The Craving

Hiding, hiding, still residing
Again I welcome the unwelcome guest
Riding, riding still abiding
On this journey I must face the test
Even on this journey I find no rest.
                                               With this trial, I am blessed

Longing, longing, for those I am wronging
Loving wrongly those I love best
Belonging, belonging, to my desires prolonging
The passion that burns within my chest
That burning passion that I now detest
                                               With this passion, I am blessed

Yearning, yearning, hormones churning
With discerning I see my heart possessed
Yearning, yearning, heavenward turning
Possess my soul while I am stressed
Lord free my soul as I am oppressed
                                               With this hope, I am blessed

Glowing, glowing, I smile in knowing
In your white garment I am dressed
Glowing, glowing, your love is flowing
Growing in faith, I repented, confessed
In faith I am off, in Your love caressed
                                               In your love, I am blessed


This one is difficult to share because it’s about difficult feelings that people don’t often discuss. What is poetry, and by extension art, even for if we’re not going to be real about the human experience? The things that make us uncomfortable are exactly the things worth expressing, discussing, and exploring.

So this was written while on a tour bus with my high school’s choral ensemble. We were on a week-long “tour” from Chattanooga, TN to Boston, MA and back, stopping to perform at various schools and churches along the way and enjoying numerous historical and musical opportunities throughout the trip. I was on this trip with many of my closest friends, many of whom were girls – hence the feelings and the poem. I’ve always had an easier time making friends with girls than guys just because of my personality and interests. Inevitably I would also come to find those female friends attractive and would “get crushes on them” or “become infatuated” or whatever phrase one wants to use. Everyone I’ve ever discussed these feelings with acknowledges that it’s a normal part of life. I’m not concerned that I’m an outlier for feeling attracted to beautiful people; everything from science to pop culture assures me that I’m not. For whatever reason, though I seem to have a whole collection of angsty poetry on the topic.

The source of conflict in the poem is that I feel that I’m violating “the rules” by being attracted to my friends. I use the words craving, longing, yearning, and “loving wrongly” to describe what is essentially lust. In the 3rd and 4th stanzas I appeal to God to free me from the oppressive stress of being possessed by the unhealthy desires, to help me pass the test. It’s fun to humorously dismiss those feelings as the hyperbolic exaggerations of a hormone-addled teenager, but I resent that sentiment for two reasons.

First, that anguish was real and shouldn’t be dismissed because of age. Feelings like that are being felt by people all that time and are a vital part of the human experience. We’ve all struggled with romance and with relationships and we won’t figure out how to live with ourselves and with others by being dismissive of real experiences and deep emotions.

Second, these feelings aren’t something I ever outgrew. Sure, I’ve grown more accustomed to bearing the burdens of adulthood. Sure, I’m married and am no longer playing the flirting/dating game. At first glance it might seem that being married means the stakes are lower now – I’ve arrived, it’s no longer of significant consequence what I do with my emotions because I’m not in the market for a new relationship. In my experience, attraction simply doesn’t work that way. Just as I can drool over a dessert menu despite having JUST EATEN a 1500 calorie dinner, being in a satisfying relationship is no antidote to the body’s carnal whims. It’s like how standing on the earth doesn’t fill my gravity meter and make me immune to the Sun or Moon’s pull.

So, back to the poem. I care about these people. These are my best friends. Yet being in close proximity for days on end has me “loving wrongly those I love best,” sending me into crisis for 2 reasons. First, I feel I’m disrespecting people I respect and care about by lusting over them and entertaining sexual fantasies that I would never discuss much less indulge. Second, I feel I’m violating my Christian morals, violating God’s law, sinning, by giving in to lust. The Bible teaches that to think a lustful thought is the same as committing the act. So, the entire poem is an exercise in shame and self-flagellation. The 4th stanza tries to make it about repentance and atonement – everyone loves a good redemption arc. However, as I review all my old poetry, I see these closing stanzas for what they are: aspirational. I wanted release from the tension of sexual attraction. I wanted release from the shame of violating the rules I’d been taught –- the rules governing how to be a good person. I wanted divine absolution as my reward for being ashamed rather than merely horny.

In each stanza I name a blessing: the trial, my passion, my hope, and God’s love. I think this is a vital truth that this poem expresses beyond just “man, how bout that high school angst.” The pursuit of Christian ideals doesn’t preclude hardship. Just as modern psychology extols the benefits of acknowledging and exploring our emotions in order to process them in a healthy way, I believe that Christianity also affirms being real about our experiences. All of our experiences are a blessing. Our challenges and failures should be explored and respected rather than hidden and repressed. This comes back to shame. At the core of this is an idea common to both Christian and secular psychology: our worth is not tied to our actions.

The main reason I feel sad when I look back at these poems is that at the time I de-valued myself because I was ashamed of my thoughts. Since then I’ve grown to embrace my emotions and inner thoguhts. I value my perception and enjoyment of beauty in all its forms. I am sometimes ashamed for my failings, but my worth is intrinsic and does not waver with my fickle thoughts or feelings. The emotions of this poem are still with me today, and are unlikely to ever leave. I trust myself to process, appreciate, and manage those feelings, and the relationships they impact. And yes, sometimes processing those feelings means writing more angsty poetry!