Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer often gives me words to pray when I am too bewildered or dry to express my deepest yearnings, but this prayer, perhaps more than any other, strikes a deep chord with my experience. How true it is that our wills are unruly, and our affections out of our control! We desire that which we know will harm us, that which will never be, and that which we know is contrary to God’s will—and, among all the other “swift and varied changes of the world,” our desires shift from one object to the next bewilderingly fast. As St. Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15) In this bewilderment, we need the solidity of the changeless God, the One who alone is entirely worthy of love, and will not betray our hope.
However, loving God will not replace all our other desires. We cannot treat God as a consolation prize, a substitute father or husband or friend, only necessary because our other relationships do not satisfy us. He is our God, our Creator and Redeemer, and so our love for Him must be different in kind, not only in amount, from our other loves. Embarking on the Christian life, we should not expect that, if only we love God enough, we can escape the heartbreak and disappointment that inevitably comes from needing to love people. Even for Adam before the Fall it was not good to be alone.
Rather, as we love God, our other desires will be purified, stripped of their selfishness and unruliness. There will still be grief and suffering in our lives; God does not promise worldly success and relational bliss. And our love for God cannot make us not care about broken friendships or lost dreams. However, His love for us can heal our pain, which is a far better thing. A higher love does not replace a lower, but enriches it. Friendship does not abolish hunger, but friends support each other through lean times, and a meal shared with friends is the best meal of all. In the same way, our friendship with God (for He has called us friends!) does not abolish our other desires, but bears us up when they are unfulfilled, and makes their fulfillment a far more joyful thing.
So, then, we are not asking to be taken out of “the swift and varied changes of the world”; after all, the world has been given into our care, first at Creation when God made us His stewards, and again at the Ascension, when Christ told us to go and make disciples of all nations. Instead, we ask that in the midst of confusion and tumult God might fix our hearts on His changelessness, that we might with confidence go out into the world.