Playing With Fire (Or, Learning to Listen)

Oct 21, 2013

“The language of souls is their desire.” – Gregory the Great


Like every good thing, it can be twisted. Exhibit A may be the wandering Israelites and their golden calf, but exhibits B through Z are not hard to find. No need even to name them.

Well aware of exhibits A through Z, desire begins to look dangerous. It begins to look like fire. Afraid of being burned, we push it aside, we cover it up, we warn our children about playing with fire, and we forget. We forget how much we need that life-giving warmth.




I can remember the day my Sunday New York Times magazine flipped open to a photograph of an old, rambling farmhouse. I sat in my Florida ranch home with its persistently green vegetation, and the desire I felt for that other house nearly knocked me out of my seat.

In the picture I could see trees turning orange, pumpkins on the porch, and a tower room that looked perfect for a writing desk. I imagined children (a bigger crowd than my own three) running across the lawn, while someone (couldn’t be me) watched from the windows. I pictured a henhouse and vegetable garden off to the side, and a woman writing stories in the tower room (of course, she wasn’t me; the only thing I’d ever written was a dissertation and that was an experience I was not eager to repeat).

In that image, I could see an entire life. It looked beautiful, but it could never be mine. I didn’t even consider it. That would have been like considering a trip to the moon.

I was a mother of three (there would be no more), I had recently applied for a tenure-track professorship at a small Florida liberal-arts school, and I was, however reluctantly, mapping out a future among the palm trees.

But those northern maples were blazing in my magazine, and I could feel their heat through the page.




Here is a long story made very short: God was speaking to me, and the medium of communication was desire.

It is a dangerous thing to listen to that voice. One day you are living reasonably, making reasonable plans, and fulfilling every obligation and expectation, and the next? You are on your knees warming your hands over a magazine picture until … you are consumed.

You have played with fire, and your life will never be the same.


the rainbow window


Praise be to God.



  1. Amy

    As one chronically afraid of my feelings, this meditation on desire really resonated. Thank you for reminding me of the sanctity of desire.

  2. kelli woodford

    Christie, you have touched on something universal here, I think. We, as people, tend to be so suspicious of certain emotional reactions. And as you pointed out, sometimes this is good. But I also think we miss so many of the ways of God that can only be described as deep calling to deep because of our mistrust of what is stirring in those private spaces.

    Thank you for following your desire. You blaze a trail for the rest of us trusting pilgrims.

    • Christie Purifoy

      “Deep calling to deep.” Yes! That’s it exactly. Thank you, Kelli.

  3. Bridget Schmidt

    Christie, You’ve expressed this so well.

    In our attempt to avoid the slippery slope of desire, we sometimes miss the heart of the Father. He’s given his life for us and still we’re surprised by his extravagance, his desire to bless. I believe he calls us to dream big, simply because he delights in fulfilling those dreams.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Yes, Bridget. You put it all so well – afraid of the “slippery slope” of our desires we stand far, far away away from the Father’s heart. But how else can he help us see who he made us to be? the lives he has planned out for us?
      Thank you for your words, Bridget.

  4. Carol

    Thank you, Christie, for the eye opening post. It hit me like a bolt of lightening that I equate (subconsciously) my desires with selfishness. How long I have desired a quiet place in our home that is just mine…………to write, to think, to just BE…….it somehow seemed selfish. To think that God could be speaking to me through my desires is something to ponder indeed.

    My heart always does a little jump when I open my email and see that there is a new post from “There Is A River”. Your words are such a blessing to me.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, thank you, Carol. Your encouragement means so much. I have no doubt God will soon be meeting you in that special quiet place. So, this is me giving you permission. Go for it. 🙂

  5. Laura Brown

    I have a desire to get in a car and drive up there and scuffle through those leaves and find the kitchen and co-make a pumpkin pie with gluten-free crust from scratch.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Laura, there is a third-floor guest bedroom (complete with writing desk) with your name on the door. Seriously.

  6. Allison Duncan

    “We forget how much we need that life-giving warmth.” So true! I love the metaphor of fire. It has a good and proper place in life–fireplaces, campfires, candles, stoves. It is harmful when it goes outside those proper places, but it is not innately harmful. Thanks for sharing, Christie!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Allison! I love to see you in my comment feed.

  7. Kris Camealy

    Christie, this is it, right? I am learning to listen to the desires that well up within me, learning to hand them over to Him, to ask Him if this is a gift or something to step away from, and as I present my desires to Him, I am continually overwhelmed at how He handles them, never condemning me, but sifting, revealing, and blessing the ones of His choosing, and so they become mine to embrace as a gift. One of the glorious ways He feeds and nourishes my soul, is through the refining of my desires. You home? It is so lovely, and what a gift. 😉

  8. Bailey

    Reading this today was such a beautiful reminder to follow the dreams God is laying in front of me, even if I’m afraid of being burned. Thank you.


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