“It’ll happen when you least expect it so you should just stop caring!”
Well-meaning words like this are ones that I’ve heard countless times. The funny thing is that it is in areas such as dating, marriage or even children that we tend to hear or say this the most. I have never heard someone say that about a dream job though, or about purchasing a house or car or other big life decision or desire of our heart.
Somehow over time we have tied the desire for the things that most mirror the heart of God for his people to fate. And even beyond that, we have tied the absence of desire to moving the hand of God in our lives when it comes to marriage and children.
Now I am never offended when people tell me that, in fact I usually turn to them and chuckle and say something like “honey, if thats the case then I would’ve been married years ago and I guess I’m never having kids!”
Where do we get this notion though? That it is our lack of longing that draws God’s attention to bless us with good things?
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”
And its verses such as these I’ve heard bandied about, that at first glance seems to defend this idea that when you least care about the longings of your heart and most care about the longings of his, that is when you will finally be given your hearts desires.
I just want to take a quick second to address those whose hearts are a little sore. Maybe you have experienced that deep longing for marriage and companionship and love and have watched so many of your friends walk into it while its never really been something you’ve come close to, leaving you sad, confused, frustrated, lonely or some combination of those. Maybe you had a great love- you loved and lost and the thought of loving again and hurting again in that way has left your heart tender and afraid of your own longing. Maybe you are a husband or wife who has so longed for a child of your own only for month after month to pass, year after year, with empty arms leaving your heart aching with longing. Maybe you also loved and lost a child through miscarriage- one that no one ever knew about but that you carry the ache with you even as you wrestle with it.
To those of you whose hearts are sore from a world that didn’t know how to treat your longing, I say- I see you. And if I could find you right now and wrap my arms around you and let you know your longing and desire isn’t wrong I would do so in a heartbeat. To let you know that your tender heart will recover.
Now I could trivialize the longing that we experience by saying something like “Well I long for a cheeseburger but sometimes thats just not what is God’s best for me”. True but since I don’t see anybody comparing your dream job to a donut and ice cream I’ll refrain.
I want you to know that your longing is safe. Your desire is not something moving the hand of God away from you like God is thinking “Oh well I was going to bring you a wife this month but you seem a little thirsty so nahhh, putting that one back on the shelf for later”.
Thank God thats not how it works.
Learning to live in the dissonant space where longing and contentment can coexist is one of the most important things I’ve had to learn. It’s funny because in studying psychology one thing I heard is that signs of complex thinking and maturity is the ability to hold two seemingly opposite thoughts in the same space and realizing that they can exist together without cancelling each other out. The truth is that most things in life aren’t as black and white as a younger version of me thought.
How then do you deal with longing?
If you have kids or are around kids you might observe that they actually do a great job of handling longing sometimes. My five year old niece is actually someone that exhibits what is me when it comes to longing.
Three things you don’t do with longing:
1. You don’t stop living. I think to a time that my oldest niece had a very special birthday and I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to her party so I planned a very special Day with RayRay. Because I brought it up weeks before her birthday it was definitely something she lived in anticipation of. Most days when I would drop by the house she would run up to show me something new on her list before she’d go back to her homework, playing outside, or one of her other busy activities as a 9 year old. But she didn’t press pause on her life in preparation for our awesome day together even though she certainly couldn’t wait for it.
2. You don’t hide the excitement. Now with anyone who has something they want, there is a sense of anticipation that builds in you, that creates excitement for when you get the thing you really really want. To hide that excitement would be a shame. I don’t expect my niece to pretend for the next several weeks that she doesn’t care. So why do you think that God can’t handle your excitement over the partnership, child, promise that you are living anticipation of? It’s ok and good to be excited and to share it!
3. You don’t bury the sadness. Sometimes waiting sucks. Now this isn’t always, but sometimes you have been the one who it hits you all of a sudden that you really want something and you don’t have it. This happened to my niece when her birthday rolled around and I had an exceptionally busy week so our day got pushed back further. Disappointment surely showed on her face- linked to the longing and excitement she had in the first place. But thats ok. When the waiting takes longer or is just hard on you, its ok to be sad. You don’t have to stay sad but its ok to be there.
But beyond what you don’t do, there’s something so much more important to take hold of here.
Matthew 6:33 and Psalm 37:4 point to something greater than a longing that can be satisfied by the things we are longing for. So often we get in the habit of seeking God to have him bless us or even seeking him to eventually move the needle of progress in your own life. Matthew 6 is talking about why do we worry about what to eat, drink, or wear and caps it off by saying – seek first the kingdom of God and all those things will be added to you.
There is nothing quite like putting your longing in perspective.
St. Augustine in Confessions wrote this, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
If you have ever read through the Psalms you will read song and poem one after another that are filled with stories of longing.
Hannah was someone who knew a bit about longing. I can only imagine what it was like to be her. In a society where the more children you gave to your husband gave you priority and esteem in the family and community she was unable to have children. In Hannah I see reflected both the longing to have kids and ache she had in that, but I also see reflected there the longing I’ve seen in my own life at times when I look and see that the others around me seem to have passed my seasons by and here I am still.
Hannah’s fervent tears and prayers making me stop cold in my steps as I read her vow to God:
Lord Almighty if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…
God if you will remember me, and bring me this thing of my heart’s longing, I will give it back to you. Just tonight a friend shared a powerful word that struck me on this passage.
Hannah was praying for a gift that she could give away to a generation.
Hannah even in her longing did not cling to the hope of her answered prayers with closed fists. When God gave her her child she took him back to the temple and dedicated him back to God, knowing full well that she would never get to be his mother in the way that she would have hoped. But even in her moments of deepest, most sorrowful, heartfelt longing- Hannah recognized the place in which her greatest dreams lay- in the hands of God.
Scripture is actually filled with similar stories of others whose faith in God rivaled the longing of their hearts in such a way that they continued to lay down the objects of their longing at the feet of the Father, knowing his heart towards them was good.
Now before you outcry over the injustice, Hannah went on to have many children and I’d like to think that every time she heard of Samuel’s life lived before God that she was thankful to Him that she had trusted him enough to give the greatest object of her heart’s longing back to him.
Knowing full well how hard it must be, I too surrender and lay my heart’s longing at my Father’s feet, trusting his heart and his plans for me are good. And tomorrow if longing causes sorrow or excitement I will do the same. Take my longing heart to my Father who loves me and tell him all about it. And as I do I find that he knows me, loves me, and his heart towards me overwhelms me in a way that nothing else can do.
Maybe this isn’t the ending you were hoping for, but truth is longing is going to be a part of the picture of this life. But knowing that your longing is safe, seen, and known by your Father carries a beauty and powerful peace to it that allows you to navigate the aching moments that can at time accompany it.
If you need a human to remind you though, I’m here for you. I will wrap my arms around you and let you know that its ok.
My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever….But as for me, it is good to be near God