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How to Manage Unmet Desires


“This isn’t what I wanted from my career.”
“It wasn’t my plan to be single.”
“My marriage is not what I dreamed it would be like.”
“My kids are struggling more than I thought they would.”
“I expected to get more from my friendships.”

We all have desires that go unmet in this life. Yet, it’s still surprising and challenging to experience them, particularly when we go through this mental checklist:

  • God is good and wants to give me good things.
  • I’m trying to believe and follow God.
  • What I want seems to be a good thing that aligns with God’s will.

Why then do I experience good desires for my life that God doesn’t seem to meet? Why would God allow me to have these unmet desires?

These deeply held desires that God doesn’t seem to meet can be sources of our most intense temptations: to flee God-given responsibilities to search for happiness in a different set of circumstances, to work desperately to bend our circumstances or others to our desires, or to misuse God’s good gifts thinking that will satisfy us.

Despite their false hopes and promises, these unhealthy ways of dealing with unmet desires increase problems instead of solving them.

So, how does the Bible teach us to manage these unmet desires? Here are a few healthy ways to respond:

1. Wake up and make a change.

Is God trying to wake you up to make a change in your life?

Sometimes we have unmet desires because we are stuck in bad patterns. Maybe, you’ve become stagnant in a status quo. Or maybe you are looking to the wrong things to make you happy.

God lets us experience unmet desires as a wakeup call to pull us deeper in our relationship with him or to make us willing to make a change in a bad circumstance or an unhealthy relationship.

In Isaiah 55:2, God tells his people that their unmet desires are a wakeup call to reorient themselves towards him.

“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

But, not every desire is going to be met by changing our circumstances. Trading one job for another job might be trading one set of unsatisfying circumstances for another. So, what then?

2. Groan for your true home.

We are not promised that God will meet all our desires in this life. But he does promise us that, when we come to our true home, we will be eternally, fully satisfied.

One of the reasons God doesn’t satisfy all your desires in this life is that you would just settle for this life. Unmet desires are a call to keep heading home. Many of the desires you have are good desires. It’s not wrong to desire them. It’s just a question of when you are expecting to have them satisfied.

The answer is not to stop desiring. (This is the Stoic answer and the Buddhist answer.) The Bible’s answer is to groan. It’s to keep your desire alive by taking it to God and waiting on his timing. We groan about the remaining injustice in the world. We groan about the ways our marriage isn’t all it should be.

This is why Romans 8 tells us that all of creation is groaning for what God has prepared for us and expects us to groan as well.

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

You might be asking, “But I thought the Bible commands us to not grumble?” What’s the difference between grumbling and groaning? Well, this brings us to our third point.

3. Learn to be content with what God chooses to give you now.

If God is ultimately going to satisfy our unmet desires, then we can wait. If God is good and wants to get us home, then we can trust that he knows which good things to give us in this life and which ones to hold back.

That may not make sense to us or be what we want, but the Bible invites us to learn to trust the God who knows more than we know.

Paul expresses this in his Philippians 4:11-13.

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

It's not that Paul doesn’t prefer to have plenty over being in want. Or to be well-fed instead of hungry. But Paul recognizes that there are dangers that come from getting our needs met in this life.

Both courses provide their own challenges. Paul has learned to trust what God chooses to give him in this life. He’s learned to wait for the time when God will meet all his desires. In Romans 8, he invited us to groan…but, here, he reminds us that God promises to be with us and to give us the strength we need to handle the temptations that come with getting our needs met in this life or to handle those that come from not getting our needs met.

He has learned the secret of being content.

Contentment keeps groaning from becoming grumbling, and groaning keeps contentment from stuffing your deeper desires or just settling for the happiest you can be in this life. Grumbling lacks a trust that God is giving us what we truly need in this life. Contentment teaches us to trust what God gives.

And, when contentment is coupled with groaning, we can look forward with hope that one day our desires will be met.

This coupling of groaning and contentment is how the Bible equips you to carry and emotionally digest the unmet desires in this life. And it keeps your eyes fixed on the God who promises that what he has prepared for you is beyond what even your heart can imagine.

Managing your unmet desires becomes easier as you grow in your relationship with Jesus. Here are some questions to can ask to help you assess your spiritual health and identify areas to develop.