I’ve written about longing before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again. Because longing is a theme that I find surfacing in my life again and again. And, if my suspicions are correct, I’m not the only one.
One of my all-time favorite writers is John Eldredge. In “The Sacred Romance,” he writes: “Something calls to us through [the deep experiences of our lives] and rouses an inconsolable longing deep within our heart, wakening in us a yearning for intimacy, beauty, and adventure. This longing is the most powerful part of any human personality. It fuels our search for meaning, for wholeness, for a sense of being truly alive. However we may describe this deep desire, it is the most important thing about us, our heart of hearts, the passion of our life.”
Why is it that we always want more? That we always desire the “next thing”? Why, no matter how much we have acquired or attained, do we always feel dissatisfied?
Despite all the beauty in this world, despite all the good and delightful things available to us, there is something in us that knows that this is not “it.” In the deepest place of our souls, we know that we have not yet found the answer we’re looking for, we’ve not yet been introduced to the one thing that can bring true fulfillment.
And yet, we fight this realization. It is too depressing to contemplate the idea that we might not ever find the fulfillment of our longing in this life. And so we try to fill that longing with an ever-increasing variety of substitutes. We try to find the perfect relationship, or the perfect project to engage our energies. Or we try to create the perfect environment (this is my weakness) where we think that we will feel truly comfortable, inspired, refreshed, relaxed, what-have-you. And of course, we buy, buy, buy. We buy cars and houses and furniture and vacations. But we also buy the newest deoderant, the newest flavor of coffee, the newest kitchen gadget—and for a moment or two we honestly believe that these things will make our lives better, will make us feel really fulfilled.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting “stuff.” I like beautiful things. I like to try new foods, new products. But the problem comes when we make these things into gods, when we give them the responsibility to make us happy.
We shortchange ourselves when we think that any of these things can fulfill our deepest desires. We are humans—beings of unfathomable intricacy—made up of physical bodies, and thoughts, and emotions, and a spiritual awareness. To think that an object, no matter how large or luxurious—or an experience, no matter how exciting—or a single relationship, no matter how perfect—to think that any of these things or combination of them can fulfill the deep, intricate, unmappable depths of our human soul is not only foolish—it’s utterly self-deprecating.
I believe that the answer is to stop searching for the fulfillment of this longing, and instead to let the longing lead us to our true desire. Rather than running after the things we think will fill the ache, we need to take the time to sit down and let the longing just wash over us. For, I believe, it is in that place of deep longing that we come closest to knowing our own souls, to understanding who we truly are and what we truly were made for. And when we launch out from that place—looking not to find fulfillment, but instead to simply enjoy the journey for all the glimpses of joy that if offers—it is then that we come closest to finding peace with that longing in our soul.