Jesus once said: “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” (Mt 17:20)
An experience with one of my kids last week caused me to look at this passage from a new angle. My son was trying to push a heavy oak table toward the wall to clear some space in the living room. He made no progress, but didn’t give up. Seeing how determined he was, and knowing there was no way he could move the table on his own, I went up behind him, put my hands on the table to either side of his own, and gave a strong push.
A few moments later, he turned to me, flexed his little arms proudly, and said “Mom! Did you see me move that table? I’m strong!”
In his intense focus on moving the table, he hadn’t even realized that I’d helped.
I smiled at the innocence of childhood. I also reflected on the nature of desire.
After all, hadn’t he, in some way, moved the table? If he hadn’t desired to move it as ardently as he did, I never would have gotten up off the couch. So yes, technically speaking, perhaps I moved the table, but in a very real sense, he did as well. His desire had been meaningful.
In some way, is this how the Lord works with us when it comes to moving mountains?
The Significance of Desire
Some of our desires are basic and necessary for survival. These correspond to physical needs and safety. But desires can go far beyond that and point to existential longing, the search for meaning. These desires can move us profoundly and can be the source of both a sacred ache telling us we are created for more, and a strong motivation that moves us to pursue those longings.
The word desire comes from the Latin de sidere, or “from the stars”. This origin implies that our sense of desire, in essence, deals with something outside of our reach, and serves to remind us that we are not complete in ourselves, and are connected with a greater reality.
In the context of relationship, the meaning of desire is twofold. Your desires in some way reveal you to yourself; at the same time, they are meaningful to the people who care about you.
What the beloved desires matters, immensely, to the one who loves them. This is true of spouses. It is true of parents and friends. It is also true of our relationship with God.
Yes, God has a perfect will. Yes, he can do everything he needs to on his own. But our desires matter. In the Gospel of John, the Lord calls his disciples friends. Time and again throughout his public life, Jesus encourages those who approach him to ask for what they desire. He himself often initiates the conversation, with questions like “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38), “Why are you looking for me?” (Luke 2:49) and “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:36). All three of these questions indicate the Lord’s own longing for us to bring our desires to him.
He also assures us, on multiple occasions, that we will not go unheard. “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Mt. 7:7) he tells us. And, “If you ask something in my name, I will do it” (Jn14:14).
Our desires matter, not only to us, but also to God.
Desire and Union with God
St. Ignatius of Loyola draws a direct connection between our desires, discernment, and God’s will, seeing the deepest desires of our heart as a way of hearing God and journeying toward him. Not all desires are clear or lead us in the right direction. Self-awareness and discernment are important and at times challenging. But the deepest desires of the human heart point us to God. As St. Augustine put it, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
While only God can fulfill our deepest human yearnings, those same desires are themselves a channel God has given us to union with him.
God responds to our desires in different ways. Sometimes it’s yes, sometimes no, sometimes wait, sometimes work harder first. And sometimes, he moves mountains because of our faith and persistence.
Perhaps this is why St. Ignatius suggested, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”
Sometimes, God does things on his own initiative. A lot of the times, he does things because we ask—it begins with our own desire. We want something that we believe is good and godly, and apply all we have toward making it happen. God makes up for the rest, sometimes without us even realizing he has intervened. And we are left marveling at the result. Yes, God did it. And so did we.
That’s the beauty of the relationship. It’s not just God or just us—in a very real way, it’s both.