Stories of yearning are my worship and my witness.
What is yearning, and why did I make it the center of this blog?
The Oxford Dictionary defines yearning as “an intense longing about something.” I chose this word to capture a feeling I’ve had since childhood: something between pain and hope that stirred when I saw the morning sun paint the green trees gold, or heard a certain song, or thought of summer.
Longing, desire, or ache could have also expressed this feeling, but I wanted a rarer word, one that was distinct from casual wishes or expectations. For me, yearning is transcendent. The hunger I call by this name could never be satisfied by anything on this earth: beauty, success, money, human love, or adventure. Good things awaken yearning for fulfillment beyond this world.
The feeling came to me most often through stories. The great mountains of Aslan’s Country in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the green shore of Valinor in The Return of the King, the voyage to the Summer Country in the High King, and other stories in which characters stepped from this world into a better one were so sweet that I read and reread them, but so moving that they filled me with a dreamy sadness.
Though many stories awoke that sweet pain, Bible stories taught me the context and purpose of yearning. In my childhood, every night between bath time and bed time was Bible story time. In the warm lamp-lit room, as my curly hair dried and I scribbled with crayons, my parents read the true story of the world to us from Egermeier’s Bible stories: God’s creation of the world, the fall of Adam and Eve, the salvation of Jesus Christ, and the glory of Heaven. We learned that humanity’s disobedience to God, sin, means that we deserve to be separated from God in Hell. Because the Lord Jesus died to take the punishment for that sin, we can receive God’s forgiveness. Through His love, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we can know God and be satisfied in Him.
John 17:3 (ESV) – ” And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Bible stories awoke my yearning in a deeper, richer way than other books. The story of God walking with Adam and Eve “in the cool of the day” in the garden of Eden; the prophet Elijah being swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot; Paul’s description of when we will be “caught up with [the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” and the image of the New Jerusalem and the river of life excited me and hurt me. I had a beautiful childhood – a loving family, a gorgeous home, a healthy body, and so many luxuries; I had tasted barely any of the world’s suffering, but I wanted to go to Heaven so much that it hurt. It still does.
Psalm 42:1-2 (ESV): As deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
Christian writers outside of the Bible also talk about yearning. In his Confessions, St. Augustine said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” C.S. Lewis called this feeling joy, a desire of almost “sickening intensity” for something you cannot understand or describe (in his profound spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy).
Yearning is the secret written on our hearts, the memory of when we were in perfect relationship with God in the garden of Eden, the hope of being with Him again in the new heaven and the new earth. We yearn for the love, wisdom, goodness, and rescue of the God who made us, who we rejected in sin, and who sacrificed His Son so we could be with Him again. The pain and sweetness of yearning is God’s gift to us, reminding us that He made us for more than this beautiful, broken, suffering world.
Psalm 84: 1-2 (ESV): “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
So I tell stories of yearning: its nature as feeling and reality, what it does to the head and heart, and how we enjoy it and grapple with it. I worship God in acknowledging my yearning for Him; I witness to His love by trying to awaken yearning in others. I meditate on that bittersweet, precious truth that the kingdom of Heaven is the telos or purpose of yearning: here already, but not yet, for those who believe in Jesus Christ.