Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 7, 2008

The Wanna Wanna Path To Enlightenment

Epiphany, 2007

This Epiphany, I’m seeking the barely knowable among the unknown, like the three kings searching the heavens, then searching around in some strange foreign land…
I want to welcome the hidden, humble, unexpected truths: a baby in a feed trough, not a conqueror in a palace…

     I have a running in-joke with my old friend Tom, a kind of common problem that we share. I call it the “wanna wanna” path of faith and right action. It has to do with hope and healing and repentance –and how to stay on the path despite my interesting but dangerous wrong turns, or the steepness of the road itself. It usually goes something like this:

“I don’t wanna change… but I wanna wanna.”

“I don’t wanna go where I’m being sent, but I wanna wanna go.” (Call it the Jonah problem.)

“I don’t wanna stop this compulsive behavior, but I wanna wanna.” (The above-mentioned friend is a social worker and addictions counselor.)

“I don’t wanna work, but I wanna wanna.” (Enjoying the process– rather than fearing the frustrations along the way or needing a perfect outcome– can make the end product more satisfying… sometimes.)

Anyway, you get the idea. The wanna wanna approach has to do with those situations where our beliefs and our actions (or our desires and beliefs) don’t match. The desire to do good is a both a gift and a burden at the same time. And the actual act of doing good is a gift given, not usually one received. And of course, it’s always tempting to try getting out from under that pesky burden part, to hoard our gifts and resources and not have anything expected of us. Furthermore, the “have it all” attitude pushed by advertising and the whole Western free market system certainly doesn’t help, especially when it comes to separating what we want from what we actually need. Thus, wanna wanna simply acknowledges all these tensions.

Maybe the wanna wanna also makes an excuse for those situations where I do shirk responsibility, or where I sidestep the burden. But the main point of the wanna wanna is to honor the intention — the desire of my heart– to do better, despite a failure or a situation where I acted selfishly. The primary benefit of honoring intention is very personal and internal: it keeps me from giving up on myself, from getting caught in some cycle of shame that would make me stop trying altogether, the next time an opportunity to do better arises.

Finally, the wanna wanna is a tool for enforcing obedience, to swim against the tide of what my self-centered id or ego want, to deny myself in an effort to stumble toward what God wants (or what’s best for my family, my students , my co-workers, etc.) . Because who am I to presume that what I want is always what’s best for me, or for anyone else?

I wanna want what God wants, but I often don’t know what Gott wants. [What?!Say THAT ten times fast!] Or sometimes I do know what God wants, but it’s different from what I want— which usually sucks on an emotional level.  However, if I base all my actions and judgments only upon how I feel, I’m being immature, and bound to go wrong at some point. On the other hand, it ain’t so bad if I can relax and trust that God’s reasons for leading me where I don’t wish to go come from a place of love, and a desire for me to grow. He knows I can’t see the forest for the trees. Even so, the fact that I’m even looking for the forest at all still counts for something. The wanna wanna keeps me from standing still, or turning away.

In the 2006 film The Nativity, the filmmakers did some interesting things with the Three Wise Men that are relevant to my point. {Spoiler alert!… I’m discussing a surprise from the film in this paragraph, so skip down if you’d prefer to see the film and be surprised}. In the film, two of the three learned Persians wanted to seek out the new Hebrew king, while the third feared it would be a wild goose chase, or maybe that the journey itself will be too perilous. Whatever his reasons, he decides not to go. The other two leave without him, disappointed but still committed to their vague notion that it’s a journey they must make. Then just when they’ve decided they can actually do it without him, Wise Man #3 comes ambling up on his camel and makes some whiny comment. So he comes after all, to support his friends perhaps moreso than out of a commitment to the journey’s purpose. He complains the whole way, but the fact that he keeps going anyway is a sign that under all his cynicism, he’s a person of hope… in other words, he’s got the wanna wanna down pat.

So now we launch into 2008. Elections. Olympics. Infatuations. Graduations. New victories, or (more likely) new disappointments. Maybe new jobs, new houses, or various other opportunities and decisions. As we’re making those decisions, it might be helpful to ask ourselves not only what we want, but also what we wanna want, which is usually better than what we actually want. It’s a matter of listening to that still, small voice in the back of our head, of bowing down to Jesus in the humble stable of our heart.

I, for example, don’t want to go back to school tomorrow. But I wanna wanna go back. I aspire to be enthusiastic about it all, to set a good example for my students and my son. I want to want the life I’ve been given… to go through the dreary days of late January and early February strengthened by the belief that I am exactly where I belong, doing what I’m supposed to do, whether or not I actually like it. And maybe if I keep wanting that attitude of liking what’s good for me, it will actually come. Then I won’t be such a mope. I’ll be healthier. Happier. I’ll eat better. I’ll finish what I’ve started. Then I’ll look up one day, and it will be spring, and what I want and what I wanna want might actually match. Wouldn’t that be nice…

So… what do you wanna wanna do?

“It’s not having what you want/It’s wanting what you’ve got…” – Sheryl Crow, Soak Up the Sun


  1. I don’t know how I found your entry (well technically I do, Google/images/community violence) bun spiritually, Man. I felt like I was reading something I would have written very recently. Which feels wonderful, wonderful to know what I feel is shared by someone I don’t know, therefore someone worth knowing. I’d love to exchange ideas with you and see what else is known and unknown.


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