“For I long to see you . . .” (Romans 1:11).

PAUL’S CHARACTER WAS A STRONG ONE IN EVERY IMPORTANT WAY, BUT HE ALSO WAS CAPABLE OF VERY TENDER FEELINGS. Speaking of his fellow Christians in Rome, he said, “I long to see you.” And in his other letters, he spoke of longing to see brethren elsewhere. Paul needed face-to-face contact with those whom he loved, and when he didn’t have it, he longed for it. For Paul, yearning was an unavoidable part of living and serving the Lord in this world.

Unfulfilled wants, needs, desires, longings, yearnings, hungerings, and thirstings are a part of life in a damaged world. It is no longer possible, now that we all live “east of Eden,” to have all of the desires filled that God planted within us. (We can have some of them filled some of the time, but not all of them all of the time.) God’s remedy for this is not to bring this world back up to the level where our needs can be met, but to destroy this world and bring us into His perfect presence. Until that happens, there will be a time to rejoice now and then, but there will also be “a time to weep . . . a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). It’s just that simple.

When we find ourselves longing or yearning, it’s usually because there is something we need which we, at that moment, don’t have. (To be sure, what we think we need is sometimes not what our yearnings are really about, but that’s another issue.) To be a human being living in this world is to be incomplete — and the sooner we accept that, the better. There is nothing wrong with longing. Paul did it. The Lord did it. And so will we, if we’re honest.

There may be some who feel their needs so obsessively that they experience unnecessary distress, but most of us have a different problem. Our distress comes not from feeling our yearnings, but from the frustration of avoiding them. Perhaps we’ve accepted the philosophy of ancient Stoicism more than we think: the idea that the good life is the life of apathy (“no feeling”). It is, however, as foolish as it is frustrating to deny something that is so obviously a part of our created nature. Granted, we need to think and do what’s right about our feelings, but we shouldn’t avoid feeling them. When we try to do that, our spirits shrink and shrivel.

“The wealth of a soul is measured by how much it can feel; its poverty by how little” (William Rounseville Alger).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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