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The Richness of Not Wanting

“Oh, there’s that dreadful word again,” I said to myself. My spiritual director had just suggested to me that I might not be capable of getting myself up at 5:00 for an hour of prayer before getting ready for my usual 7:30 breakfast meeting for my business. She said that God would have to do that for me and that this was part of the process of surrendering to God. There was that word—surrender. I dreaded it. It felt like relinquishing my rights, my will, my choices. That conversation was quite awhile ago and, as result of those morning prayers, my spiritual journey has been one of steady descent ever since!

I’ve had to move steadily downhill from control, self-centeredness, ego, self-deception, success, security, busyness and fear. All because of that central compelling call from God to surrender. It is hard work and very counter to our culture, even much of our religious culture. And it’s easy to think that the downhill journey is all downhill, with little to be joyful about. I used to believe that.

I knew little of the other side of surrender, which is freedom, inner freedom. Freedom opens doors to the eternal. Surrender transforms us, it opens us, it heals us, it relieves us of our self-imposed burdens so we are cleaned out and free to be filled with God, in order to be our best selves. I doubt if surrender will become a subject of popular workshops or book titles though, because if most people are like me, they are afraid of what it will cost, how hard it will be and what they will be asked to give up.

There is a simple poem, written by a 15th Century Indian mystic named Kabir, that captures the essence of surrender in a compelling way for me.

Where the Shopkeeper Would Say

I was

Looking for that shop

Where the shopkeeper would say,

“There is nothing of value in here.”

I found it and did

Not leave

The richness of not wanting

Wrote these


The phrase that is most compelling for me is “the richness of not wanting.” Other ways to say this might be: let go and let God, not clinging, releasing, letting go. The word in that phrase that embraces me is the word, richness. How can there be richness in not wanting?

Freedom again. When I have to have…a house, a mate, cars, a certain job, health, money, fame, status, success, travel, clothes, attention from children, recognition, approval, the need to be needed, addictions, control, beauty, a body type etc, I am controlled by these desires, these longings. And I am not free to receive what I truly need instead.

Our culture pushes me to take the road to more—abundance, wider territory, more money, bigger job, multiple toys, having what I want right now. There are books that train our minds to deliver us whatever we dream of. I know best. I get what I want. The guarantee is that I will then be happy. Usually this regimen leaves me blind to what I actually need.

Moving into the richness of not wanting is a long, slow and incredibly satisfying experience. But it involves loss and letting go, releasing our wants in favor or our needs. It probably should not be done without guidance lest we lose track of the meaning in the process. But one thing I know; the journey is worth it and God is in the middle of it.

I would describe my spiritual journey as a slow downward spiral to the heart of God. This journey has brought me through several painful leadership experiences in which I learned to lead from behind rather than from the front. This journey brought me to the cusp of despair as a result of severely impaired relationships. It has transformed my work from traveling and key-note speaking to simpler yet deeper interactions with people. It has allowed me to downsize my living space and release many of my possessions. It has increased the richness and diversity of my friendships. It has deepened my spiritual life and increased my intimacy with God significantly.

So now whenever I crave something I do not need, I ask the simple question “why do I want this?” Usually if I go deeply enough and see what is beneath that desire, it is about security or filling an empty space within. When I can release these cravings I am free. I laugh more. I cry more too. I feel a deeper connection with the beauty around me. And I know joy.

Is this journey for everyone? No. One good church leader said to me, when I was describing the sacrificial life, “Why would anyone want this life?” I agreed. Why would anyone want this life, the richness of not wanting.

Good question. Ask God about it.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved

Reflections on this essay

What does surrender mean to you spiritually?

What have you surrendered that has felt life-giving for you?

When have you gotten something you wanted and found out it didn’t satisfy you?

How do you experience the richness of not wanting?

How do you experience the freedom of less…?

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