In his book Seven Jeff Cook says “God’s chief desire is to dwell with those who long for [God].” So if longing is enough, why don’t I feel God dwelling with me?
Maybe it’s because the more I long for God, the more I try to fill that longing with things. I’m not sure it says anything good about me, but I can relate almost any topic to dieting. The first few days of a diet (lifestyle change, whatever you want to call it), I’m hungry. I want certain things and I’m not allowing myself to have them. I may swap bananas for cookies, or whole grain crackers for chocolate covered graham crackers, or a walk for a cheeseburger, but let’s face it: I’m substituting. And while I really, really want a cheeseburger, if I keep walking, eventually the longing subsides. My clothes get looser and I have more energy, the new habits take hold, and I feel more at ease.
In my experience, there is no substitute for the longing for God. I’ve tried, but the more I fill myself with a variety of ineffective options: junk food, email/Facebook/Twitter, television, gossip, ruminating over slights both real or perceived, imaginary conversations, strategies to resolve any number of issues (I love a good plan), the more I long for God. The noisier and busier I get in both mind and body, the farther away God seems.
The idea of “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is a really visceral one. Jesus isn’t talking about needing a little snack to tide us over. He’s talking about feeling empty, deeply empty. That’s how we make room for God, get right with God. We feel the ache of spiritual hunger, get parched for the living waters, create a big, open space to fill rather than shoehorning God into our souls, between what we wish we’d said to the unhelpful store clerk and next week’s meal list.
How much longing can you stand without the substitutes? I can’t take much, but when I can sit with that ache, let the longing wash through me without reaching for a cure, what fills me brings such peace it’s a wonder I can stand it. And yet it’s a struggle to remember that peace when the longing begins again.
What else is filling you?