What are you longing for? An ice cold lemonade or hot latte? A house full of people or a quiet walk alone? A prodigal to come home or reconciliation with someone across the table? Healing for a loved one or healing for your own heart? Longing. It is a word that has depth to it—a”more-ness” that comes with it, compared to the words want or wish.
The best definition I found was a German word that C.S. Lewis used when trying to describe this idea of longing or desire; sehnsucht (pronounced “zain-zute” for us non-German speakers). It is defined as yearning; wistful longing (oxforddictionaries.com). It is that deep, heart-wrenching, crying out, “I just can’t wait any longer for . . . ” Or sometimes, it is more of a vague feeling of wistfulness, something we just can’t put our finger on, but is just not as it should be, or will be.
Longing. How often do I long for God? How often do I urgently cry out, “I just want you, Lord!” What does it even mean to long for God? In Isaiah we read, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. (Isaiah 26:8,9) We sing, from the Psalms, “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs for you, O God. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship You.” (Psalm 42:1,2) When do I ever really “pant” for God as much as a parched deer searches for a flowing stream?
Oh, I know there are times, in the middle of joyful worship, or in a really hard place, when I have felt the tears falling and find myself praying, “O Lord, I cry out to you! Yes, Lord, I love you! You are faithful! You are worthy!” and even, “You, Lord, are all I need!” But then, the everyday kicks in, and I find myself longing for the next empty date on my calendar, or the next text from a friend, or the next long weekend, or the next day without a thunderstorm or the next . . . really?! How can I actually long for those seemingly menial “dailies”when there is God Almighty, the Creator of all, waiting to hear me call out to Him.
As I’ve wrestled with the reality and tension of what my longings are or should be over the last few weeks, I feel like God has been nudging me to pay attention and wait . . . and pray . . .and take a deep breath . . . and ponder. When any of my longings or desires come, why don’t I acknowledge the actual longing as a God-given reminder that He has placed that yearning or wistfulness in us to show us that nothing can satisfy besides Himself—nothing.
The following is a bit of a long quote, but who captures an idea better than C.S. Lewis? In speaking of longing or desire, he says,
. . . We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it . . . Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. — C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (emphasis mine)
Prayer: Our Gracious Father, thank you for creating me to long for You. When I am tired, remind me that nothing else can give me strength and peace besides you. When I am excited in the beauty of a moment, remind me it is just a scent, or an echo, or a shadow of You. Turn my longings into reminders to seek You, for only You can truly satisfy my deepest desire. Amen.
Contributed by Heather Armour