The first time I felt that paradoxical desire to cry from happiness was when I was four. My family was traveling back from a daytrip to Bar Harbor, and we had stopped at a little ice cream place on the side of the road. I remember eating bubblegum ice cream (spitting each little piece out by the way on the pavement of the parking lot, trying to be a good little girl) and I was unexpectedly filled with emotions that my little four year old heart didn’t know what to do with. 17 years later, the memory is cloudy, but the feeling is unfadingly vivid. Since that first moment of memory, my life has been characterized by a thirst for adventure and romance that is tinged with this paradoxically beautiful melancholy, this joyful sadness of longing for something that transcends this world. When I was four, I didn’t recognize it as the calling of God. As years passed, I began to believe that the longing would be quenched by intimate friendship, or fulfilled when I met a man whose heart’s rhythm was in pace with mine. But I think I always knew in the depths of my heart that this longing was nothing less than the longing to be overwhelmed by the love of God in a way that is impossible on this earth.
A few weeks ago, I read John Eldredge and Brent Curtis’s book The Sacred Romance and I was struck by the clarity with which they articulated these inner workings of my soul that I had struggled for so long to understand. They write:
“In all of our hearts lies a longing for a Sacred Romance. It will not go away in spite of our efforts over the years to anesthetize or ignore its song, or attach it to a single person or endeavor. It is a Romance couched in mystery and set deeply within us” (19).
These words gave me the chills because of their truth. I am often struck by this paradoxical joyful longing that is awakened by things as simple as a certain song on the radio, a crisp starry night, a memory of childhood. I am so often filled with “sehnsucht,” the German word that C.S. Lewis uses to describe an “insatiable longing…for we know not what” (Danke Wikipedia).
Eldredge and Curtis quote Lewis as saying:
“Even in your hobbies, has their not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of- something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it-tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest-if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself-you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all” (qtd. In The Sacred Romance 20-21)
As I look back through my journals, I see a pattern of continually trying to put this unquenchable longing to words when it comes upon me. This past summer while overcome with this “sehnsucht,” I prayed:
“In my melancholy state, the one I love so much yet ache when I feel. Why do I like feeling like this? Or do I like it at all? It’s just that I feel such a depth of emotion, and I want to share that emotion with someone else, somehow know that they get, understand, the deep love, melancholy, beauty, peace and sadness that Russia evokes in me. I like being in this state, because it makes me feel more human than ever. But it is on the tip of depression. Loneliness. The longing to be one with someone else. In a way that I fear is not possible on earth. There are hints of it in family, and marriage, but nothing that compares to the way you know me. I long to be known, that I could incite in someone the same feeling that paces my heart in its melancholy state….And although you know me, it doesn’t feel like you know me to the depth I long for, but I know you do! If I could understand your love, your knowledge of my inmost being, I wouldn’t feel lonely. And I am so vulnerable to wanting a person to fill that gap…. And I’m going to go my whole life with this feeling, recurring at times when life Is full and colorful and a slice of heaven, yet tainted, broken, the fall still so obvious….And what I was truly made for will finally come to fruition when I die, shed the broken body, deceitful heart, longing sighs. To worship you forever and be one with you….No person can fulfill these desires, answer my melancholy cry with a oneness of soul, because the cry deep in my heart is for you, and will only be consummated after this life. Every line of poetry that pierces my heart, every chord of music that cuts into the layers of my soul, every desire unquenched, points to you.”
And less than a month later I wrote:
“What is it about wanting to be known and understood at the core, the deepest heart of hearts? The desire that these experiences, the feelings you get from a certain song, could be felt in unity with someone else? To have them look at you and with their eyes say “I know.” When I hear a song, and the inexpressible emotion courses through me that has no words in the English language, I want to hold someone’s hand and have it course through them; tears of joy will form because someone finally gets it….And I want to spill my heart on the pages of the world in hopes that someone will find that their heart, their essence is in rhythm with mine. That they will read it and be struck. They will say “I know.” Everyone longs for connection. Everyone longs for intimacy. And in that search, we are all broken. We are all longing. We are quickly satisfied, then quickly emptied, disillusioned by the imperfections of another human and their inability to understand you, empathize with you at your soul’s deepest core. As we walked along the moonlit beach tonight, it felt surreal. Hauntingly beautiful- the joyful ache of eternity beckoning me, whispering “Hope, remember that this is not all there is.” Although the creation was at its zenith, and all the senses were fully satisfied: comforting campfire smoke, scent of salty ocean, sand escaping under feet as minty cold waves lap against our bare legs, and the moon, casting light onto the vast ocean in flowy prisms. Yet imperfection was clearly there. Our conversations, full of personal insecurity, pride and distrust in you, surface. Our ache for fulfillment clear in our words that at times seem so empty. And sometimes I talk to fill the silence. And I usually regret it, how it spoils the sacredness of such moments. We are caught in between, Lord. Your beauty so clearly cries your glory, breathtaking as it speaks of You. Yet we are trapped inside ourselves, bodies full of sin and minds with attention spans for worry but not for you. We rarely know the freedom of being outside of ourselves. So even a night like tonight is far from perfect, because of our fallen state. Regardless of the perfection of the surroundings, my sinful heart, my insecurities, my pride and my selfishness mar even the most sacred experiences. I am beginning to long for heaven. When I will be free of this trapping, claustrophobic, stale body of death that is never satisfied and always searching. Lord, I would be happy if you took me now. I want to be free from this cage, this prison of selfishness, me-centeredness, of constant longing, thirst, hunger, of my deceitful heart.”
I share these entries not because I want to make a habit of posting my prayer journal to the world, but because right now I am so eager to share to joy that these realizations have given me.
The realization that these desires cannot and will not be met by humans is extremely freeing!
I hope that the heart understanding that this longing points toward God and heaven will help me to place less pressure and expectation on those around me to fulfill desires that they were never meant to fulfill.
I hope that when I am overcome with this sehnsucht, I will not give into depression, but I will accept it as the pulse of heaven’s citizenship inside me, beckoning me to remember the hope to which I was called.
To remember that “for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13: 12).