Frustration: Holy Longing

frustrationThis is the sixth post in a series on frustration. View them all here.

This is where we end—holy longing. We started in selfishness with fashionable fists and childish foot stomping. We know that it’s not wise to just say “don’t be frustrated” because sometimes frustration is good. Jesus was frustrated. But even in our selfish forms of frustration merely saying “don’t do that” isn’t very helpful. What is going on beneath the stomping of our feet? A “don’t do that” also assumes we have the power ourselves to actually stop. We don’t.

Office Space Axe Kick

Ever feel like axe kicking stuff? Yeah, me too.

But what does good frustration look like? Frustration that comes from good desires applied rightly is rightfully called holy longing. Holy in that it comes from a good place, a place that the Creator has decreed good. Longing in that it aches and groans but never demands. A holy longing is one that hopes but doesn’t manipulate. A holy longing is rooted in something other, Someone Other. Because we are prone to selfishness, our only hope in any kind of frustration that isn’t based on ourselves first must be a holy longing. Holy longing requires repentance, where we agree with God that we cannot go alone, that we must rely on Him.

From Grumbling to Groaning
In the wilderness the Israelites made the sound of selfish frustration: grumble. Anytime there is any kind of grumbling, we hear the sound of selfishness. That is contrasted with the sound of groaning. In groaning, we see connections with repentance, with desperation, with being under a weight that cannot be lifted by ourselves. The road to repentance is marked by groaning.

The Highest Low
Once on the groaning road of repentance, we find we come to a crisis point. Are we going to trust in God or in something else? As in Psalm 121, are we going to lift our eyes up past ourselves, past other lesser things and toward God, the Creator of heaven and earth? There is a certain irony here: we must lower ourselves so that we can be brought up. Our low becomes our highest point. The Highest Low is where we were created to live: dependent humans on a loving God. We recognize our neediness, we even groan underneath it, and we place our trust in our Father to do something about it. When we try and bring ourselves up by our own power, that’s when we play god (and that never really works out well).

The Best Kind of Frustration
Holy longing is also the best kind of frustration. The only way we can trust ourselves to actually care about situations outside ourselves is not through outward only frustration, but through God working in His world, often through us. So if we truly cared about circumstances of injustice, we would rely on God. If we truly want our own lives to change the answer isn’t inward only frustration, it’s relying on God to come into our world and change us. How do we find the right desires? How do we apply these desires well? We clearly can’t trust ourselves, we can only trust God.

If we deal with frustration and truly care about the things we are frustrated about, know that the only Person who will always care more is God. And He is also the only Person who has power to change the way things are. The answer is not inward or outward, it is Godward. Only this direction can truly lead to inward and outward change.

In Practice
Holy longing isn’t just something to contemplate or theorize about. It is a constant practice. As Martin Luther’s first of his ninety-five theses reads:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.

There are many practices that holy longing brings about, but maybe the most important is the concept of the sabbath. Sabbath rest is an indispensable part of the Christian faith. To rest and not work means you aren’t depending on yourself. To rest and not work is a product of the Highest Low, recognizing that God is really the one who works. Sabbath rest is a protest against the part of our modern world and selves that are obsessed with work. The best thing we can do as broken people who are in need of a God who works is to rest. In our absence from work there is an active faith in a God who is working for our good and an active trust that He can do a better job than we can by ourselves.

If you’re like me and struggle with frustration, cultivating Sabbath rest will be the hardest and best thing you can do. This is not just a weekly rhythm, it is every day. It is in this rest that we find our real faith (or lack) in Jesus. Jesus is praying for us, with us, bolstering us. If When we lack faith, we can ask Him to be merciful to us, and He is. He is our guide in this journey from childish foot stomping to holy longing, and he accepts us with these words of comfort from Matthew 11:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

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