Although eating is a good thing (and obviously necessary), it seems possible that it in some way distracts me from the deep, soul-shaking desires of my heart that I wrote about in my last post in the series. My heart and my body are meant to be unified, in sync, but if my body is satisfied, it can trick my heart into thinking it is, too. I’ve been eating my entire life… How long have those desires been there? How long have I been hiding them from myself with a daily routine of eating—not just to fuel my body, but eating just a little too much each time to help keep the demons at bay? A little thing repeated three times a day for years can be an incredibly powerful force. It’s possible I’ve spent my entire life conditioning my heart to think it’s satisfied when my body eats a quesadilla or a spoonful of peanut butter.
Then I think about how much more satisfying an orgasm is—that will top peanut butter or quesadillas any day of the week. It’s a beautiful thing, but it may also be a thing I’ve conditioned myself since puberty to use for comfort. A security blanket. Something to hide those deeper longings from my conscious mind. If I did use it that way, it would be powerfully effective, wouldn’t it?
I don’t think those deep desires I’ve uncovered by removing distractions are wrong in and of themselves. You may think that goes without saying, but I’m not sure that’s the case. I’ve seen so many articles and books that hint at or say explicitly that all of our heart’s desires are sinful. The heart is “deceitful” and “desperately wicked,” after all (Jeremiah 17:9). If we follow our desires without guidance, sure, they can REALLY take us down the wrong path. But I don’t think the longing of the heart for companionship, the desire to be known and loved and to know and love in return is at all bad. It’s what we’re made for. And because we live in a fallen world, we’re not getting it the way we’re built to. So we long, deeply and desperately. I don’t think those desires themselves are The Flesh that the Bible warns about. I mean, if the Bible talks about fasting as an activity related to longing for the return of Christ (Matthew 9:14-15), longing for companionship in general isn’t likely to be a bad thing. He’s Emmanuel, God With Us, the king of companionship. A big part of that deep longing is a longing for Him—the longing is not going to go away until He comes back. The rest of it is longing for companionship with other people that knowing Him helps enable. I think The Flesh that we’re not supposed to allow to guide us is that conditioning of our heart to be satisfied because our body is. It’s the breaking of that unity between heart and body, the dominance of physical pleasure to mask emotional pain.
There’s a verse that comes up often when people talk about The Flesh, James 1:14-15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard that interpreted to say that our desires are bad and should be quashed. It’s so deeply ingrained in the meaning of that verse for me that it’s hard to read it another way. But it doesn’t actually say the desire is bad, just that it’s bad for us to be lured and enticed by it. I think using shame to cover the desire to be known and loved is as bad as (if not worse than) covering it with quesadillas and peanut butter. Cultural shame uses social forces that are meant to unite us—meant to enable us to help each other—and divides us instead. Shame addresses the longing for love underlying our fleshly pursuits and starves it more by isolating the people longing.
Read the verses before and after:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘Im an being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13) Interesting… when Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness, he was tempted. But this says He can’t be tempted by evil. If fasting uncovered His desires the way it does for me… The last temptation Jesus faced in the desert was to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worshipped him. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). Jesus came for people, and Satan was offering people to Him. He was taking a strike at the unfathomable love Jesus has for us—His longing to be unified with us—trying to lure that desire into impatience, to complete the great work then and there without the years Jesus spent wandering in the dust healing crowds, without the death on the cross. But Jesus did not let his desire conceive… he went through with the painful plan because it was the best way. He acted on His desire in a world-changing way. He died to unify us with Him and with each other.
Next in James comes one of my favorite verses of all time: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:16) Real, deep companionship is a good and perfect gift. Why would the desire for it be bad? Loneliness—our longing to be known and loved—is not something to cover or to be ashamed of. Our need is part of how God made us. “It is not good… to be alone.” We need God, and we need other people. It doesn’t do us any good to cover that need and longing with sex and candy, and it REALLY doesn’t do us any good to cover it with shame.