There’s nothing wrong with wanting, especially in the first few days of a new year. I’ve spent (far too much) time scrolling through Facebook and reading what friends are proposing to accomplish.
I want to spend at least 30 minutes a day reading.
I want to lose 10% of my body fat.
I want to donate my time monthly to a new-to-me charity.
I want to finish my degree by the end of the year.
We all want to be better versions of ourselves: less cynical, less self-centered, more giving, more patient, more healthy. Maybe that’s just my wish list, and it doesn’t change much from year to year.
I had good intentions of making my own resolutions for this year. I really wanted some kind of plan, any kind of plan that would help me move past the “let’s get through the day” plan I’ve been working since Kai passed. I still want this year to be better than last year, somehow, but the motivation hasn’t come just yet.
As I was procrastinating this on the day before New Year’s Eve, some songs popped up in my Facebook feed from an artist I’ve just started listening to in the past year. A friend suggested Audrey Assad to me, knowing I’d appreciate the artist’s back story as a convert to the Church and as a writer of intellectual lyrics. And there’s something about beautifully written music that brings me comfort when nothing else can.
Listening to this particular song, I had one of those epiphanies that literally stopped me. (Apologies to my family for the late late dinner that evening; I couldn’t stop listening and multi-tasking was impossible.)
At the core of my grief, I want.
I want my son here, in his home, in his bed, in my arms.
I want my life the way it was before.
I want the future I had planned, raising all three of my kids.
I want my daughter to grow up with her best friend instead of his memory.
I want my five year old to stop asking me questions about death.
I want to feel confident about my parenting again.
I want this constant sadness to go away.
And what I want, I can never have. Not in this life. It’s the ultimate unrequited everything, and there is no satisfying this need. Not with distraction, or numbness, or other relationships.
The Christmas season is almost over. (For we liturgical types, it lasts until Epiphany, Three Kings Day, on January 6th.) Somehow, my family stumbled through another holiday knowing our most desperate Christmas wish will never be fulfilled. That upbeat Christmas song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” would close my throat and fill my eyes every time it came on the radio. All I want is my dead child back. Is that asking so much?
All my father wants is his dead son, too. Tragically, a month before Christmas, my 39 year old brother passed away unexpectedly. Although my “little” brother wasn’t in perfect 39-year-old health, losing him to an apparent heart attack was shocking, as shocking as losing a 12-year-old to an accidental suicide. When my father called me to tell me, and I heard that awful keening that a parent makes in only the worst circumstances, I knew. I knew, and I felt a fist squeezing under my sternum. “Oh, dad. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry. This is the shittiest club ever, and I’m so sorry. I know how much this hurts. I know.”
My dad spent Christmas with us, a trip he had planned months ago under better circumstances. While he was here, we had many wordless conversations. I knew his sorrow, and he knew mine, and there was a lot we didn’t have to say. And as much as I enjoy watching my husband grow closer to my father, I want it to be for a different reason. Any other reason.
Intellectually, I fully understand my son, and my brother, are never returning. Trying to convince my heart that this reality is truth? That’s a Sisyphean task. To be cliché, the heart wants what the heart wants. If feelings were measurable, like forces in physics, what would be stronger than the draw between a parent and child? It is deep, immutable, unarticulated, and persists even through death. In God’s wisdom, He sent his Son to earth as an infant. Why? Because as humans, we understand that deep wanting and protectiveness a parent feels. How else could we have truly fathomed how the Creator feels about us as His children? How else would we have known the constant longing He has for us?
Listening to “I Shall Not Want” a few nights ago, “the Lord put something on my heart,” as my evangelical friends might say.
From the love of my own comfort/ From the fear of having nothing/ From a life of worldly passions/ Deliver me O God …
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want
As long as I cling to The Wanting, which I can justify five ways to Sunday, my grief will limit me. It will limit my love, my other relationships, my willingness to give myself to others. I know, because it already has. Grief’s travelling companion is fear, and together they force me to look behind me rather than in front of me.
“When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.”
Freedom from want is the only way forward. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop loving my son, or my brother, but it’s possible to love without wanting to possess. It’s a selfless and sacrificial love, the kind of love Christ modeled for us, the kind of love we’re called to live but struggle to embrace because it’s hard. Often, there’s no reciprocity with self-sacrificing love. The act has to be its own reward.
And yet, listening over and over to “I Shall Not Want,” I understood. By releasing what I want, from the smallest physical comforts to the abyss of wanting my child back, I create a space that can be filled with His goodness. Releasing my want will deliver me from the fear that is making my life smaller.
“When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want”
Thankfully, that conscious letting go isn’t something I have to do with my own (very diminished) strength. “When I taste Your goodness” can be literal, like the moments I experience Christ in the Eucharist, or in the sweetness of moments I’m fully present with my family. When I spend time every evening in The Examen, turning over my day and acknowledging God’s presence throughout it, I taste His goodness. When I look at photos of my late son, touch his clothes, allow the tears – even in those moments, I am grateful for God’s goodness; He chose me above all other women to be Kai’s mom.
I haven’t reached any kind of faith nirvana, whatsoever, and I fully anticipate a lot of tripping and falling. (My family calls me “Grace,” sarcastically.) I will snatch back my wanting again and again, nursing it and stroking it and feeling so justified in doing it. Hopefully, it’s in those moments especially that I can choose to taste His goodness. I can choose to love without craving. I can choose freedom over fear.
I shall not want.