Empty and Holy Longings

This was originally posted on orlandograce.org.

“The whole life of a good Christian is a holy longing.” —Augustine

We are filled with so many loves, so many wants, so many desires for things and people and ideas, how can we know what we should attach ourselves to? It’s hard to figure out what we want and what we really want. How do we discern between empty longings and holy longings? What do we do with these desires?

We all have longings, it’s really more a matter of what kind they are and our level of attachment to them. If it’s an empty longing, we should want our level of attachment to be low or even nonexistent. If it’s a holy longing, we should want to be more attached than not. And of course there are gradients of good and bad and there are right orderings of our desires.

But I believe that if we chase our longings deep enough it will always lead to something good, something holy. Genesis 1 and 2 comes before Genesis 3. We are created in God’s image, created to live with Him, and underneath all that we cover up is a longing to be known by our Creator, a desire to be in relationship with our Father. A holy longing.

Makoto Fujimura - January Hour--Baptism

Makoto Fujimura – January Hour–Baptism. Baptism: the beginning of holy longing

This hits me often during my birthday. It’s a melancholic time for me when my birthday draws near, filled with desires of my earthly father to come through for me in ways that he never has, and a longing to be drawn closer to my real Father. I so desire my earthly father to say so many things to me, though I live in the reality that this will probably never happen. This desire doesn’t end with my father, however, it is a calling to something more. My real Father is already speaking to me the words I so long to hear. He has already accepted me and embraces me as I am, and is creating in me something better. The empty longing of a relationship with my earthly father leads to a holy longing for my heavenly Father.

But if my longings end with my father only, I will choose to either kill it or fill it with other things. I can kill the desire to be known by my father which would lead to a deadening of my relational nerves with other men (“I don’t need them”), my wife (“I can do this on my own, I don’t need her”), and my God (“Who needs that guy?”). I can also choose to fill it with other things: work, watch Netflix all day, become completely consumed in creating music, etc. Killing or filling leads to lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau noted: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Now if I recognize and submit to the fact that God uses our empty longings to speak to us and draw us close, I step into a holy longing. All my wants of an earthly father are found in Him. All that I rightly desire is found in knowing Him. Whereas my earthly father has crossed his arms and turned his back on me, orphaning me time and time again, my real Father faces me, speaks my name and embraces me as His own son.

Augustine is right about a holy longing, and that’s what makes living as a Christian so hard. One lives with heartbreak and sadness and with a deep joy. It’s not all happy skies, it’s not all dark roads. We are not individually created to do this alone, humanity is not created to do it alone. We have a Father who is calling to us through our broken hopes and dashed desires—because He put them there. He creates the holy longings that voice themselves so loudly in our lives so that we may find ourselves in Him.

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