The Heart’s Desire:
A Guide to Personal Fulfillment

by James Houston, Lion Publishing, 1992, 253 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

I have a special affection for James Houston since he was personally involved in helping me traverse some rough waters in the wake of my father’s death. His warm, open and generous spirit has been the source of inner healing for countless persons.

In this landmark book, Houston lays bare the true longings of the human heart. In the first section of the book, “Chasing the Wind”, he discusses how these desires have been distorted in the human experience, and how they have been misplaced. In a broad sense, he notes, that “…we cheat ourselves if we are either too rational or too emotional… Rationalism that is unfeeling and sentimentalism that is unreflective both distort the truth.”

Based on this general premise, Houston explores a variety of areas in which we have misplaced our desires. In the idolatry of tribe, market place and theatre that ultimately fails to satisfy. In the addictions to both substance and process that result in loss of reality, compulsive behavior and personal deterioration. In narcissistic, romantic love that in the end always leaves us empty. In a rational and technological approach to life that leaves us emotionally impoverished. Thus misplacing our heart’s desires, argues Houston, results in boredom in the present because “…the past is blocked by guilt and the future is blocked by anxiety.”

In the second section of the book, “Breaking the Spell” Houston explores the promise of true Christian spirituality. He argues that when our human desires are directed to the right place we will experience a sense of fulfillment because we will be living as we were meant to live. While admitting that examples abound of Christians who have used their notion of Christian spirituality to justify “chasing the wind”, he persists in his conviction that when we are willing to be honest, vulnerable and passionate about investing our desires in Jesus Christ, new levels of healing, hope and fulfillment can be found.

In order to make this point, he draws on four images that have helped many break the spell of misplaced desires in the past. First, he notes that we should be prepared to be led into the desert which can become the place of true liberation, even though such journeys tend to threaten the institutions of church life. Second, he says we can choose to dwell in the garden of the heart’s desires, a place where commitment, passion and intimacy can flourish together. Third, he suggests envisioning ourselves to be on a pilgrimage, a “symbol of life lived in the tension between our ‘home’ with God and our mortal state of exile in the world”. And finally, he thinks it is helpful to see ourselves as children of God. Even though we are beginning to discover how fragile human childhood is - how devastating the pains of early life can be to adults – Houston insists that we can be re-parented by God and find a good degree of wholeness and fulfillment in spite of those early wounds.

This is another one of those books worth buying and keeping within arm’s reach. Houston’s broad scope of knowledge about world-wide history, literature and spirituality generate countless examples to illustrate the points he is making. A must read for those seeking to go beyond the candy-floss of much contemporary spirituality.