Our Cheatin’ Hearts

I returned to work yesterday after a wonderful week of Christmas vacation. The day after Christmas, we got the long-expected but glorious news of our son Michael’s engagement to his lovely girlfriend, Grace. And in another celebration of love, on New Year’s Eve, Mary and I listened to some of our favorite oldies and danced by the firelight to “Tupelo Honey”, the song for our first dance at our wedding, and to “The Lady in Red”. The latter captures a bit of Mary’s loveliness.

Our New Year’s Eve of dance and romance was emotional – luminous. But we couldn’t help noticing that the songs that grabbed us most were about unrequited longing, disappointed love, and loss whose very pain was its beauty. Why is it that those songs tug most at our hearts? In the most wonderful moments, there’s a hint of a sadness. All wonderful moments come to an end, and I don’t know when the next one will be.

Keats captures this in his Ode to a Grecian Urn. If only the lovers’ kiss painted on the urn could last forever! If only the man’s pursuit of the maiden never ended! Keats concludes that beauty alone can satisfy the human longing for eternity. But in reality, the most beautiful experiences don’t satisfy. They actually awaken more longing. Gaze on the Pieta. Hike through the Colorado Rockies. Their very beauty points to a “more”, to a something they cannot capture.

There are two main ways to deal with the sense of unfulfilled longing that even the best experiences can’t satisfy. One approach is, “You expect too much. Be satisfied with what you have.” Or more cynically –  “That’s just the way it is. Don’t hope for too much, and you’ll never be disappointed.”

Buddhism offers another variation on this option. It correctly notes that desire is the source of all of our pain. Its solution is to kill desire, to discipline oneself to long for nothing at all. Once all desire is dead, I am free to be dissolved into the All – into Nirvana. There, not only my desires, but I myself, am annihilated completely.

The second approach is to explore what these desires point to. What purpose do they serve? Why are human beings apparently unique in having desires that the purely material cannot satisfy? We may have sexual intimacy, food, sleep, shelter, clothing, physical health, and good relationships.  But even in great abundance, these fail to satisfy. We can understand people who are satisfied simply with three square meals a day and a bed to sleep in. But- unless they are unavoidably limited by their situation or some sort of disability – they aren’t the people we admire or want to imitate.

Those we admire most are the ones willing to sacrifice these for the sake of a greater good. They are magnanimous. They have great souls, and they desire greatly. They desire more, the more that they know they were created for. They live by faith, hope, and love. They not only become beautiful souls. They flood everyone they touch with the outflowing of their goodness.

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis points out, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Our cheatin’ hearts can deceive us. We get disappointed or hurt. We may have suffered rebuffs when we opened up about what we really want, what fires our hearts. So we shut our hearts down. As Christians, we may even hide behind a false humility. “Who do I think I am? Others are worthier than I. God has more important things to worry about.” But we are children of God. United to Jesus, we share His worthiness. God counts even the sparrows.

St. Paul tells us to open our hearts (2 Cor 7:2). The Lord urges us, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps 81:10). St. Ignatius of Loyola bases his whole theology of discernment on desires. “By their fruits will you know them” (Mt 7:15): if our desires lead us to peace and joy, a sense of life to the full, then they are from God. We need to increase, nurture, go hog-wild with such godly desires. Get a person to talk about his or her passion, and you will see him or her come alive. My desires are what make me me. God desires me to be me. He desires that I desire greatly. Our cheatin’ hearts tell us otherwise. But our cheatin’ hearts are wrong.

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About admin

I am a Catholic clinical psychologist with a solo practice in Omaha, NE. In the Franciscan seminary, I completed about 2/3rd of an M.Div./MA in Scripture. In my 3rd year of temporary vows, I discerned a call to the married life. My lovely wife Mary and I have a son, Michael, as well as a number of children preceding us to Heaven through miscarriages. We are delighted to be in the Omaha archdiocese and love the Heartland.
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