It is likely that if you paused right now, you could name at least one thing you really, really want.
It could be something as simple as a taco for lunch or as a complex as a vulnerable relationship. Some of your desires may stem from the hunger of the natural man while others surely come from the deepest eternal longings God has placed within you. You may recognize what you want is very bad or beneath what God has planned for you. You may want something that has been promised to you time and time again but has yet to come to fruition.
We all have desires. One of the important tasks we face in this life is learning how to educate our desires. President Joseph F. Smith once said that the “education … of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in life.”
This isn’t easy. While we may be able to control our appetite for tacos, other desires, both good and bad, may consume us. So, how do we educate our desires? Here are a couple of thoughts to help you get started.
Begin With Your Feelings
Elder Dallin H. Oaks counsels us to begin with our feelings. If we strive to have godly feelings about our experiences and the people around us, our desires will follow. Notice the feelings you have throughout the day. Do you often find yourself getting angry or upset? Do you constantly think unkindly about those around you? Do we puff up our pride at work or ignore our duties at home?
Start paying attention to how you feel and why. This can help you understand the root of your deepest desires.
Understand What Makes a “Bad” Desire
It’s not always easy to recognize when a desire isn’t good for us. We may think something is truly good and wonderful. It may very well be a good thing. We may also be blinded to the harmful nature of our desire simply because we want it so much.
Here are a couple of questions to ask about your desires:
- Does this desire lead you closer to Jesus Christ?
- How do you feel when you pray for this desire?
- Is this a desire you can express with a trusted friend?
- Does this desire stop you from living a fulfilling life?
These questions can help you determine if your desires are good or perhaps influenced by the natural man.
Don’t Entertain Wicked Desires
To say we think about we desire is a bit of an understatement. Most of us obsess over our desires, whether we realize it or not. Thoughts spring quickly to our mind, we are distracted in fantasies, and our hearts yearn unceasingly. While this focus can be useful when seeking to obtain righteous desires, it can lead to terrible trouble when they are based in sin or wickedness.
If you recognize you desire things that are not good for you, do your best not to entertain them. Do not feel shame for having the initial thought, but ask yourself: What will you with that thought next? Will you pour more fuel onto the flames? That is what is most important. We are human, with weaknesses and imperfections. God knows the natural man will spring out. How we react when it does will define our character.
Recognize How Desire Influences Choice
Our choices are heavily influenced by our desires. Elder Neil L. Andersen said, “Because many of our thoughts are private, protected, and hidden from view, our actions for a time may not always reflect our inner desires. However, eventually, our inner desires are given life and they are seen in our choices and in our actions.”
Be honest with yourself about why you are making certain choices. Do all you can to choose the right things for the right reasons.
When David was rebuked by Nathan for his sins with Bathsheba and killing Uriah, God makes it clear that he had blessed David abundantly and “if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.”
He then asks how David could have sinned so greatly against the Lord when he was given so much.
While our desires are so important to a loving Heavenly Father, we can stop progressing because we latch ourselves onto desires that aren’t right for us. We get angry when God won’t give us what we want, or worse yet, we sin as we take what we want anyways.
Hebrews 13:15 mentions “the sacrifice of praise.” It is not always easy to praise God, especially when our hearts may feel broken or our hands so empty. However, daily offering up gratitude to God for our blessings can keep our desires in check and help us recognize what we can truly obtain with God’s help.
Hold Onto Agency…
Some desires may be so strong it seems we have no choice but to act on them. Agency, or the ability to choose, is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. No matter what we feel or what we want, we can choose to follow God and seek after righteous desires. Act on those desires that bring you closer to Jesus Christ and keep you aligned with his commandments.
…While Submitting Your Will to God
Even when a desire is good and we have actively worked for it to come to pass, God’s will may still be different than our own. We must develop trust that if we submit our will to God, he will give us something better than we ever could have imagined.
The Ultimate Desire
The greatest desire of our heart should be to return to God. If we are able to recognize all this entails, leaning fully on Jesus Christ for help, we will begin to see our desires falling into place. If that is our goal and our focus, we can have more power and perspective to educate our desires.