Monday, September 25, 2017

Created to thirst

In this world, we will be filling with longing. We will crave other than what is. We will want what seems unattainable. We cover these desires, stand in front of them as if to block anyone from ever knowing we are unfulfilled. “The family is great! The kids are fine. My job is fabulous. We are all doing well.”

But when we really, truly stop and examine our lives, are we being honest?

The idea of longing for something means to have a strong desire or wish; a craving for something not likely to happen soon or be attained; to want something very much. Synonyms for longing include yearning for, aching, hungering or thirsting for, and being desperate for.

In a culture that is richly blessed with material possessions, the longing we experience can often be mis-labeled as a “lack of contentment.” We audibly express voids where we are desperate for fulfillment only to hear we should “just be grateful for what we have.” Longings are wrong, a sure sign of weakness.

Undoubtedly, yes, there are many longings that would not necessarily be categorized as sacred (worldly goods as possibly being one of them). But these aren’t the kind I’m speaking of. I’m talking about the deep down, often-hidden-from-others desires of our hearts. I like to think of these longing as our “inner soul-aches.” We all have them, certainly you know the feeling to which I am referring.

I have always felt so ashamed of these inner soul-aches. For so long I have felt embarrassed to suffer from what my culture would tell me is “discontent.” From all outward appearances, we have it “all.” A great house, 3 mostly-healthy kids, and the ability to stay at home full time for the past 10 months. And yet, my soul aches for so very, very much more. How could it?

Recently, my perspective shifted. I was told I need not be ashamed of these longings. St Augustine wrote in his Confessions:

 “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and my heart is restless until it rests in you.”

So maybe the better question to ask of myself is not “Why do I ache?” but rather “How could I not?” If I have been made for Him than of course, OF COURSE I long for more. My humanity, my sinful nature, this broken world, they all create chasms between us, gaps that only He can bridge. These longings actually are a method of drawing me closer to Himself, of turning my eyes and mind and body toward him, the only place where true healing and redemption are found. We have been made for Him. We yearn for connection. We ache for peace. When things are broken and painful in our lives, we are desperate for wholeness. Longings are the very fabric of our being.

I was reading in the first chapter of Psalms this week. Verses 1-3 read:

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.”

I was struck by the very last part and was challenged to ponder how those who “delight in the law of the Lord” are like trees. This metaphor totally captivated me for some reason; I was immediately in love with the idea of likening our lives in Christ to the life cycle of trees.

As I let my imagination go to work, I thought about the roots of the trees first – how they are firmly-planted so that the tree stands unwavering in storm. I contemplated how this idea works similarly in my own life – when I have spent time in the Word, considering God’s promises to me, I am much less likely to falter and shift when hard times come.

Then I thought about the sheer beauty of the tree. They are a sight to behold, with their endless shapes and sizes. I pondered how many trees have seasonal colors and evident external visual changes. Immediately a tree in my own yard came to mind. This past winter, it’s branches hung barren except for a thick layering of green moss that seemed to be overtaking it. The tree looked diseased and unhappy and I was sure it was dead. Our family loved that tree, its shade extended over our back deck. And it was in its branches that we strung the white lights that created such a welcoming ambiance in the yard on warm summer nights. My daughter was tearful and distraught when I mentioned that we might need to level it.

“You can’t cut it down!” she insisted. “It’s not dead!” She’d grown to admire the display of white flowers it produced in the spring, just outside her bedroom window.

To the inexperienced eye, this tree was most certainly done for. I took my clippers to it and trimmed away many of its dried and cracked limbs. My husband removed the clusters of moss that had overtaken its trunk. But in the end, we left the tree standing. The pushback we received from my family was enough to give it one last shot at life.

Through the dead of winter, this tree stood its ground, branches laced with snow and ice from time to time. Limbs, larger this time, brittle in their diseased state, broke off and fell under the weight of the snow. I began researching shade trees that might make a suitable replacement. Months passed and to my surprise, along with the arrival of spring, came tiny sprigs of life, new branches and fresh green leaves on this tree. I had surrendered my hope of its survival, I had all but moved on. It wasn’t obviously alive and so therefore I had declared it dead.

Again, how this tree metaphor perfectly parallels my own life. Our family has been wading its way through a long and hard season, a season where we see little external progress, a season where we question whether we will ever feel fully alive. Just when we think “Hey, I think we might be finally getting somewhere,” another branch takes us by surprise as it cracks and falls. We beg and pray and plead with God for healing and growth and wholeness and for something to “just come easy” and much of the time His answer is quiet. And so, with withered hope, the temptation strikes to whisper it dead.  

But then I am reminded of how it says in verse 3 that the tree “yields its fruit in season.” This sentence is already underlined in my Bible. In the margin, in my own handwriting is written “not all the time but in it's right time.” I don’t know when it was that I penned these words but apparently I’ve been down this road before. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced the burden of questionable fruit, disputable growth.

There are certainly many moments when we wonder if we are getting anywhere. The dead silence of winter can feel so long. But, when we scale back and look at a tree over the course of a year or two or maybe five, we would be reminded that trees rarely look the same. Subtle change is always occurring. They may lose some branches here or drop all their leaves there. They may have a season where the spring blossoms are plentiful and another where the bees pollinate all the trees around them but pass them over. There are years where the rains are abundant and the greenery lush and others where their thirst is great and their appetite is unquenched. They may have seasons where their admirers turn their backs in neglect for what they offer in their foliage is no longer noteworthy. Yet these trees, throughout the seasons, are slowly enlarging, reaching upward toward the skies above. Though it may be slow, growth is happening.

I will mention one final observation that is noteworthy about the tree: it thirsts persistently. Certain trees can survive for a limited amount of time with very little water but they are always, always ten times greener and more lush when they have a river or stream as a nearby source. Their roots are unquenchable and, no matter how much they drink today, they will be thirsty again tomorrow or the next day or maybe next week or a couple weeks down the road. They cannot “store up” water for the future indefinitely. And this thirst is not a sign of inadequacy or failure on the part of the tree.

Rather, the tree was created to thirst so it would remember to drink again.

This is the life of the tree. Is it not also the life of you and I in our pursuit of Christ? These longings, these soul-aches for more – what better way to move us toward our God? On this side of heaven, we will never be filled and completely satisfied. We are filled to be emptied and then filled again. Even creation longs! What a gift.  

Oh, reader, are you thirsty? Are you longing? Then lean in. Return and drink.

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posted by kelsie