What’s the greatest thing in the world? 
In the midst of 1941, WWII England, C.S. Lewis gave a sermon saying nineteen out of twenty good men would answer that the highest virtue in the world was “unselfishness”. Contrasted, he explained, if you had asked the great Christians of old? They would have answered, Love. Yet you ask people in this post-modern, 21st century Western world, and they’d probably say “love”, too.
Yet, what does love even mean to us? Don’t give me 1 Corinthians 13, at least, not yet. Oh, I’m sure the society where public bathroom genders are ‘neutral’ would say that letting everyone do what they want is love. However, I’m not concerned about their opinion. That’s an obvious issue that we’re facing in the world. Instead, I’m alarmed at my quiet, knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction– that says it doesn’t matter what I want at all. 
Deep down (or closer to the surface than I know), much of me still says that unselfishness is my greatest virtue. 

You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive… The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point (p. 25) 

Yes, 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is not self-seeking. But for years I leaned too far into that, making my “abstinence and not their happiness” the important point– and in doing so I missed a key part of love. When you deny yourself one too many times– even for love’s sake– you can lose touch of what you want. Because I had no idea what I wanted or needed, I never gave anyone the opportunity to give me anything in return. Is that relationship?

Oh, but it’s a commandment, isn’t it? I shall not want. Well, I made it a commandment.

Yes, it’s an unfortunate case of word origin. “Want” came from the Old Norse for “lacking”, only later extended to “need”, then to its current synonym “desire” (Oxford Dictionary of English). I read God is my shepherd, I shall not want, and fully knew what it was saying. God will look after me. God will provide for my needs. God’s got me covered. However, you say “I shall not want” enough times in 21st-century English? I suspect it’s going to fuse with the lie whispered in childhood and religious tradition, that to desire anything is indeed, wrong. 

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire (p. 26)

When I first read that, I felt like I got the best slap in the face possible. Like the kind of slap you desperately want if you’re falling asleep at the wheel late at night. Oh, I still feel like it leaves pink marks on my cheeks every time. Jesus has lots to say about self-denial… but NOT AS AN END IN ITSELF. Oh, it repeats, repeats like a song playing on three radio stations, in the supermarket, and on your friend’s speakers while studying.

So, take up your cross? Yes. Deny yourself

Because oh, there’s an appeal to desire.

Can’t you hear it? It’s on repeat.

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32)

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)

“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6)

Think of the “unblushing process of reward” in the Gospels. Remember, life and life abundantly? As C.S. Lewis remarked, “it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak” (p. 26). Could that be possible? Could Jesus really be asking me what I want? Not to trick me into breaking my heart, but to actually bring me back to life and fulfil those desires?

My only conclusion is that I’m pretty much clueless about what He’s offering. Isn’t that right? “We are… like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (p. 26).

I am far too easily pleased. Example? Last week I went on Facebook and Netflix for most of a rainy Sunday. For a few hours, I was in denial that I was actually lonely, missing my friends in Australia, and frustrated I didn’t have a car– it was all too painful. But when I finally pressed pause, and let myself feel the desire?

That’s when I finally cried (literally) out to God. I wanted a car so I could make it to church, see my friends here in Tauranga, as well as get to work easily. Six days later, I was driving a Ford Focus station wagon to coffee dates, an op shop trip, and movie nights with some incredible people (and yes, I drove to work this morning!).

So, what is the highest of virtues? What is the greatest thing in the world?

Oh, it’s Love.

I just have to remember that Love’s story always starts (and continues!) with lack. It will be at the end of my story that I truly proclaim– not a commandment– but my testimony:

Jesus is my closest friend, my desires were satisfied.

Quotes: “The Weight of Glory and other Addresses” by C.S. Lewis (1980). Harper Collins, New York. 
Verses: English Standard Version (ESV).
Photos: Cathedral Cove (Narnia), Coromandel, New Zealand. March 2010. Jordan Norris and myself.