My oldest daughter started kindergarten this year, and though she has thoroughly enjoyed it, my 3-year-old has been miserable; she is dying to go to kindergarten. If anyone asks her age, she says she’s 5, and she insists on calling her daycare “school.” She plays pretend school constantly, and she cries when we drop her sister off at actual school. She is overcome by a deep sense of longing.
As humans, we are a people of longing. We want things we don’t have, or look forward to seasons we aren’t in yet: a bigger paycheck, for the kids to finally be potty trained, deliverance from disease, healing of a relationship. Whether superficial or serious, holy or selfish, beyond these longings lives a much weightier one.
Initially, this longing comes from deep within us, something the Creator knit into our being before we were fully formed: a longing to be at peace with the Father. Our hearts were made to sing his song, so in our rebellion, we feel empty, because we are. And on the blessed day when the Spirit stirs our hearts to listen and obey his call, we are filled with him who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus the peacemaker reconciles us to the Father, settles our restless hearts, and enables us to live at peace with others, satisfying our longing for restoration.
But as believers, a new longing now builds within us.
I feel this longing when I rock my baby boy to sleep, his little body soft and heavy against my chest. I kiss his forehead and breathe in that sweet baby smell. He stirs and sighs, his eyes smooshed with that same sleepy look his dad and sisters share. I give him another kiss, squishing his perfect chubby cheek beneath my lips, squeezing him tighter to me. This moment is so perfect, but it makes me ache.
I felt this longing during spring break of 2008 when I spent time with four girls I had served with the previous summer. We spent that week reminiscing, eating, laughing at old jokes, crying over old boyfriends, and giggling about new ones. We prayed together, confessed hard things, and encouraged one another. Eventually, we had to go home. We said goodbye through tears of gratitude. What a blessing from God to be together again, if only for a few days. But saying goodbye still hurt.
This ache we feel, even in the best times, is not a sign of a lack of faith. Beth Moore insists that it is actually our faith in God that fans the flames of this longing. The longing that we feel as we pursue Jesus isn’t born out of discontentment or spiritual warfare. The saints listed in Hebrews 11 were commended for their faith, and they were bursting with longing. Not for things of this world or some sort of temporary fix for difficult circumstances; no, they were preoccupied with Jesus. They had fixed their eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), and that focus filled them with longing.
They looked forward to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).” As they slogged through times of plenty and times of famine, “they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16).” Their earthly bodies groaned, “longing to put on [their] heavenly dwellings (2 Corinthians 5:2).” Even with the Holy Spirit inside them as a deposit guaranteeing their salvation(Ephesians 1:13-14), they groaned alongside creation as they waited eagerly for adoption as sons(Romans 8:23).
We have full confidence of our salvation because of the completed work of Christ on the cross and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. We were justified when the Holy Spirit awakened our hearts to believe and the blood of Jesus covered our sin. We are being sanctified for the rest of our lives on earth. And one day, Christ’s return will bring us to the final stage of salvation, the glorification of our bodies and ultimate victory over death. So in the meantime, how do we deal with this ache, this longing that seems to touch even the best things in our lives?
We enjoy the good things that God has given us, bearing in mind that the only thing that will truly satisfy us is Jesus. We enjoy work, relationships, food, beauty, but most of all, we enjoy Jesus. All of the good things that God has given us to enjoy point to Christ. Our earthly relationships are just a preview of the depth of relationship we will experience with him in eternity. The ridiculously wonderful taste of things like brownies, gouda, salsa, a Wild Hero honey vanilla latte, moscato, and my grandma’s pecan pie are just a hint of the feast that is to come. All of the gifts the Lord has given us to enjoy - friendship, family, sex, art, laughter - are but shadows of the things to come. The substance is found in Christ.