The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…
– Catechism of the Catholic Church
When I was a kid, the day after Christmas sent me into an existential crisis. When I was in high-school, I felt a loneliness I’ve never forgotten. When I was in college, I fell in love but that love was not returned. And at some point in my twenties, when the pressures of adulthood mounted, I grieved the loss of youth.
Longing. Desire. If there’s one subject discussed more than any other in my office as a therapist and pastor, it’s this. My clients and parishioners don’t use these words, exactly, but you can hear it in their stories:
“I wish my Dad had been a different man.”
“I wish she would marry me.”
“I wish I didn’t have to feel this grief.”
“I wish God would tell me why.”
“I wish I could find work that makes me happy.”
I can remember my own awakening to desire and longing in college, when I heard for the first time Saint Augustine’s line: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Not long after, I read this from C.S. Lewis:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Longing. It’s that ache in the belly felt by every human being at some point in life. It’s as unavoidable as growing old. And perhaps, for precisely this reason, rather than ignoring it, denying it, demonizing it, or giving into it, we should pay attention to it. According to John Eldredge (who has done much work on this topic), “How you handle your heart’s desire will in great measure determine what becomes of your life.”
Perhaps not knowing what else to do with my own longing, I wrote a song about it. Here’s the lyric of the chorus: All our longings- they’re like sacred signs. And they point us to the God behind them all. That’s why sadness, and every sweet romance- that’s why sunsets always make us homesick.
“Homesick” is a song, a story, about two people who confront their longing and find, underneath it, a holy fire, God’s fingerprints.
The man in verse one has a sex addiction. He is drowning in shame. What if he could know that, lurking beneath his depravity is actually a longing for intimacy, placed there by God, pure, innocent, beautiful, and full of dignity?
The woman in verse two has lived, faithfully, in a lifeless marriage. Her attention to the longing in her heart for a better marriage or a different marriage is an act of faith. Romantic desire says, “Leave.” But God-given desire says, “Stay. Let your longing be an act of faith to the God who hates divorce.”
And so, her tears become tears of faith. Who knows, maybe God will fulfill her longing but, in the meantime, I imagine Him wrapping His arms around His brave, grieving daughter. She has confronted the very desire that He gave her and released it back to Him.
All our longings- they’re like sacred signs. And they point us to the God behind them all. That’s why laughter, and every moonlight kiss- that’s why silence always makes us homesick.
“Homesick” was a difficult song to write. My goal in writing it was to deepen my own awareness of the truth that, beneath the depravity of my human nature- beneath the loneliness, beneath the unrequited love, beneath it all- is a God-given dignity, one that, when finally restored, will be nothing less than the divine destiny for which I was created. Don’t hate your desire. Bring it to Jesus and let him refine it or fulfill it.
Click below to hear the song:
“Homesick” , Josh Bales, from his album “Count The Stars:”
Ecclesiastes 3:11b — God has set eternity in the human heart…
Colossians 3:1-4 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
II Peter 3:13-14 — In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
I John 3:2 — Dear friends, now we are children of God,and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Take from us, O God, our insatiable desire for worldly vanities, and make us content with necessaries. Put away our hearts from delighting only in the honors, treasures, and pleasures of this life; and engender in us a desire to be with Thee in Thine eternal kingdom. Give us, O Lord, such a taste and feeling for Thine unspeakable joys in heaven, that we may always long for them, looking forward to that day when you come to take us to Thee. Amen.
–Archbishop of Canterbury Edmund Grindal (1519-1583)