intentionally being present to God through solitude and silence in his fasting. He lives into his powerful desire to be with God the Father and Creator of all.

I’m wandering and wondering through my own wilderness of giving up foods that I normally enjoy about what a craving, or even deeper, a longing means to be in communion with God. It is here that I turn to the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen where he describes the first test of Jesus in the desert. Jesus faces the first test of three temptations from the Devil who says “[s]ince you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread. Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’ ”[2]

Nouwen relates how the Devil appeals to the desire we have to be able to fix what’s immediately in front of us, to choose those things that make the most sense for the situation we’re in. If you’re hungry and you have the capacity to make food, why not change stones into bread? Make things right that need to be made right.

But Nouwen addresses something deeper than the seemingly obvious need of food. What’s the motivation behind wanting to make things right in that very moment, touching the chord of our humanity to do what we can as soon as we can? The attractive proposition, or test as commonly cited in this scene, is the desire, the craving, the longing to be relevant in that moment. By relevant, Nouwen describes it as those places where “the self can do things, show things, prove things, build things.”[3] Could it be that we, like Jesus, are being asked to consider another way – a third way – that doesn’t respond immediately to what is relevant? Could it be that we are called into a different posture to speak what is more true, a discernment that comes from being in relationship with God?

That posture is prayer. Moving towards God again and again in the longing to be in communion – that is prayer. Instead of reacting to what it immediate, we can lean into a listening place where we no longer rely on what makes us relevant, or more intelligent, or more adept at a particular skill like changing stones into bread. We can live within the “steady stream of words [spiritual nourishment] from God’s mouth.” Jesus experiences freedom in the desert, even in the midst of his fasting. He knows the longing beyond the perceived craving, a knowing that comes in his willingness to stay focused on the One who fulfills those longings.

Our prayer does not mean we don’t act when we are called to act. Rather, Nouwen offers this perspective: [S]ecurely rooted in the personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. [4]

Perhaps then, for me, if I consider this third way, I may not seek to be relevant as much as seek the one who is my source of life. In fact, as I continue this nutritional plan (my own type of fasting), I might be a bit kinder to my husband, an act of being gentle and forgiving. Even more so, I may have the capacity, while in the hardest of places, to frame the way in which I act toward others through the lens of love that comes from communion. Like Jesus offers, it takes more than bread to stay alive. To live fully alive means to be present to God.

  • Mary Pandiani, Executive Director

[1] Matthew 3:17b, The Message

[2] Matthew 3:3-4

[3] Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (NY,NY: Crossroads, 1989), p.16.

[4] Ibid, p. 32.

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