The Sacred Ache

Sharon Suffering 11 Comments

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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?

Comments 11

  1. Shelby

    I don’t even remember how I found your blog, but I absolutely love it! As a student at Southern Seminary and also a new mom, I can so relate to what you write about! 🙂 Today’s post reminded me of this C.S. Lewis quote:
    “Creatures are not born for desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world….”
    As I write this, I am incredibly homesick for my hometown and can’t wait to go back and visit next weekend… although I know the experience will be exactly as you described! 🙂

  2. AnneB

    I can completely relate to the doesn’t-feel-quite-like-home idea. Honduras was my home the first 18 years of my life. Then I moved to Lynchburg, VA where Liberty University was my home for four years. I married my husband who is from Michigan, where I lived seven years, and then we moved to Connecticut, where we have been living for four years and where each of our three beautiful children were born.

    I can say that none of these places feel quite like home, and I ache every time I have to say farewell to parents (in Honduras) and in-laws (in Michigan).

    One day, when I was feeling particularly sad about always having to separate from loved ones, I read an article about Heaven, and it helped me put things in perspective – really helped me to see that this life is so fleeting, so short – and that soon we (my Christian family) will all be able to enjoy each other’s company for eternity.

    I’m so glad that the ache is temporary and while we may still have it, we can still claim the joy of the Holy Spirit while we live here on earth!

  3. ashley

    Thanks for writing this dear friend. I know Lewis covers this deep longing so beautifully in surprised by joy and in the weight of glory in ways that really wrapped words around this “burning” as I like to cal it. I feel it too often, living way out here, sometimes just longing to say “i want to go home” but knowing that phrase is pretty futile in our case. Where is that now? And my words fail, but then I remember it’s a longing to be safe, comforted in the arms of God-a place we only get a glimpse of here.I’m learning to open my eyes more to His glory in the present and this helps quell that feeling of drifting at sea. Thanks for writing on such an interesting part of our spiritual life. miss you!

  4. Sharon

    Shelby and Ashley, I also thought about C.S. Lewis and his writings on this topic. It’s funny how I had never applied his thoughts to this particular situation before!

  5. Tim

    Sharon, I really appreciate how you captured it all with “yearning motivates. It motivates us to seek after the source of our longing. And that is why the ache is sacred.” It’s like the psalmist said in Psalm 130:6 –

    I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

    This longing is so powerful, so overwhelming, that we are given this repetitive image of a watcher on the walls yearning for the rising of the sun after the long dark night. As someone who has waited for the dawn (noth literally and figuratively) I really get that image.

    Tim

    P.S. As long as everyone is mentioning Lewis, have you read The Inner Ring? (It’s here in full at the C.S. Lewis Society of California: http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php) He describes a longing I struggled with for ages, the desire to be on the inside while feeling like such an outsider. His conclusion is, of course, that being in God’s kingdom is the only inside that truly satisifies. (Lewis addressed this in story as well when he wrote That Hideous Strength, which is my favorite of the Space Trilogy by the way!)

  6. KT

    Have you read “The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller? He speaks to this longing for home there. When I read his thoughts and as I read this article, I am touched as I reflect on my own longings, but I am also reminded about how this is a way to relate to those who don’t believe on a very human level. I carpooled with a man who hasn’t been able to return home to Iran for 11 years because he came to the US for graduate school just before 9/11 and he is still waiting for visa approval. He does not share my faith, but he does share my longing for home, so it is a place to start a conversation about deeper things.

  7. Tim

    I think you’ll like The Inner Ring too, Sharon. It’s a really short essay, more of a transcript of some remarks he made to a bunch of college students. I’d love to hear what you think about it if you do read it.

  8. Susanne Gonzalez

    I find that my ache seems to be for consistency. I find myself always waiting for things to “level out”, and inevitably, especially as I grow older, they change more than they stay the same. Praise our unchanging, sovereign and constantly faithful God, even when my earthly tunnel vision blocks that vision out. Thanks for writing this!

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