Parenting infants requires the constant meeting of needs, and it’s been fascinating to observe our now-toddlers begin to recognize what they want. Instead of just giving them something when they cry, I’m encouraging each to name his or her present desire. When our little girl cries in her high chair, I ask what she wants, she says “cup,” I hand it to her, she stops crying, and all is well – for maybe two minutes. Next she wants “cheese,” and then the cup again, and so on and so forth. This ongoing reality of wants and needs is so evident in tiny humans who are unable to do for themselves.
In the quiet moments, after she’s in bed and I’m rocking our little guy to sleep, I sometimes think about how they won’t be so different as teenagers. They may learn to express what they want differently (or it might seem like they don’t express much of anything to us at all), but it won’t change the reality that their hearts will be a jumbled mix of ever-present desires. And as I pray that their hearts grow to be satisfied only in Jesus, I know it’s a long and difficult process. As parents, we all know this to be true because it has been true for us.
Many of us resonate with Psalm 42:1-2, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God,” and yet we have also thirsted after so many other things in life. We need not be afraid to enter difficult conversations with our children about the conflicting desires of our hearts.
During the holiday season, our popular music is often full of familiar longings, yet devoid of lasting hope. Consider this one:
“All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth/ My two front teeth/ See my two front teeth/ Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth/ Then I could wish you, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Whether you find the lyrics of this childish Christmas ditty amusing or annoying, it strikes me how formative something so simple can be. The song was written by a school teacher in 1944, after he asked his second grade students what they wanted for Christmas and noticed how many answered with a lisp because they were missing front teeth.
This child apparently has a sweet enough motive for wanting the teeth back – to wish people “Merry Christmas” without a lisp. As the song progresses, the child then sings, “Gosh, oh gee, how happy I’d be, if I could only whistle.”
How happy I would be, if only.
This simple line reveals the condition of the human heart – one that is always longing for something to satisfy its desires. I know I have such thoughts, and sometimes I have even pleaded with God to just give me what I want. As a child, I constantly prayed God would provide the perfect best friend for me (who I also thought should strongly resemble me – what kindness that He never provided in that exact way!). In middle school I began praying for the happiness of family members – thinking if they could only be happy, then I would be happier (a desire that took years of heartache to unravel). High school brought on prayers for success – with grades, sports, and a clear path to the college of my dreams (for I was fairly convinced that was one of God’s greatest concerns for his young disciples).
As I moved through my twenties as a single woman in the world – and in the church – the paramount “if only” became rooted in the desire (not only my own, but it seemed, the desire of all who surrounded me) for me to marry. The Christmas season, with its amped-up focus on family and romance, only intensified this desire and highlighted what seemed to be missing.
So is it any wonder that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas” has broken too many records on the song charts in the past 26 years to even begin listing here? At our core, we desire to love and be loved, and we love a song that proclaims this reality (especially when it’s so fun, catchy, and includes one of the most impressive vocal ranges in the music industry).
Carey sings: “I don’t want a lot for Christmas/ There is just one thing I need/ I just want you for my own / More than you could ever know/ Make my wish come true/ All I want for Christmas is you.”
Longing for a person, rather than things, is lovely! No amount of stuff will ever provide lasting satisfaction for our souls, but neither will any human. Romance, even in the “sanitized” production of Hallmark films, will eventually disappoint, failing to provide any happily ever after.
We will always come back to the truth that there is just one thing that we need, more than we could ever know. And this one thing that we need is not a God who makes our wishes for romance or success or happiness come true – rather, we need a God who loves us so much that He sent His only son into the world to be born as a baby and to die as a man upon a cross, to then rise from the dead and conquer sin forever. He has met our desires for forgiveness and for lasting love!
God wants us for His own, and I can imagine that all He wants for Christmas is for you – and your children – to receive Him and believe that He alone will satisfy our deepest longings.
However, our wandering hearts may continue to wonder: How happy I would be, if only.
There IS ONLY one relationship that will provide what our hearts need, and that is in relationship with the triune God, co-laboring in his kingdom. Jesus pointed to this when he told his disciples: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom….For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:32,34) Jesus also said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) Jesus is declaring that He is our treasure, and the provider of real joy.
It is not lost on me that one of the most popular songs played during wedding processionals is Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Christians and non-Christians alike select this beautiful instrumental piece to mark a ceremony that celebrates what humans tend to hail as the highest form of love, and yet that very song points to the only one who fulfills our desiring – Jesus!
I recently discovered that Bach wrote this piece as the finale to a ten-movement work about Christ’s birth from the book of Luke. There are various lyrics that have accompanied the music over the years, the most recent version from Victorian poet Robert Bridges. Below are his first and last stanzas, and they are both lovely and true:
“Jesu joy of man’s desiring,/ Holy wisdom, love most bright/ Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring /Soar to uncreated light./ Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure/ Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure/ Thou dost ever lead Thine own/ In the love of joys unknown.”
All that we could want for Christmas – all the joy, peace, love, and hope – is found in Him. In Christ, there is no “if only,” for He is the One who loves us more than we could ever know and calls us His very own! Whatever songs we find ourselves singing with our families this season, may these truths settle deep into our souls.
For more in the subject of God and our desires, please see the Rooted podcast: Julie Sparkman on Our Good Design for Desire, and Julie Sparkman on When a Good Desire Becomes a False God.
For more on relationships, please see Longing for More: What Lies Beneath the Desire to be “Hot”, and The Value of a Soul: Talking With Teenagers About Relationships.