Passing Sighs of the Longing Heart

by Andy Wood on September 10, 2010

in Five LV Laws, Life Currency, Love, LV Cycle, Principle of Eternity, Waiting

I still miss her sometimes.  Pity I’m so busy I don’t miss her more.  For me it’s mostly in passing sighs… Like now.  (-From my journal a couple of days ago, referring to my mother, who died earlier this year.)

Heard any sermons on longing lately?

I doubt it.

In spite of the fact that it’s such a common experience, and one that is treated a surprising number of times in the Bible, “Dealing with Longing” doesn’t typically generate offerings, baptisms, or slick series brochures from the local worship establishment.

And yet it’s there… right in plain sight.  The Bible’s own version of “Miss You Like Crazy.”

Paul wrote those wild child Corinthians a pretty dress-you-down letter (we call it 1 Corinthians).  Their response?  They turned their hearts, and longed to see Paul.  His reply?  Same thing

He wrote the church in Thessalonica and referred to the fact that they always thought kindly of him, “longing to see us just as we also long to see you” (1 Thessalonians 3:6).  I don’t think he was “ministerially speaking.”  I think he really meant that.

He told the Philippians how he longed for them with the affection of Jesus Christ – that they were “in his heart” and that he thanked God in every remembrance of them.  And even when he had to correct a couple of things there, he referred to them as those he longed for.

He saved his most personal language for his last letter – the one he wrote to Timothy just before his execution:

Timothy, I thank God for you… Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. (2 Timothy 1:3-4, NLT)

Time Can’t Change It

The passing of time doesn’t change this awareness of the distance between us and the people who are important to us – any more than those clouds that block the sun from sight actually remove the light of day.  A couple of months ago I heard of the death of an old-old friend – one I literally hadn’t talked to in nearly 30 years.  I was surprised at how moved I was.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been.

Distance Doesn’t Erase It.

This summer my son, his cousin and his grandfather travelled to Thailand.  It was Joel’s first experience in the land of his mother’s childhood – a place I had just visited a year earlier for the first time.  I was surprised how vicariously I was living through him as he chronicled the experience.  (I guess I should quit being surprised by all this.)  It wasn’t the sights, sounds, or flavor of the Land of Smiles – it was the people.  Precious friends like Dui, Gift, Preecha and Weechai that I had come to know a year ago – people I long for today.

Memories Awaken It.

Despite the bad theology of that lame funeral home phrase, “They live on in our hearts,” I have come to have a new respect for it.

So while I was on the phone with my daughter this week talking about plans for Thanksgiving at the farm, my memory retreated to the image of Mama, a month prior to Thanksgiving last year.  She was sitting in her chair at 4:30a.m., making menus and grocery lists for the avalanche of people who would descend on her home.  She never missed a beat.  Of course, maybe it was because that same day I drove to Mobile and bought her – no joke – 25 pounds of flour from Sam’s.

Well, maybe it was a little joke.  We still laugh about that, but come her death in February, that flour was long gone.  I’m smiling now, remembering that.  And nobody can take that memory away.

Vision Enflames It

If, as they say, seeing is believing, who says the seeing is done with eyes alone?  The memories or the heart and a clear vision for the future can feed faith as much or more than literal eyesight.  Just ask any artist.

Or any psalmist.

How lovely are Your dwelling places,

O Lord of hosts!

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; (Psalm 84:1-2).

The real delight is when your vision enflames the action of others.  On one of his many days on the run,  David began to imagine – and long for – the sweet taste of water from the well at Bethlehem.  Just one problem – Bethlehem was crawling with Philistines.  But problems to you or me became opportunities for Mighty Men.  Three of David’s Mighty Men broke through the Philistine battle lines, scooped up some water from the well, and broke back through the Philistines to present it to David.

He couldn’t drink it.  It would have been like drinking the blood of those men.  Instead, he poured it out before the Lord.

But he never forgot.

Hope Sustains It

In the evolution of language, we’ve watered down hope.  Today it means something like wishful thinking (“I hope it doesn’t rain the picnic out”).  But the Bible’s definition of hope is much stronger.  Hope is a confident expectation of a desired future.  So when Paul talks about the anxious longing of the creation for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), he is speaking of something he knows is coming.

It’s the ultimate yearning, of course, that he’s talking about.  How can you miss Someone you have never actually seen – only believed in?  How can you persevere through the pain and hardship of following Him, believing to your core that it’s all worth it?

Through hope.  Born of the Spirit (the down payment of our eternal inheritance).  “If we hope for what we do not see,” Paul says, “with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:25).

In practical terms, here’s what that means:  The day is coming when you will never say “good-bye” again.  When you’ll never again be told that your only solution is to wait.  When your relationships aren’t defined in terms of time, distance, death, or other rude interruptions of separation.

Bank on it.  Hope for it.  And let that hope – that confident expectation – sustain you through the longing seasons.  One day, truly… the waiting will be over.

Starting Forever Now

In that often-quoted, and often-misunderstood passage in Ecclesiastes 3, about a time for all things, we miss the main point that comes later.  Yes, there is a time to be born and a time to die and all that.  But the real point is found a couple of verses later:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

In simplest terms (for such eternal and spiritual realities), we long because we were made for something different. Something eternal.  Life without the limits of time, space or death.

But the only way that everything “becomes beautiful in its time” is by a choice we make to enter into God’s plan of redemption.  The faith, hope, and love that sustains us through the long seasons are only available through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is the center of our faith. The source of our hope.  The driver of a love for the ages.  When people ask me in the funeral homes, “How do people who don’t know the Lord deal with this?” the sad truth is, they don’t.

In the meantime, for those of us who know Him, but who all live with the passing sighs of separation, we wait.  We believe.  We imagine.  And sometimes we grieve.  But we don’t sorrow as those who have no hope.  We are heirs of the Kingdom of Forever – the beneficiaries of the assurance plan of the ages.  And so, even as we miss like crazy… we hope.

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