What do you do with a longing? (Part One)

The approach of the holidays and a new year often find us reflective about our past and hopeful about our future. We begin planning with a clean slate, hopefully a little wiser for our experiences. But between the past and the future, right there on the line of the present moment, lie our longings.

Longings are desires that have found a home in our heart, and all of us have them, many of them. They are not lusts, which are cheap, temporary substitutes and cover-ups for longings. Nor are they addictions, which are more like symptoms of longings, and not longings themselves.

Solomon has taught us (Proverbs 13:12) that
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

So is the best way to avoid this kind of heart disease just to go for the thing desired, regardless of the consequences? Shall we gain our heart’s desire at any cost to gain this “tree of life”? Something within us (our conscience, prompted by God’s Spirit) will tell us that is not the way.

That is why Solomon balances this proverb with another one a little later in the chapter (v. 19):
A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul,
but fools detest turning from evil.

Wise Solomon, who was no stranger to longings and how to fulfill them, is telling us that only a fool runs willy-nilly after a longing without regard for anything else. That is to turn our longing into a lust, which, in C. S. Lewis’ insightful words, “has the fatal power of making everything else in the world uninteresting while it lasts.”

Longings do not cut us off from the world. They complete it, and make our experience of the world hopeful. But they also must be lived with, and nurtured, while not being fulfilled at every turn. To gain the “tree of life,” our longings must be pursued righteously. And the God who created us with longings also has provided a way for them to be fulfilled. All of them.

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never go hungry,
and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.'”
John 6:35

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