Looking for Desires of the Heart?

desireNot discussed enough in Ignatian spirituality is the importance of desireSaint Ignatius uses this word throughout the Spiritual Exercises. He says that one of the purposes of the Exercises is “to find better what one desires.” This makes its way into meditation after meditation as the retreatant is asked to name the grace they are seeking in their prayer time. “Ask God our Lord for what I want and desire,” it says. It could be the gift of consolation, repentance, hope, conversion, redemption, feeling loved, or even tears. But the importance of desires goes beyond formal prayer within a retreat.

Our desires, like many things, are a way God communicates with our heart and guides us. Selfish desires and what Ignatius would call “inordinate attachments” are not in the picture. Ultimately, we see that our desires are really the same as God’s desires for us. They lead us to the person God wants us to become.

James Martin, SJ puts it well in a video he recorded several weeks ago on vocation for young people in Brazil on World Youth Day:

Our desire for another person leads us to marriage. Desires lead us into pursuing a certain career or spending time with certain people or breaking certain habits.

Nine years ago I discovered my desire for ministry in a job in Guest Relations at Walt Disney World. Each day I met other human beings who felt the let down of a perfect vacation seemingly ruined by an expectation not met. I saw families who just wanted to share a special experience with their children. I was in the place not only to make things right but to listen to their lament, their praise, or whatever their story was. It was there I discovered my desire to listen and companion. My guests just wanted to be heard and I was that ear for them. Five years later this calling was deepened when I entered religious life and now, even after leaving religious life, I am pursuing a graduate degree in ministry.

How do we discover these desires? Prayer is the first way. If we first ask God to assist us in this discovery and continually reflect on our experiences we’ll soon discover what we really want and see that God also has desires for us. As long as those desires are in concert our vocation can start to form.

I encourage you to continue your reading here, in a post from last year called What do you want? It goes deeper into that question God is always asking us. Well? What are your desires? Or, as my spiritual director once asked, What are your dreams?

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Music by Kevin MacLeod

5 replies

  1. Our desires, like many things, are a way God communicates with our heart and guides us.
    It’s not always easy to acknowledge our desires… The fear of being sinful, presumptuous, silly… That fear, I feel, often keeps me away from truly experiencing the desire deep within me.

  2. Desires come from the heart and your heart can deceive you. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. This is the part of the Spex where that if we not be careful we will be lead astray. Galatians 5:16 says to walk by the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desire of the flesh. Only when you follow the Holy Spirit that you shall curve your desires.

  3. Hi Mark – Thanks for your thoughts. What Ignatius is really referring to are the deep and holy longings of the heart, those vocational desires, the yearnings for good relationships, to use one’s gifts to care for others, etc. Ignatius was clear that discernment is not about choosing between good and evil things. Evil desires are of the ego, not implanted by God in the heart. We’re talking about the deep desires that always lead to God.

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