You May Not Love What You Think

Our loves and longings and wants and hungers are not the result of our conscious, rational choices — they are the drivers of those choices.

We like to imagine ourselves as enlightened, rational, truth-seeking knowers — “thinking things,” as Descartes put it. But in fact, the engine that drives us under the hood of our conscious awareness is our loves. You aren’t defined by what you know. You are what you love.

 

Where do you want to go today?

This was the question posed to humanity by the tech giant Microsoft in ancient Internet history (1994). Before our computers could go with us in the form of smartphones in our pockets, Microsoft tantalized us with the capability of a desktop computer to take you somewhere else — anywhere but here.

The opportunities were endless, the ad campaign suggested. You could “go” anywhere. The only limit was your wants. So it turned out the pivotal part of the question wasn’t “going”; it was wanting. Asking someone where they want to go boils down to asking them what they want.

Embedded in this question is actually an important insight into the kinds of creatures we are. Even in our information age, the quest for information is governed by our wants. What you look for is a reflection of your desires. What you want to know is an indicator of your wants. For a brief time Google even maintained a metasearch engine that asked, “What do you love?”

We like to imagine ourselves as enlightened, rational, truth-seeking knowers — “thinking things,” as Descartes put it. But in fact, the engine that drives us under the hood of our conscious awareness is our loves. You aren’t defined by what you know. You are what you love.

And here’s the disconcerting reality we need to face: our loves and longings and wants and hungers are not the result of our conscious, rational choices — they are the drivers of those choices.

We like to imagine that our wants are consciously chosen: that we hear an illuminating sermon on Sunday that convicts us about the truth, then wake up on Monday morning and choose what to love. Now that you know what you should want, that’s what you’ll want from here on out, right? Right?!

What Do You Really Love?

My hunch is that, if we’re honest, we all know it’s never that easy. The apostle Paul himself testified to the internal contest that is the space of sanctification: I don’t do what I want, even when I know what I should want (Romans 7:18). And I do the things I don’t want to do because, on some register, a part of me still wants that (Romans 7:15).

I am a terrain of contested desires. Or, as Augustine put it, my own interior life can be a foreign country, a region of dissimulation, a terra incognito. You are what you love, but you might not love what you think.

Why is that? How does that happen? It’s because our hearts are inscrutable things; the mysterious, conflicted core of who we are; an interior depth that sometimes eludes us and deceives us (Jeremiah 17:9). More specifically, it’s because our loves and wants and hungers are habits that we learn in all kinds of unconscious ways.

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