I have a friend who recently received the news of her father’s inoperable cancer. The outcome of his situation is inevitable, and now their family is faced with the difficult decision of undergoing chemotherapy – which is grueling, but may (or may not) prolong his life a little longer – or no treatment. Both options involve pain and suffering. To be frank, both options suck. And I know they aren’t the only family facing this difficult road.
I have other friends who have walked through some really tough issues in their marriages this year. Some have experienced great healing, and others have not. And all of them are still in the middle of the journey, with more pain and healing to come.
My church has gone through a difficult year of broken relationships and issues with no easy answers. I’ve had to wade through the reality that living in community is not all roses. That sometimes it cuts to the core, making you question whether or not the pursuit of it is worth it.
Thinking through this past year and the trials I’ve faced personally and walked through with my friends has reminded me sometimes life really stinks. Which, quite honestly, is a reminder I’ve needed. Because the reality of living here on earth is that a lot of the time, life is hard. Relationships are messy. People are sinful. I am depraved. That’s the condition of the world, the result of the fall.
But for some reason, I forget that. Overall, my life is easy. I have an amazing family who loves me. I have food, shelter, stuff . . . my needs are all met. I have friends who surround me and care about me. I don’t live in a place of extreme poverty. I don’t live in a war zone and constantly fear for my safety. I’m not even struggling with life and death, personal tragedy.
Life is . . . good.
Pondering what it means to long after something has continually brought me back to two words: Hope and Need.
In a Beth Moore study I’m doing, she defines hope (one way) as “desire of some good with expectation of obtaining it.” The emphasis here is on the expectation of attainment. It’s not some wish or dream that may or may not happen. It is expected to be reached at some point. I think longing and hope must be tied together, or else the longing only leads to frustration and disappointment. (Now whether or not you are longing for the “right” things is a different topic). When we have hope, we are able to persevere and be patient through the longing, but in a sense, it deepens that longing within us.
I also began to differentiate longing from desire. In my mind, longing seems more tied to a deep need, while desire is more closely tied to a want. As my friend, Timm, shared on Sunday – longing results from a sense that something is lacking, or just not right. And our longing is not satisfied until whatever that is is made right. We don’t truly rest until the need is met.
Which leads me back to my reality check that the world is a fallen place . . .
The Israelites’ hope was in the Messiah who was to come and save them from slavery and persecution. In this time of Advent, I am supposed to be celebrating the joy of that longing, that hope, fulfilled. And it provides a foreshadowing of our hope being fulfilled in the second coming of Christ.
But I don’t always hold that perspective because life is good. I forget about the reality of the world we live in. I don’t have that sense of longing for the second coming, or even fully understand the sense of longing for the first Advent because I don’t always recognize the need for a Savior or grasp that life with Jesus is that much better. And on a personal level, God’s been showing me over the past year how deeply I struggle with placing him at the center and me, not. That I am depraved and lost without him. That I NEED him. Because from the world’s standards, I’ve got it together. I function well, even successfully. My life is easy and good.
Which distracts where I place my hope and shields me from feeling that pain of longing.
Oh, I don’t really want to pray to experience longing. Because that just doesn’t sound like much fun. But in the end, how would I walk through life differently holding that twinge that something is just not right but knowing that one day it will be? How many more opportunities to love others, put others before myself, be filled with grace, be extra kind, have tough discussions, work through difficulties rather than ignoring or hiding from them . . . how many of those opportunities would I seize because I’m expecting this time on earth to end. And when it does, I let go with an open hand (rather than cling furiously) because I know what’s to come is so much better.
Longing. Need. Hope.
I’m curious to know your thoughts.