There was a time when I was weighed down by a project I'd volunteered for. It went on much longer than expected, and people became dependent on me. I wanted to be rid of the obligation, but I couldn't back out with a good conscience. Almost every day was a struggle between what I thought I wanted and what I felt obligated to do. I say "thought" I wanted, because something that became clear to me during that time was that strong feelings aren't always a trustworthy gauge of real desires.
To know what you really want, you have to know who you really are. There's no question that you are an individual and that there's no one just like you. We each have a right to be happy and free. It's equally true that none of us exists as an independent selfish being, to do what pleases us at the moment. The only way to know ourselves accurately is to understand the nature of what forms us in the first place - the one self-existent Being, God. We are the outcome of God's being. Each of us is the individual, spiritual image of God, as the Bible says. One of the most liberating truths to discover is that you can know everything about yourself - even what your most genuine and valid desires are - by looking deep into the nature of God. Since God is satisfied, then that must be the nature of His image, too.
Knowing you're God's image is like standing on a huge rock on the beach when the surf is rushing out. You know the rock isn't going to move, so you're not going to move either. During the time I was struggling over what to do about this obligation, the truth that I am God's image was a rock for me. In countless mental wrestling matches, I would tell myself that I wanted only what was compassionate and fair, because that was God's nature and mine as His image. Whatever my immediate preference was in regard to this project, I knew that God gave me my only true desires. If it was right by God for my part in the project to end, a way would open for that to happen. If it was right for me to continue with it, that was what I wanted, and it would benefit everyone involved. I really felt that the authority of God's truth saw me through that experience. A good resolution eventually came about that took care of everyone's needs, and I learned things that have helped me in many ways since.
The Bible speaks of Christ as the rock. And Christ is the true, spiritual self of everyone - the image of God. With this rock underneath us, we can know who we are and what we really want.
The test of whether a desire is genuine or not is whether it makes us feel closer to God. If a desire makes us a happier servant of others, for example, or more disciplined in prayer, or more trusting of God's direction, those are good signs that it's real. On the other hand, if a desire is making us unhappy and less aware of God's love, it's time to question whether that desire is an imposition of something fake.
If a desire isn't bringing us closer to God, there's a way to be free of it. We can pray for better desires. "Desire is prayer," Mary Baker Eddy writes, "and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 1). We trust God, because He loves us and has only good for us. "Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing," says the Bible (Ps. 145:16).
What we each really want is to be what we are - God's image. And we all have the ability to recognize and follow the desires that truly bless us and others.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor