The word “desire” has become a misnomer of sorts. In the Christian life, we too often equate desire with sinfulness, like jealousy or sexual temptation. At best, we view desire as something that should be merely suppressed or given up in the pursuit of holiness. It’s wanting, and there’s no room for that in our dogma.
And yet, Jesus says to us, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk. 10:51)
Katelyn Beaty, in the foreword to Jen Pollock Michel’s Teach Us To Want, pointedly asks the question. “What if, despite all the ways desire has been perverted and corroded down through human history, God actually made us for it?” (11). Augustine reminds his readers that man’s hearts is restless until it finds its rest in Him. “To be human is to want” (29).
Teach Us To Want is a book set on reorienting our understanding of what it means to desire in this life rightly. If you’re not interested in being challenged by penetrating questions that force you to re-examine your theology and practice of faith, you won’t enjoy reading this book, and yet, all the more reason perhaps why you should.
Michel’s writing style is very enjoyable to read. It does a great job of moving back and forth from the birds-eye view to the ground-level view of life. It’s replete with honest experiences and stories, which makes for a compelling, introspective read. At times, the book feels like it is speaking particularly to women, but as a man I found these moments to be especially informative in describing what it is women truly want, how they think, and how I can learn from them. If you are a man, you have all the more reason to read this.
Michel provides for us an in-depth exploration of the Lord’s Prayer, thoughts on community, worship, grace, and much more. Perhaps one of my favorite excerpts comes from page 49:
“The hope of the gospel echoes. We can neither undo the wrong we have done nor can we promise to do better. Our hearts are infirm, and there is absolutely no chance that we can heal them. We all chronically want wrong things, and we will not be able to interrupt this cycle of self-destruction on our own. Instead, we have to reach out to the one who died to achieve what we could not. The gospel can end our futile games of hiding and pretending, of taking cover in all our impersonal, theological abstractions so that we avoid introspection and the gaze of God. The gospel reminds us that God has seen the worst of us and chooses, in our place, to see his Son. We have no need of exhausted methods of spiritual performance or pretension. We have no more reason to hide. And because of Jesus Christ and his willing death in our place, we have every reason to pray and have the confidence that, should we approach the throne of grace, it is mercy we will receive every time (Hebrews 4:16)”
That’s a good word, a word that Christians in our churches needs badly to hear. “Desire, if it’s to be trusted,” Michel writes, “should be inspired by a divine vocabulary” (93). And in Teach Us to Want, Michel helps train our fluency – with story, with theology, with a challenge. Teach Us To Want is a well-deserved winner of Christianity Today’s Book of the Year award in 2015, with lots to teach us. Buckle in, take up and read.