The Sacred Ache

Ever since I moved to the Chicago area for school, people always ask if Ike and I will move back to North Carolina when we graduate. Although I don’t know the answer to that question with any real certainty, I tend to give an optimistic response. Ideally, we would like to head back to North Carolina, or at least somewhere south. As our family expands, we want to be as close as we can to our parents.

Of course, my desire to head south is about more than our growing brood. Ever since we left NC I have longed for home. I am constantly looking forward to our trips home for Christmas and the summer. Especially during this time of year when the weather is….less than great. Right now, the longing for home is almost always with me.

However, anyone who has ever moved away from home knows that a funny thing happens when you return. It doesn’t feel quite the same because you don’t live there anymore. You don’t have your own space and things have changed while you were gone. It’s never quite like you remember it being.

Whenever Ike and I go home now, I experience a strange and troublesome sense of disorientation. It’s almost as if I no longer have a home anymore. I don’t live in North Carolina, but I don’t feel like Illinois is my home either.

This weekend I am attending a women’s retreat for my church, and one of the retreat speakers was able to articulate this strange disorientation in a way that I never have before. She moved here from South Africa to work at Willow Creek, and the first 3 years were nearly excruciating for her. She missed her family so much that she cried almost every day. She yearned to go home and be with her family. For years she carried that ache with her wherever she went.

Finally she was able to travel home and spend time with her family, but she noticed something surprising. The ache was still there. She was home with her mom eating home-cooked food–all that she had longed for–but the ache persisted. Why?

As she reflected on it, she realized that the ache was not, ultimately, about her earthly home. What her heart was yearning for, on a deep spiritual level, was the kind of home that we only taste in brief moments on earth. We snatch slivers of it here and there–in time with our family and friends, in the watching of a sunset or the hearing of sweet music–but the sensation is always fleeting. It never lasts.

That ache or that longing you feel, whatever its source, will never be fully satisfied this side of eternity. Nothing on earth is capable of soothing it completely, but we shouldn’t despair. The ache is painful, but it is also sacred.

That aching and longing we feel for something just outside our grasp is a reminder. It reminds us that we are not home yet; we were created for another world.

In a culture that values satisfaction and instant gratification, this is a radical idea. Even among Christians, we are taught that our faith is about personal fulfillment. We don’t embrace discomfort anymore than the rest of the world. And yet we need that sacred ache. Comfort numbs but yearning motivates. It motivates us to seek after the source of our longing. And that is why the ache is sacred.

I am so grateful for the speaker’s reflections. I am looking forward to the rest of this weekend and I’m sure I will have more nuggets of insight to share! Until then, what is your ache? And as you examine that ache, what eternal yearning is behind it?