2360) Blessed By a Constant Ache

how the years' scars can shape & not shatter hopes - Ann Voskamp
By Vaneetha Rendall Risner, in The Scars That Have Shaped Me, 2016

     I was lonely for years.

     I longed to remarry, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone.  Not even to myself.

     I didn’t want to pin my hopes on something that might never happen.  And if I never remarried, I didn’t want to look like I had wasted my life, hadn’t trusted God, and couldn’t be content.  I’d be pitied by others and embarrassed for myself.  I didn’t want that.

     So I buried my feelings.

     At times those stuffed feelings would resurface and I would ask God for a husband.  I’d journal about it, pray fervently and be on the lookout for who God might bring.  Then I would try to forget about my longings, surrender them to God, and convince myself I didn’t want to be married anyway.  I told myself, and other people, that it wasn’t important.  That I was completely content.  That I had come to terms with where I was.

     That was a lie.

     A lie I wanted to believe because it seemed that everyone who loved God was satisfied with their circumstances.  Besides, it seemed better to deny a longing that might never be fulfilled than it would be to keep longing.It certainly was less painful.

     Others had accepted their unfulfilled longings.  They had come to terms with their singleness.  Or infertility.  Or discouraging careers.  When they finally let go of their desires, they gained a sense of stability.

    So I was torn about what to do.  I begged God to take away this desire and he didn’t.  So I cried out to him to meet me in the midst of this unfulfilled longing.

     For years he met me there.  And then God blessed me with a husband who is beyond my expectations.

     And yet in other things – with longings just as real and intense – God has not given me what I was yearning for.  He has left me with unmet desires.  Desires that may not be fulfilled this side of heaven.  Desires that I may live with forever.

     Right now I want a healthy body that can do the things I want to do.  With post-polio syndrome, I am deteriorating daily, much more rapidly than I am prepared for.  Some days I wake up with intense pain, which gives way to a dull ache that drags on throughout the day.  On those days, my arms are limited to basic tasks like eating and dressing.   If I can use them at all.

     It’s been excruciating.

     I have sobbed and questioned God, begging for deliverance.  For me, as a “helper” personality type, serving has been one of my greatest joys.  And when that role is reversed and I am the one who needs to be served, I feel uneasy.  Uncomfortable.  A burden.

     I want to be the perfect wife who makes great meals, keeps a neat house, and has boundless energy.  A thoughtful mother who serves her children tirelessly.  A dependable friend whom others can count on for anything.  But I often can’t be any of those things.  Rather than serving, I have to be served.  At the most inconvenient times.

     Friends have encouraged me to relax and be content with my circumstances.  To give up my longing for things to be different.  They say that is the only way to have peace.

     I wish I could.  I have known for over a decade that my body is failing, yet it is still hard not to meet the physical needs of others.  I am wired to serve.  So whenever I can’t do that, and the roles are reversed, I grieve.

     These limitations bother me daily.  And whenever they do, I am invited to surrender them to God.  As an act of worship.  A living sacrifice.  An offering of faith and trust in God.

     The Bible says that there is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).  God has a reason for all of our circumstances.  We should live life to the fullest with what we’ve been given.  We should learn to see his grace and find joy wherever we are.

     At the same time, it’s unhealthy to deny our pain and pretend everything is fine when it isn’t.  It’s okay to want things to be different.  It’s dangerous to squelch our longings, stuffing them down so deep that we are devoid of emotions and passion.

     It’s far better to be completely honest with God.  To offer my longings up to him.  To ask him to change the situation, or give me the grace to handle it.  Strangely enough, that process of crying out to God, and being honest about my pain, has drawn me close to Jesus.

     False contentment doesn’t do that.  Quite the opposite, feigned contentment pulls me away from Christ because I can’t even see my need for him.  Deadening our desires may make us stoics, but it won’t make us passionate followers of Christ.

     Contentment that is borne out of suppressing our longings leads to empty platitudes at best and bitter hypocrisy at worst.

     We all have longings.  Crying out to God to fulfill them, or change them, or give us the strength to endure them, strengthens our faith.  Denying our longings under the guise of contentment may keep us from pain, may look more spiritual, may make us less emotional, but can lead to spiritual deadness.

     God may change my desires and bring lasting contentment even when he denies my cherished requests.  That would be a great gift.  But it does not always happen that way.

     And if those desires remain, if I still feel those raw places in my soul, if I still long for something more – the Lord may want me to lean into him more closely, trust him more fervently, and cling to him more tightly.  And that is a mercy as well.

     Life is full of pain.  Sometimes God miraculously delivers us.  When he does, we rejoice and give him glory.  He makes all things new and brings beauty from ashes.  Sometimes we aren’t delivered, but he gives us true contentment in our circumstances, so the world can see his peace and satisfaction.  And sometimes he leaves us with a constant ache, a reminder that this world is not our home and we are just strangers passing through.

     This relentless ache is what drives me to my knees, brings me to Jesus, makes me long for heaven.  And perhaps in heaven, I will thank God most for my unfulfilled longings because they did the deepest, most lasting work in my soul.


PSALM 38:6-10…15…17…21-22:

I am bowed down and brought very low;
    all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
    there is no health in my body.

I am feeble and utterly crushed;
    I groan in anguish of heart.

All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
    my sighing is not hidden from you.

My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
    even the light has gone from my eyes…

Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God…

For I am about to fall,
    and my pain is ever with me…

Lord, do not forsake me;
    do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
    my Lord and my Savior.