Sunday, February 25, 2007

Want to Want

What do you want?

A friend of mine asked me this question the other day, and I had no idea what he meant. But I felt an enormous surge of panic that left me speechless, with a terrified look on my face. Fortunately, my friend simply wanted to know what kind of food I wanted to eat (we had dinner plans), but I remained more than a little disturbed by my instinctive, yet noticeably uncomfortable initial response to hearing those words.

And so today, as I was driving in my car, it occurred to me that I typically find myself saying that I want to want something, as opposed to simply wanting it. And yet, when I was in my early twenties, I often, and with ease, found myself articulating very specific wants -- everything from Mexican food to religious beliefs to the precise details of the man I would potentially marry. Now, however, despite the fact that I am in my last year of my twenties and presumably -- as I get ready to finish my PhD this year -- wiser and more educated, I can't even decide whether I want Mexican or Indian food for dinner, whether I want to be Jewish or Christian (which is why I sometimes claim both, though always primarily Jewish), or whether I want it to be winter or summer.

Have I, in some way, regressed intellectually or psychologically?

I often say that things were simpler when I knew less. I knew exactly what I wanted. The world was without shades of gray and glorious nuances. And yet, if I look back, like Lot's wife, it's not that I long for my old life, but for the certainty and stability that is rarely to be found in the grays -- much like Lot's wife did not look back on her burning city because she missed the life she had there, but because it was her home, where she had come from (not to mention the fact that she left two daughters behind, and perhaps gazed back thinking of them).

So what is it that I want to want, exactly? And what does it really mean, what do we really mean, when we say that we want to want something? A couple of years ago, as I contemplated ending a long-term relationship, a close friend asked me, "Do you want to be with him?" My response was, of course, "I want to want to be with him. I really do." She responded, "Then you don't want to be with him." Then why did I wish that I wanted to be with him, if I didn't really want to be with him? So I guess the question, then is not what I want, but why I (and other people like me) sometimes feel the need to complicate things. And, then again, maybe that is still the wrong question. Maybe things really are always already that complicated.

Now my brain hurts.


Anonymous said...

I tend not to know what to say when people ask what I want, partly because I don't want the responsibility that accompanies choosing, and partly because I honestly don't know. It's not that I don't try to know. But the more I try, the less I am able to figure it out. Perhaps it's merely a strategy to avoid responsibility? Perhaps it indicates an intellectual progess, but a psychological regress? I don't know, though. ;)

My experience of "wanting to want" in the context of a relationship tends to carry a sense of feeling obligated - that I have lost the want, but feel compelled to play by the rules of a previously entered commitment. However, that probably isn't commitment, but something approximating "humoring" another.

On a different note, why do you think it is that "complication" carries a negative connotation (kind of "confrontation")? Why is it difficult for us to conceive of complications as a "home"?

Anonymous said...

Oops... Sorry for the typos:

Perhaps it indicates an intellectual progress?

(Yeah, right!)

Complication carries a negative connotation (kind of like "confrontation").

Michael Nehora said...

Ah, wanting...As Neil Gaiman said in Sandman, "the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted."

BTW, Lot took his two daughters with him as he left Sodom. Remember how they subsequently got him drunk and committed incest on him, on the assumption that there were no men left in the world to give them children?

Monica said...


Yes, that's true that Lot and his wife took their two young daughters with them, but one midrash has it that Lot and his wife had four daughters. There were the two daughters who fled with their parents from Sodom, but there were also two other daughters, who were married to Sodomite men, who (according to the midrash) stayed behind.

I have a tendency not to distinguish between midrash and the Hebrew bible -- they're one and the same for me -- but I wonder if that isn't a good thing. At any rate, I find that the story of Lot's wife makes its way into a lot of my writing/thinking.

Aunt Christy said...


I agree with Michael, Lot took his daughters with him. I dont't know what the Midrash is, but I'm certain The Bible is the only true and inspired word of God,(Jesus Christ). It is okay to be both Jewish and Christian, after all, Jesus was a Jew and there are many Jews today that still practice their customs but are Christians by faith.

As for the story of lots wife, I refer to that story alot myself, only to remind myself NOT to look back at the past and the things of this world. Those are the things that will ultimately destroy me as it did Lot's wife. We should always look forward to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, not backwards at the things of this world that leave us hopeless and confused. Which brings me to the point of your post; "Wanting to want"......which I have a problem with as interesting how we are so much alike in certain areas.......

Wanting to want......maybe it's; a spiritual battle, wanting to be perfect, just simply confused by all the choices and overload on our brain or maybe it's just being open to experience something new. The answer comes in spending time in prayer and waiting on the Lord for the answer to our questions. The problem with that is if you are again like your Aunt Christy in this area of your life as well, you don't take enough time to wait for God's answer. Therefore continues the cycle of; WHAT DO I WANT???????

Monica said...

Well, Aunt Christy, I guess you and I have very different readings of the bible. I think of the bible as Torah, which typically includes Midrash as well as Talmud, in addition to the Hebrew bible (your Old Testament). But it's okay for us to disagree . . . and, I tend to view Lot's wife as courageous rather than in a negative way. But that is a terrible digression from the point of my original post. And, regarding what it means to be both Christian and Jewish, I tend to conceive of myself as someone who comes from a Christian background but who has always been Jewish in one way or another.


I think you are absolutely right that to "want to want" carries a sense of feeling obligated, though I hadn't quite thought of it in that way. I suppose if I say that in the context of a relationship, what I really mean is that I wish my desires matched up with what people around me think I should desire -- which is rarely the case.

About complication being negative -- I think it's not. I sometimes wish life wasn't so complicated, or that I wasn't so complicated, but I still find myself seeking out complication whether it is in my research or relationships. It's a funny thing . . .

Aunt Christy said...

I'm confused on your take of Lot's wife.....How is disobedience to God at the cost of being turned into a pillar of salt, leaving your husband without his wife and children without their mother, all because of a longing to stay in a sinful, seductive, Godless city, courageous? I see disobedience of God at the cost of loosing your life and in this case possibly loosing eternity in heaven, as foolish not courageous.......

Monica said...

Aunt Christy,

I completely understand your concern. I guess it's all in the way you read the story, or perhaps simply in the awareness that there are other sides to the story.

Did you ever stop to think that perhaps her punishment was a bit harsh for simply looking back? I mean, really, it was just a look, and certainly not worth her life. These are questions that we can ask without necessarily arguing against G-d.

I read her as courageous when I read the bible as literature, which is frequently. I don't read as a literalist -- well in some cases I do, but not in most. If it is true that she had family she was leaving behind (and even if she didn't have two other daughters she left there, I'm sure there was other family and close friends), shouldn't we be able to understand the impulse to look back, the impulse to want to know if her family/friends might be spared or kept safe at the last moment? The truth is that we do not know why she looked back; we can only speculate.

My question is, why was it worth her life? Because God told her not to is not a good enough answer for me. By those standards, every human being in the world would have been turned to a pillar of salt before they reached their twenties. I believe the bible leaves some questions unanswered in order to make space for dialogue and for differing viewpoints -- those are the things that bring us closer to G-d, and not everybody believing the same thing or interpreting in the same way.

Casey said...

Monica--perhaps you have reached the end of "words" and your want demands satisfaction out of language.

Aunt Christy said...

Sometimes one look back is all it takes to destroy our lifes. That is the message here. God is bigger than me. He does not leave room in His word for questioning. That would make Him the same as you and me, then there would be no need for a bigger being, in this case God Almighty. The difference here is I take the Bible literally.....why? because I have studied it enough to know it is not just literature, or something to be read like Shakesphear. I have lived long enough to learn the truth not just by reading, but by experience and by my mistakes. If the Bible is errelevant than Jesus dying on the cross was in vain and has no meaning. Like C.S. Lewis said, "Jesus is either Lord, Liar or Lunatic." I think we both can agree He is not a liar or lunatic, which only leaves Him to be Lord. That being said there are no lies in His Word or things to be questioned by the simple minded humans like you and me. No matter what your level of academia is in this world, it is no match for the mind of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, AKA......GOD.

Don't you think Jesus's punishment was a bit harsh for what He did? Healing the sick, forgiving the prostitute, feeding the poor, giving site to the blind? We can go on and on about the good He did, still He was crucified on the cross and endured much more pain than instantly being turned into a pillar of salt. Both died, however only one suffered.

It is not for us to know all the answers, if we did there would be no need for faith. I believe trying to find answers for things we will only know in eternity is a form of driving ourselves mad. Which brings me back to another one of yours posts.

When God tells us not to do something it is for our own good. Again I know this from experience. Everytime I have gone against God's Word I have only hurt myself and have ended up with regret. Regarding your statement that everyone would have been turned to a pillar of salt before their twenties has no relevence. Being turned to a pillar of salt was only Lot's wife's result of disobeying God. Nowhere in God's Word He says if we disobey Him or look back at our past will we be turned into a pillar of salt. We all will suffer some consequence to our sin that is relevant to our situation. Sometimes we dont' die litrally, but we die on the inside, which can be somewhat paralyzing so much so we are stopped in our tracts as if we were a pillar of salt.

The important thing here to understand is that just because we choose to question something does not make it untrue. We can choose to disbelieve the Bible all we want, but to date there is no evidence to proove it wrong. In fact there is more to proove it true.

God loves us and anything written in His Word, (Bible), is only there to help us and direct us in a way so we won't hurt ourselves, not to keep us from enjoying life, but quite the contrary....He wants us to enjoy life to the fullest, it is only when we deviate from His Word we get hurt. Again I know this from experience.......
Love you, Aunt Christy

Aunt Christy said...

Oh, one last thought......Exactly what was it about Lot's wife looking back that made it courageous?

In her hesitance to leave and turning to look back, it is possible the blowing salt, (or fire and brimstone) surrounded and covered her up and was not something God did to her deliberately at all, but her own doing.

Monica said...


That's a really interesting point. I think that may indeed be the case, but if words have lost their significance for me, it is only very reluctantly that I admit that, since what I want is for words to be more than they are.

Aunt Christy,

You and I do not worship or believe in G-d in the same way. That needs to be respected. I think this post has gotten a bit out of hand, and not in a good way. So, since it appears that true dialogue has already been shut down, I'd like to move on to a new topic. This blog is not intended to be a venue for people to bash each other over the head with their belief systems. It's about critical and intellectual engagement with things that matter -- not an online shouting match.

Monica said...

PS: Nobody said the bible is "wrong"; nor did anyone say that questioning the bible means that the questioner finds it to be "untrue" -- quite the contrary, actually.

My point has been sorely missed.

Brad Cox said...

Dear Monica,

I understand your sorely missed point. You would be amazed by the path that I've been down in order to come to where I am only want the path that's blessed. I was raised in a "cult" called the Worldwide Church of God...which had many Old Testament Holydays and traditions. But when that church splintered apart in the mid 90's due to doctrinal changes, each of us had to make a personal choice whether we would stay with that group, go with a splinter group, or just do our own thing and not go to church at all. The blessed path begins with knowing that you need Jesus in your life and pursuing him with downright earnestness. He does still give dreams and visions I have such experiential proof of that. He has more than a couple times shown me what is yet ahead along my personal path. The question you ask about wanting to want...could stand to be upgraded to realizing that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life ...and to develop a relationship with him. The Bible isn't just a piece of literature. It's alive and is often referred to by specific scriptures and metaphors given by God through such vivid dreams. The focus of what fundamentalist Christians believe on the world scene or in their social affairs with other church groups may not be as important as having an awareness of God working with you face to face at times. Are you interested in hearing more ? I have a myspace site, a yahoo address, as well as a address. Better yet, I live just off Klondike Road if you want to talk. I may appear as being just a window cleaner who happens to live on Blueberry Lane. But I'm real...and share my faith...and life...since my wife recently divorced me...which Jesus did fortell would happen. He even has someone prearranged for me to eventually meet and marry. (But I haven't met her yet.) He knows our innermost desires...he is in control and often handles some of the hardest decisions we could possibly face. What I WANT... is to give him glory for being as meek and humble as he said he was...and for being a sledgehammer in my life when that role was fitting and clear away the clutter that had hindered me from being who he yet wants me to be. Yes, it takes faith to walk this path. But I sure am glad that I don't have to lean on my own understanding in order to make some of the more difficult choices in life.

Is this the path you WANT ? And are you courageous enough to (witness) tell people you know and meet just how profoundly Jesus has affected your life...supposing you would be given such interactions and inspirations as I've been given ? My intention isn't to frustrate you in your Jewish studies...but to lead you to truth...and to something a bit more dynamic...a relationship with God himself. I believe this was your aunt's intention too.

Monica said...

Brad Cox,

Thanks for reading and commenting -- feel free to keep doing so. I am happy for you, happy that you believe yourself to be satisfied and content, and that you have experienced a relationship with G-d. But I would ask that you, and others, also respect the fact that not everyone believes exactly as you do, and that there is more than one path that is "blessed." Your "truth" may not be mine, Brad, but that doesn't make either one of us more or less "right." I do have a relationship with G-d, and it feels a bit presumptuous for you to suggest that I do not.

I come from a background of hardcore Christianity, for better or worse. But if I imagine that I am like Lot's wife, then the burning city I look back on is fundamentalist Christianity. I come from "your" world, Brad. I know all of the ins and outs of it, the best and worst of it. You have no idea who you're talking to here (and, of course, how could you, since that is not the focus of my blog). My path to Judaism (though not necessarily away from Christianity; wrap your brain around that) is something that has been fulfilling for me in ways that Christianity alone was not. It is also a personal, and precious path that should not be attacked (even if well-intentioned) by someone who believes that they are right and I am wrong. Judaism has shown me the true meaning of the face-to-face relationship with G-d, and has allowed me to experience it in a way that is, for me, more authentic -- more intellectual and less sensational or emotional. We are not all built the same, Brad, and neither should we all worship in the same ways.

On a final note: you're right -- the bible is certainly not simply a piece of literature. It is not a cultural artifact, but a vibrant and living blueprint for the world. But it only remains a living, meaningful text through the process of interpretation and thoughtful study and reflection. I fear that it is your approach that threatens to cut off it's life support if you believe in only one interpretation.