Why Your Longing Matters
I’ve previously written to about longing—the longing for home and for a lover. The sting of longing bathes my everyday wonder and curiosity. It sends me on a search. What does any of this mean, if it means anything at all? While I’ve given my best attempt to answer that question it’s important now, I think, to explain why I believe it matters.
(Photo courtesy of Aaron A. Rich)
The experience of longing is shared across the human spectrum. The longings aren’t, of course, specifically Christian but they are specifically human. Be that as it may, I’m more and more convinced that the longings we experience are a mere copy of the real thing. They’re an echo, a mirage. And we, well, we are wanderers in an open country searching for our homeland. We are pilgrims looking for the place we know, deep in our chests, exists where we can take off our heavy packs and rest.
Is it really fame that we want? Is it really more money or professional success? Is it really more possessions?
It's been proposed that we go through phases of enchantment. We’re awakened to a world and we’re unenchanted. Then something happens and our hearts awaken. Enchantment has occurred. But then comes the disappointment when we come to find that the thing that awakened desire doesn’t satisfy us. We then become disenchanted. Eventually (and, hopefully) our longing is fastened to the right object and we become reenchanted.
I think most of us wrestle with that third phase, disenchantment. Just because what we originally chased didn’t satisfy us doesn’t mean it was a fraud. It was just never intended to fulfill our desire. When I walk through my own shadows of doubt I wonder if God is truly an active, pursuing, personal being as Christianity affirms to be the case. If he is, then what awakened longing in us was merely used by God to woo us to himself, but never to replace him. God does not call people to idolatry; he calls them to worship, he calls them to himself.
In a warm, compelling autobiographical love story one author recounts his conversion to Christianity and the intellectual barriers he faced up to that point. It was during these events that he was living in Oxford where, with his wife, he became friends with C. S. Lewis. Originally a materialist—holding to the belief that all that exists is matter and its movement—he began to have his own doubts and so wrote to Lewis. This was Lewis’ reply: "You say that the material universe is ‘ugly’. I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of the material universe, how is it that you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures?"
It’s not my intent here to try to prove anything through observational experience, but only to suggest. It is the suggestiveness that moves me and compels me. If we’re not ultimately satisfied by the material and the temporal, maybe there’s something in us that is not temporal. Our longings point to something else, something beyond that helps makes sense of what we know now by bringing it to focus and reordering our desire.
The beauty we find in movies and in books and in nature isn’t where our longing has come from, but where it has come through to reach us. Without the proper framework to help us see this, the longing becomes uncertain of its object. The object, then, becomes elusive. As does purpose. As does meaning.