The Spirituality of Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me

Desire isn't all bad, especially when God aims it at you.

Cheap Trick

Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want me is about desire:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin' you to beg me.

Desire gets a bad rap, in part thanks to three letters: S-E-X.

You can argue it’s justified. As I write this blog post, the news broke that Matt Lauer was fired for what NBC called “inappropriate sexual behavior” in the workplace. He joined a long line of powerful men from Hollywood, politics and media accused of similar shenanigans. The line seems to grow longer every day.

(I’m using the headlines to make a point about misusing desire. Harassment for personal gain in our institutions is intolerable, as the Catholic Church can attest to thanks to the priest sex scandals. Sadly, these stories tend to focus on the accused’s fall rather than the victims who suffered at their hands.)

But is desire’s sordid reputation fairly earned? Let’s dial it back and see.

Desire isn’t necessarily bad. It is a strong want for something. Desire’s sordid side comes from our wanting something at someone else’s expense. The recent sexual harassment scandals demonstrate this.

It doesn’t have to be. Desire is a darn good thing when it’s aimed for someone’s benefit. I desire that my children get a college education. Let me tell you I am paying for that desire right now (next month, actually, when the tuition bill arrives just when the post-Christmas credit card bills come in).

My rapidly diminishing bank balance notwithstanding, I am incredibly happy to improve my kids’ life through education. Desire is not such a bad thing: It’s improving their welfare and makes me happy.

So where does our desire come from? It comes from God.

Consider this: we are made in God’s image. Wrapping our head around God’s image is so difficult it can make your hair hurt. We can crack it a little by turning the idea around. We often imagine ourselves as an imprint, like what a rubber stamp makes on a piece of paper. But can’t something be said for the reverse? Doesn’t the imprint tell us about the stamp?

If we are made in God’s image, some of our characteristics are a reflection of God’s characteristics. Desire is one of them. We get desire from God, and so God must have some capacity for desire.

To be sure, any desire God has can’t be what we would consider bad. God does not take anything from us for his benefit. It would be absurd because there’s nothing we have that can improve God in any way. God’s desire for us is always aimed at our benefit.

Now let’s look at Cheap Trick. We get insight into God’s desire for us when we think of him singing to us:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin' you to beg me.

This lyric captures God’s desire. He desires us -- you and me. He wants us to want him, he’d love us to love him. God never stops calling us to himself. He desires us that much.

Most of us, most of the time, aren’t aware of that pull. It comes, but in glimpses. We’re most likely to perceive it during our weakest, most vulnerable moments when our defense are smashed to pieces by some lousy thing that happened to us. The lyric continues:

Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'.
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?

Don’t misunderstand: It’s not that God hides, waiting for some crappy thing to happen to us. That’s not the cue for him to pop out from behind the curtain to say, “Hey, dude, here I am!” and it doesn’t mean that God makes bad things happen to us so we can notice him.

Rather, a caring God always sings his song of desire for a close relationship with us. We tend to hear it more clearly when the noise and distractions of everyday life become trivial and fall away. He wants to comfort us when we’re hurting.

When he does, he meets us where we are. He doesn’t make us go to him, he comes to us:

I'll shine up my old brown shoes.
I'll put on a brand new shirt.
I'll get home early from work,
If you say that you love me.

How cool is that? The creator of the universe, who wants a relationship with us, consoles us unconditionally. If only we hear him singing to us.

[Video note: I’m fond of the Letters to Cleo cover from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. It rocks more than the Cheap Trick original.]