How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Hear my prayer, O Lord God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almigty, blessed is the man who trusts in you. Psalm 84
Since I was a child, I have experienced a pain in my heart that I have spent my life trying to articulate with the hope of easing the ache. At various stages I have tried words like ‘longing’, ‘yearning’, ‘desire’, ‘craving’, ‘pining’, ‘homesickness’ and, nearly 50 as I am, I would say that all of those words are valid. I have more recently discovered the German word ‘sehnsucht’ which seems to encapsulate all of the above in one word. There have been distinct moments throughout my life when bits of satisfaction have come, but they have always been incomplete and fleeting. They have served to intensify, rather than mitigate, the longing. They stand as memorials or landmarks that to point to that SOMETHING that I continue to yearn for. I can recall those moments or sensations with pristine clarity: The day I discovered small basin near my home that was, for that one day, completely filled with buttercups so that, when I sat at the bottom, all I could see was shiny gold all around me and blue sky above. Hiking up a hill covered with old growth evergreens on a foggy day and reaching the summit in dazzling sunlight on an island surrounded by a sea of fog. Listening to Massennet’s Meditation or music from George Winston. Standing on the shore after a storm. Particular days in corporate worship when the Presence of the Lord left me weeping and shaking with joy and such inconsolable longing to remain that I did not want to get up off the floor. The pain was in the moments because of how deeply they pierced me with joy and remained because the moments were fleeting and could not be repeated at will. The flowers faded. The fog rolled away. The songs or times of worship did not provoke the same sensation with repetition. I was left with a desire that I could not fulfill.
One very important point about this sensation: while I describe it as a pain, it is not a pain that I want to go away. In fact, the thought of it fading away without satisfaction is a horrible thought. I use its presence and intensity as one of the gauges of the health of my heart. If I find it absent, I strive to remember those moments when it was most profound, heeding the warning in Revelation 2:5, “Remember the height from which you have fallen!” This is because I have learned that what I long for is my place near God’s altar. I was made for Him and, though there are experiences in this life that are hints of the fullness that is Him, they are only that. C. S. Lewis called them “tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear.”
Lewis also wrote, “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 worshippers. 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.” (Lewis is my favorite author primarily because he put this most intimate of pains into words that brought understanding and encouragement. Bless him!)
Though I ache for that which I have never completely had, I believe I will. This is my living hope, my inheritance kept in heaven, the goal of my faith. I ache for Him and that ache is precious to me. It is in this that I am most alive. Paul said, “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 5:4-5)
Do you ache for Him? Consider you own moments of piercing joy and translate up. You were made for Him and will never know joy apart from Him.