Longing. This word won’t leave me alone. It first jumped out of the pages of Mere Christianity (by C.S. Lewis) a few weeks ago, and since then, it has worked itself into every book, every movie, and every mini-drama of my life. The word itself can give me the feeling. (((Do you know what I mean?))) It is like I am very happy and have nothing to complain about in life, and suddenly, someone says the word: longing. And I am filled with this exquisite bitter-sweetness. As Lewis so perfectly describes, a “stab” of it. And I suddenly want something that, in all honesty, I will never get in this life. A stab of it right through the heart. And as fast as it came, it is gone–pushed under the current of questions that roll in like waves (“Mama, can I have milk?” “Mom, how do you spell castle?” “Honey, have you seen the diaper bag?” “Mama, why do some people have gold teeth?”) And the longing goes under and is lost at sea.
A few weeks ago, we watched an old home video of when Remy was born. Paloma (age 4) was mesmerized by seeing herself as a three year old. I thought she would be happy to see the moment when she first met her baby brother because she completely adores him. But instead, she started to cry. She said she wanted to be three again. She wanted to wear the red dress that doesn’t fit her anymore again. She kept saying it, over and over. She wanted to be three. I told her that she couldn’t be three again. I asked her if she wanted to go back before Remy could smile or laugh or crawl or walk. Or if she wanted to back to before he was born. Wouldn’t we miss him? She said she wanted him to be born AND she wanted to be three. I showed her an old drawing book where she drew scribbles. I asked her if she would like to draw like that again instead of all her pretty little girls with bows and swirls and curls and flowers. She laughed at the scribbles but said she still wanted to be three.
I understand. There are so many things to want in life. I want my old body back, but I want to keep the four children who have moved through this one. I want the romance of falling in love, but I want the solid, steady love that only comes with years of commitment. I want my husband to have a “real” job that is predictable and pays the bills, but I also want to eat three meals a day with him every day and have a flexible, creative life together.
And then there is the longing for a life where there is no suffering or pain or death. Where my children can remain carefree and happy and peaceful and untouched by sorrow and pain forever. That is a big one. That one can take me over if I let it.
For the most part, I can be content. If I have time to sit down and write it out, I realize that I have no reason on earth to complain. I am married to a man that I love deeply, who loves me in return. We share four beautiful, happy, healthy children who bring us incredible joy. We have plenty of food to eat, and we have a house that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I am content. When I stop and count my blessings, yes, I am content.
But there is still longing. I love how Lewis describes it in his chapter on Hope in Mere Christianity. Here is an excerpt that is currently changing my life:
“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.
(I) The Fool’s Way. – He puts the blame on the things themselves. He goes on all his life thinking that if only he tried another woman, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever it is, then, this time, he really would catch the mysterious something we are all after. Most of the bored, discontented, rich people in the world are of this type. They spend their whole lives trotting from woman to woman (through the divorce courts), from continent to continent, from hobby to hobby, always thinking that the latest is ‘the Real Thing’ at last, and always disappointed.
(2) The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’.-He soon decides that the whole thing was moonshine. ‘Of course,’ he says, ‘one feels like that when one’s young. But by the time you get to my age you’ve given up chasing the rainbow’s end.’ And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used, as he would say, ‘to cry for the moon’. This is, of course, a much better way than the first, and makes a man much happier, and less of a nuisance to society. It tends to make him a prig (he is apt to be rather superior towards what he calls ‘adolescents’), but, on the whole, he rubs along fairly comfortably. It would be the best line we could take if man did not live for ever. But supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow’s end? In that case it would be a pity to find out too late (a moment after death) that by our supposed ‘common sense’ we had stifled in ourselves the faculty of enjoying it.
(3) The Christian Way.-The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, then; is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.’”
I think this is so beautifully put, and I draw such courage from these words. They resonate in my soul. The stab of longing is directing me towards something true, a desire that actually can be satisfied. All the beautiful things in this life can (and should) be valued and treasured for what they are, but when we see with spiritual eyes, we can see that these earthly blessings wake up in us the very desire that points us to Christ and eternity.