What Do You Want?

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

John 1:29-42

January 13, 2023, Words By: Joel Aguilar, Image By: Jon Tyson

Made Flesh

When I was a teenager growing up in the church, I loved camps. I loved spending time with kids that I knew and rarely got to hang out with. The one thing that I didn’t like was the closing bonfire. I dreaded it; it marked both the end of camp and the beginning of a sacrificial rite of giving everything that I liked, loved, and desired to God.

The bonfire that stands out the most in my memory occurred when I was around thirteen. The rite was simple; we were supposed to come to camp with the things that we loved most. They didn’t tell us why. When the time for the bonfire came, we were instructed to bring the items we loved with us or, if that wasn’t possible, to write down our dreams and desires on a piece of paper.

I remember feeling really excited to participate in this activity. I didn’t have much stuff growing up, so I was thrilled I could still participate by writing down my deepest desires. As we came to the bonfire pit, the ambiance was solemn. We entered the space walking in silence and sat around the fire for a sermon from a youth leader. When he finished, he invited us to bring the symbols of our desires to the front.

As we walked up to the fire, he made a statement that broke my heart, “God is asking you to give what you have in your hands to Him. Everything that you have and desire needs to be sacrificed so He can work in your life.”

It was painful to hear… and confusing. I couldn’t understand why a good God would want me to give up my deepest dreams and desires.

This experience marked me. From then on, the only way I understood I could relate to God was by giving up everything that was precious to me.

I was taught to believe in a God that judged my desires and asked me to sacrifice all of them in order to be blessed — from my dreams to be an economist to my love for heavy metal. I was supposed to bring them to the foot of the cross and renounce them.

But the more I sacrificed, the more insatiable God seemed. I felt as if I was running out of things to give up. And I didn’t feel any closer to God as a result. In fact, I resented God.

In this week’s lectionary reading, Jesus senses that there are two people following him. All of a sudden, He turns around and asks them: “What do you want (desire)?” And his question isn’t a trap… there’s no bonfire lurking around the corner — no judgment either. His act of inquiry touches the very essence of their humanity. Our essence, our soul, is shaped and formed by what we desire and from whom we borrow our desire.

As I read the text, I can’t help but notice the surprise in the disciples. They seem to be a bit disoriented by Jesus’ question, and they aren’t able to articulate what they truly want. So, they respond with another question, “Where are you dwelling/staying?”

Their question puzzles me. Could it be that they didn’t know what to desire? What if the constant sacrifices they offered at the temple took their desires away? Perhaps they did not know what to desire, so they responded with another question.

What I love about Jesus’ response is that He did not ask them to give up anything. He did not require them to stop asking questions. Instead, Jesus extended an invitation for the disciples to explore their deepest desires, not to sacrifice or renounce them. He invited them to “come and see” where and with whom he dwells and stays — the heart of his own desire.

I believe that Jesus is inviting us to a couple of things.

First, we are invited to articulate our deepest desires. And that’s an important distinction to make. I’m not necessarily talking about our dreams to win the lottery or be an Instagram model. Often, those desires are surface level, and we’ve borrowed them from the culture that surrounds us. But instead of judging them, we need to dig deeper into them to explore what really lies underneath: a desire to be loved, to be heard, to be noticed, maybe? Who knows. But we can’t find out until we stop judging ourselves, and others, and actually dig deeper.

After a life of constant sacrifice, I am not convinced I know what my desires are anymore. I want to stop sacrificing whatever I have left, and I want to recover the deepest desires that I gave up. I want to teach my daughters to follow Jesus with their hearts full of the desires and dreams that He placed within them.

Secondly, the Scripture is inviting us to go and see where Jesus dwells. I believe He dwells and abides in a God in whom there is no violence. He rests in the hands of a God who is not asking for us to sacrifice the person He made us to be.

As I look in retrospect, I giggle at myself and the faith tradition that I come from. I laugh at how silly I was in believing that God wanted me to sacrifice the deepest desires God placed in my heart. Instead, God was trying to give me my desires back all along. I feel relieved, and I hope you feel free to explore the possibility of a God who is all love, mercy, and life — a God who loves who you are, including your deepest desires.

Dwelling Among Us

Take a piece of paper and a pen and write your response to the following question: What is one thing you desire today? Be bold, write it down, and then respond to this question: How is that desire pointing you toward Jesus?

About The Author

Joel Aguilar