Excerpt from Seeking God

Dallas Willard was acutely aware of the light and dark sides of desire.

On the one hand, he warned about becoming enslaved to distorted desires. The motto of those who become willing slaves to their feelings is I want what I want when I want it.” Dallas would have agreed with Ignatius that we desperately need to be freed from our disordered attachments in order to enter the life God gives us. In his own haunting words, he believed it was possible to become so locked into self-obsession and self-worship that we could reach a place where we cannot want God.1

On the other hand, Dallas was a man of great desire. One of the main reasons he pursued studies in psychology and philosophy, he said, was my desire to understand the things of the soul.”2 He invested his life in these studies. In one sweet letter to his wife, Jane, at a marriage-encounter weekend, under the theme of Why I want to go on living,” he reflected on his experiences of beauty and books and love, and wrote movingly about the strength of his desire to live and to love. I cannot feel the desire not to live, or not desiring to live.”3 Underneath everything was his heart’s constant longing to love God, to live faithfully in God’s Kingdom, and to bless those around him.

His visits to South Africa were marked by many lengthy personal conversations. He often emphasized the importance of clarifying what we want.

Three Conversations with Dallas Willard

1. How Many Years Do You Want to Live?

Three conversational snippets recorded in my journal stand out for me. The first happened near Homestead Dam, in my hometown of Benoni. While we walked along the pathway, surrounded by ducks, I spoke about my fear of death, the journey of growing older, and the goals I still hoped to accomplish.

Out of the blue, Dallas stopped, turned to me, and asked, How many years do you still want to live?”

That question, with its emphasis on the word want,” literally stopped me in my tracks. I had never thought about my life in those precise terms.

When I shared my hopes for the future, he suggested that I share them with the Lord in my prayer. It is important that you tell the Lord very honestly what you want. While you will certainly not always get what you want, and your want-er’ may also need to undergo radical transformation, the Lord can only meet and bless you where you are. He will meet you where you are and lead you on from there to where he wants you to go.”

2. When Does a Father Allow His Children to Make Their Own Choices?

The second conversation revolved around challenges I was facing at that time, of being father to my two children growing into young adulthood. I was sharing my tension between setting boundaries for them and setting them free to make their own choices.

Dallas leaned strongly in the latter direction. These were his words as I recalled them afterward in my journal: Let Joni and Mark begin to make their decisions around what they really want. Help them to know that, while they are free to choose whatever they want, they are not free to choose the consequences.” I have shared that wisdom with many other parents.

3. What Does It Mean When God is Silent?

The third conversation revolved around my experience of God’s silence, when I sought guidance on a possible change in vocational direction. None was forthcoming. Heaven seemed to be silent.

When I shared this with Dallas, he said simply, I am reasonably sure that if God had anything in mind, he would have let you know by now. Maybe God wants you to go ahead and do what you really want to do. It is unlikely that God plays games of hide-and-seek when we ask for guidance.”

No one before had ever made this link for me between God’s will and my will, between what God wanted and what I wanted, between God’s desires and my desires. I realized that following God’s will would sometimes mean that God wants me to decide what I want to do.

This wisdom from Dallas Willard (and also Ignatius) reminds us that our deepest desires really do matter. They matter because God intends us to live as adult children in the Kingdom. As Dallas repeatedly emphasized, our unique eternal calling as human beings, in partnership with God, is to reign with him, now and forever.4 If God must tell us every time what to do, we will remain immature. Hence God sometimes leaves us with the responsibility to discern our truest desires and decide which way we want to go.

The desires of our heart also matter because they give us hints of our personal calling. They guide us toward what we are called to be, to live, and to do. Our responsibility is to choose between those life-giving desires that lead us to become the person God wants us to be and those disordered ones that take us in the opposite direction.

Above all, our deepest desires matter because through them God leads us into the life that God wants to give us. Formed in our heart by the Spirit, these hidden longings echo what God longs for within our own unique circumstances. As we learn to discern and respond to them, the consequences are transformative. We move toward greater intimacy with God and others. We become different in a compassionate and loving way. We receive strength from a power source beyond ourselves. We realize that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love. We discover zoe life in the here and now.

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  1. Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), 57. ↩︎
  2. Quoted in Gary Moon, Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018), 67. ↩︎
  3. Quoted in Moon, Becoming Dallas, 241. ↩︎
  4. This is a central idea in Dallas’s thought. See The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 21 – 33. ↩︎

Taken from Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard by Trevor Hudson © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Text First Published September 2022 · Last Featured on Renovare.org September 2022