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“There is not a heart but has its moments of longing, yearning for something better, nobler, holier than it knows now” (Henry Ward Beecher).
ALL OF US HAVE LONGINGS, BUT NOT ALL OF US ACKNOWLEDGE THEM OR HONOR THEM. We may not think about it very often, and even when we do, we may not be able to put our feelings into words, but every one of us has a “strong, persistent yearning or desire” (American Heritage Dictionary) for circumstances more perfect than those that presently surround us. And it’s not only better circumstances that we long for; I believe we also long for a more perfect character. Whether we look outside ourselves or inside, what we see leaves much to be desired. And so we desire to improve, longing for what we’ve seen so far only in our dreams and aspirations. Wouldn’t it be wise, then, to acknowledge our longings and even to honor them?
Many of the things that motivate us to do worthy work stem from our longings. For instance, even our intellectual curiosity, our desire to understand the nature of what is real, is a form of longing. “Philosophy,” wrote Plato, “is a longing after heavenly wisdom.”
In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare had Cleopatra say, “I have immortal longings in me.” The notion of “immortal longings” is one that has occurred to many of the wisest people who have ever lived. It does, in fact, seem reasonable that our yearnings are a hint of our true nature, a suggestion that we’re connected to a larger, more enduring reality than the one that we experience in space-time with our physical senses. The writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes affirmed that we’ve been created by a God who “has put eternity in [our] hearts.”
If we had no longings, we’d be an impoverished people. We’d be flatter, duller, and less capable of significant contribution. After all, a major part of what we can offer to others is our aspiration, our yearning to move forward. So our longings are not to be regretted or avoided. Although they may sometimes be so poignant as to be painful, they’re usually pulling us in a direction that we need to go. There is a certain beauty to our wistfulness, and good things often come from letting our longings be felt — and even allowed to grow.
“I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still” (A. W. Tozer).