What do you want?
She is curled at my feet, nose tucked beneath her tail. Right now she is peaceful, worn out from our after-dinner walk in which she had a chance to run free through the woods. When she emerged with a rabbit’s leg, severed from the rest of the body, stripped of flesh save the furry foot, her off-leash privileges ended.
When I tell people about Foxy’s hunting habit, many recoil; nature can be harsh. But here is the honest truth: I love watching my dog run. The girl knows what she wants; when she spots a squirrel or a chipmunk, she drops to a crouch, tense for a split second before rocketing into the chase, transformed by primal instinct like a wolf in Yellowstone. It’s as if she finally remembers what she truly is, what she was made for. Foxy may be cute, but beneath her domestication, she’s as wild as they come.
I think I’m jealous.
I’m told that as a toddler, I loved to run naked. Once my mom heard the front door unlatch, and by the time she made it outside, her unclothed 2-year-old was halfway down the block. Listen, I was born to be free!
Somewhere along the line, I was expected to get myself under control — which, when it comes to matters of clothing, is definitely for the best. Many guidelines we are given as children certainly help form us into respectable human beings, not to mention law-abiding citizens, bless our toddler streaking selves.
But in learning to follow the rules, is it possible that something significant could be lost? In squelching our instincts, might we be subduing an inner wildness that perhaps needs to be shaped, but was never meant to be tamed?
Of all the questions Jesus posed during his life on earth, there is one that hits me straight in the heart: “What do you want?” (John 1:38). Referencing this inquiry, James K.A. Smith says, “This is the most incisive, piercing question Jesus can ask of us precisely because we are what we want. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behaviors flow” (You Are What You Love).
Surely a large part of what this means is that we have a responsibility to guard and curate our hearts, seeking to align our core desires with the heart of all that is good, creating habits that will help foster health and wholeness. This takes intentionality and work — because despite what this world would tell us, “Follow your bliss” isn’t exactly a reliable North Star.
But just like Foxy was created for the chase, each of us was created with a default orientation. We were created to long for something. And since he’s the one who made us, I believe Jesus’s question can also be taken at face value. Turning to the men who were about to become his first two disciples, he asks, “What do you want?”
The question feels stunning to me, probably because I often don’t know what I want — or, perhaps more accurately, I often don’t trust that I know what I want. Unlike my beloved, uncivilized dog, I fear that some of my God-given instincts have been trained out of me, leading me to play it safe and settle for small. As much as I want to, I have trouble dancing at weddings. Regardless of how I’m drawn toward beauty, I avoid extravagance. Despite the urge — and there is definitely an urge — I never raise a ruckus.
But for those who seek God, we can trust that our desires were placed inside our hearts by God himself (Psalm 37:4). They are there to serve a purpose, even if only to point us back to our Creator. Saint Augustine famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This statement implies design — both that we were designed by God, and that we were designed for God. Our heart’s ultimate desire is always God himself, and our unique individual longings exist to point us back to the One who made us.
Watching my dog run full tilt through a field, I have sometimes jokingly co-opted Irenaeus’s line to say, “The glory of God is Foxy fully alive.” But just as every creature on earth was made by a Creator, for a Creator, Irenaeus’s original words ring all the more true: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
I do not want to shy away from all I was created to be. I want to chase after the longings I was made for. I want to live like Foxy: running wild and free, head thrown back, howling at the moon for the love of my Maker.
[This piece was written as a part of Lore Wilbert’s Writing Mentorship course. If you’re interested, I highly encourage you to apply for the next round this fall — it was so good for me.]