It is 11:59 PM. You’re exhausted. But the conversation with your teenager (or spouse) has now drug on for 48 harried minutes. Despite your generous investment of time and attention, it is clear that the issue on the table is about as clear as a London fog.

We know that these conversations are an inevitable part of life in a fallen world. It is easy to grow weary of them and tune out or avoid them altogether. But they can be part of good relationship development. We learn a lot about others and most especially—ourselves—through them.

Wouldn’t it be nice to figure out a way to burn through the fog? Refocusing our attention on the cause of the issue or conflict (whichever) that lies beneath these conversations can help reduce the duration and frequency of these conversations so that they are more redemptive. Here’s how.

To begin, there is no formula. I apologize if you thought I was going to give you one! (Faith is not a formula but it doesn’t stop us from hedonistically searching for formulas, does it?) What I’m going to share with you is something more fundamental that cannot be replaced with a mere on-demand formula although it can also be helpful in the moment.

Desires Drive Life

The issues of our lives—that cause conflicts and those squirrely conversations!—are the passions, or desires that are idolatrous and rule our hearts. Luke 6:55 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

“Evil treasure” can also be described as deceitful desire or evil desires as we see in Ephesians 4:22 and Colossians 3:5 (respectively). “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.”

Desires Can Become Demands

Most desires are not inherently sinful but become idolatrous when they depend on something or someone other than God for fulfillment. For example, a desire for the delicious taste of mint chocolate chip ice cream is not a bad thing in itself. But what happens if you go to the store and they are out—or worse, they don’t have green mint chocolate chip but only the white kind? Do you get angry about it? Getting angry is a sign that the desire has indeed become idolatrous.  Another example could be a desire for a secure future. You have diligently saved and invested wisely. But there’s a market correction and your portfolio loses 40% of its value. How do you respond? Ultimately, our response reveals where our trust really is. If it is really in the portfolio then fear and anxiety will overcome us. If however it is really looking to God, then amid the conflicting emotions will emerge obedient rest in God despite the loss.

The issues of life are fundamentally desire-driven. This represents a challenge for us, especially as parents. Are we merely training our children to “do what is right?” Or, are we getting to the real heart of the issue which is the often stealthy desires that have driven those actions? Actions are merely the flower, the desires are the root. Based on how we parent, would our kids say that doing the right thing is more important than doing it for the right reason?

If desires are the problem, then what are doing about them? First, desires are always directing us. They never rest. Perhaps putting it that way is enlightening? If desires are always at work, then it is appropriate to discuss them at any time. We rarely evaluate ourselves or discuss desires with others this intently. The second thing we can do then is to get into the habit of discussing desires.

Talk More About Desires

One day a few weeks ago, I took one of my teenage sons on some errands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was—his—errand! Anyway, he was talking quite passionately about a particular interest of his. (If my van were electric, I could have plugged him into the engine and saved a lot of gas.) At the end of what was at least an 8-minute monolog, I simply said, “WOW. You have strong desires!” Then we had a good discussion about desires. Nothing my son said that day was sinful. He did nothing wrong. But in the moment, the opportunity presented itself simply to draw attention to this fact.

It is good that—especially in normal, non-confrontational conversation—that we talk about our desires so that we can begin to be more attentive to their presence, identify them, and connect them to our behavior more readily. In normal and stressed conversations asking the question, “Why?” is a great tool that allows you to cut through the fog and reach the desire level.

Dealing With Actions on the Desire Level Provides Hope

Talking about desires prepares us to be able to deal more effectively with those issues especially when they come up at midnight and you are not in the mood for a 48 minute game of mental hopscotch. This is not hard to understand. However, the things that are simple to understand can sometimes be the hardest to do because they require intentionality and usually more of our time. But we must remember that our investiture pays off because this is what God has said is our core problem. Addressing the core problem as God defines it gives us tremendous hope that better days are ahead and confidence that we, in all of our weakness, can be God’s instruments in each other’s lives!