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One day, I stumbled across some words David wrote in the book of Psalms. My mouth dropped open as I absorbed his tone, and a quiet sigh settled over the stained patio furniture I was sitting on as I read:
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly, My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 NASB
David's words called out to me, speaking to me from the depth of his pain. A spiritual pain. He is hungry for the God he knows intimately. His flesh yearns for him in a land that doesn't understand.
This rattled me and got me thinking. How would I revise this psalm based on my life today? It might sound a little like this:
O God, You are my God; I shall try to see You in my day if I have time,
But if I don't, You know I am winking at You.
My soul thirsts for Diet Cokes, lattes, and sweet tea.
I'm not really sure what thirsting for You looks like.
My flesh yearns to be beautiful, in shape, fat free.
My flesh yearns for acceptance and accolades, an insatiable need for cheerleading.
There's a lot of water in my life—bottled, sparkling, and lemon spritzed,
But I don't often drink it.
I like it, but I'm not weary over needing it.
The stark difference in these versions slapped me across the face. It has haunted me and prodded me to write this book. I believe there is a deep place of engaging God—of needing him, wanting him, and enjoying him. I don't want to be a committed Christian; I want to be a desperate Christian.
Are we experiencing this longing and desperation throughout our days, or are we mildly satisfied with life? Crying out when things get tough, and then settling back into a marginal understanding and compliance with a predictable Christ? We are built for a Spirit hunger. Designed to thirst for a God who quenches. So why do we settle for crumbs under the table like dogs?
Part of our settling circles back to an iconic message that we've either heard or uttered at some point in our lives: "This is the best it's going to get; I better get used to it."
A woman I met was sharing how she felt trapped in her marriage. She was a writer, and after a profound encounter with God, she wanted to pen a book titled Trapped in a Bad Marriage? Paint the Cage Gold! Although I love this title, it's not a clear picture of what God invites us to. We're invited to so much more than a golden cage.
I've always been a bit awkward at romance. The first boy who ever caught my eye was Tom Kerr. He was a blond-haired, blue-eyed troublemaker, and all the girls in third grade were crazy about him.
On the days when our teacher changed the seating arrangement, I swear you could hear silent prayers being offered: "Please let me end up in Tom's row!" My problem was that although I did get those coveted seats a few times that year, I was just coming off a two-year stint in remedial pullouts because I struggled in reading and math. "OK, God," I bargained, "maybe in a year or two I'll be popular enough to get a look from Tom."
In fifth grade my dream finally came true. Through the grapevine of grade school notes and whispers, I learned that Tom Kerr liked me!
It happened on the night of the fifth grade musical. He took a black onyx ring that had a diamond in the center (a glass diamond) and threw it at me on the playground before the show. No words were exchanged, but the throw was tender.
That single event changed the course of our entire fifth grade class. Boys were throwing rings at girls left and right. There were no conversations, but a lot of ring-wearing fifth graders who declared themselves "going steady."
This silly encounter reminds me of faith today. We've got the rings on, but we have no idea how to engage the ring giver.
Could it be that we long for a romance with God—but we're too tired, wounded, realistic, or skeptical to accept one? Back when John and Stasi Eldredge wrote their New York times bestseller Captivating, I bought it, but I couldn't read it. As a matter of fact, I lost it and had to buy another copy—yet I was still not compelled to turn a page. It was as if I knew I had a deep longing for romance with God, but to unlock that Pandora's Box only meant I would go to a place of touchy-feely disappointment. Besides, I was busy serving God. Romance is a luxury. It's a negligee when I'd rather wear a T-shirt. A rose when I feel like a dandelion. A soufflé instead of a hot dog.
What I didn't realize was that I was already in a romance with God. It wasn't defined with starry words penned by Hallmark but had the sweet echo of phrases like "bride of Christ, Lover of my soul, and the One who won't forget."
I once heard John Eldredge, the same author I couldn't bear to read, state, "A woman is made to have a life-offering, captivating effect on those around her. A tender lover with the strength to invite to something of God."
How can I be a tender lover—inviting those I know to a glimpse of romance that defies routine days and the insecurity that accompanies it?
As women we've been taught from the crib that it's up to us to woo a lover. Be a good girl for Daddy. Sit up straight, brush your hair, and act sweet. Clean your plate, but don't get fat. Hide the very core of who you are because if that is exposed, a lover will run.
Men seem as confused about romance as women are. Pursue, but don't smother. Be brave, but be tender, act sweet, but stand like a man. Before we know it, we've buried our longings for our Creator underneath a stack of compliance, confusion, and duty. What we know of romance with God is either measured by the heartbreaks we've endured from lovers or relegated to the pages of our own bland history in which we've tried to find God.
The difference is that "God romance" isn't boring, risky, or stale. It doesn't stink or have bad breath in the morning. He woos us. He goes after us. He strongly pursues us with a melody and a longing for intimate love. Not the kind of love we know with our finite minds and suspicious hearts, but a love that transcends hope and logic. This longing gives birth to desire—and the romance of God wells up out of who we are.
What Do We Long For?
Some longings seem to come forth from deep within. Most psychologists and sociologists agree that certain longings are universal, beginning at birth and carried through till we take our last breath. We long for nurturing, attention, and affirmation; we long for filling and purpose; we long for intimacy—to hear and be heard; we long for discipline.
In my years of teaching elementary school, I saw the need for nurture, attention, and affirmation play out daily in the confines of my classroom. I taught with the unspoken motto, "Make every child feel like they're your favorite." I knew if I could convince them I loved them, they would break their backs for me. In fifteen years of teaching it never failed. Never. Some years I felt like an Oscar-winning actress portraying my love—but it never failed.
One little boy will forever be a scar on my heart. Sammy was a lost child in a brood of five kids. His mother up and walked out on the dad and her small children. By the time I got him in third grade, his agony and grief were bleeding all over his life. "failing in school, multiple suspensions, and dark moods" was how his academic life was described in the report I received when he entered my room in August. He was irritating too. Moody, mean, lazy—and that was on a good day!
The special education teacher and I shared a love for God and the audacity to believe more for Sammy, so we decided to meet every Monday and discuss his goals, as well as to pray for him. As the year progressed, I noticed that whenever Sammy was asked to draw something, it was violent, bloody, and dark. I pulled him aside and explained that he was loved by God and that light, goodness, and hope could fill his darkness. It was a gutsy move to make in the public school system, but this kid was sinking fast, and I knew if I didn't hand him a life jacket, he would drown.
Soon I began to see his drawings take on new light. Happy people, the sun, and bright colors replaced blood and guts. It was a start.
Instead of penalizing him for not turning in his homework, I decided to offer the gift of my time to Sammy so we could close the gaping hole in his education. We stayed after school together and got his homework done. I listened to him read, and when projects were due, he had something to turn in. But the greatest affirmation of his longings leaked out at the end of the school year when I invited him to a summer Bible study at my home. My own son, Colton, was Sammy's age, so we invited six boys to our home for an informal gathering to hear some good news. I drove to Sammy's disheveled house to pick him up. I don't think anyone even noticed he left with me or asked about when he might return.
Toward the end of our time together, we gathered knee to knee, sitting Indian style on the carpet in our family room to pray. Each boy was asked what was going on in his life and what he wanted to talk to God about. With a wild look in his eyes that signaled a geyser was about to erupt, Sammy uncharacteristically burst into tears and wailed, "My mom left, and it's my fault. If I behaved better, she would still love us!"
I came undone—and each nine-year-old boy in that room shook his head as young boys do when they have no words to say. We cradled him, and I whispered into his dirty hair, "You are loved. You are not to blame," as we rocked back and forth in raw shame and heartache. His need for nurture, attention, and affirmation was bellowing from him like the sobs from his chest and mine.
I wish I could say I still have a relationship with Sammy, and that all is well after all these years. The truth is, I don't know what happened to him after he left our school. I heard that his older brother ended up in prison, but that Sammy was trying to stay on track and graduate. I can only hope his longings have been filled by his attentive father in heaven. Unlike a faltering mother or an inattentive dad, he has a father who fills to capacity and then spills some more.
We Long for Purpose
I once heard a story about a group of Jews who survived the Holocaust. Placed in a work camp, they were part of an experiment on human nature. The Jews in one part of the camp were given jobs to complete that required teamwork and planning. They were asked to move timber and rocks from one corner of the camp to another and then to organize the rubble in a neat fashion. Even the children and older detainees were involved in the work, transferring small sticks and clearing new pathways. Once that job was complete, another menial job was assigned to them. The results were astonishing, as every member who was part of the work force survived, while other members of the same camp who wandered around aimlessly each day died.
We are created for purpose. Designed to matter. Without purpose, we wobble about in inactivity and indifference, hosting a stale, tasteless outlook on life.
My husband, Bobby, and I have been involved in professional baseball for over thirty years. Stadiums can be found across the country, both in remote minor-league towns that house splintering bench seats out in center field and in bustling cities where brand-new parks are common. In all of them, we've watched a curious pattern of behavior. The fans who seem to enjoy themselves the most are those who feel they matter to the team. Faces painted, signs scribbled on poster board and waved frantically in the air—they feel that their presence and contribution to the game help determine its outcome.
Marla was a season ticket holder in a desert town named rancho Cucamonga. Positioned between overshadowing mountains and plains of swaying palm trees, this city housed a minor-league team for the California Angels. The team's name was the Quakes (yes, after earthquakes!), and our mascots wore jerseys with the names Tremor and Aftershock proudly embroidered on the backs. Just the mention of these names sent this Colorado girl into a state of panic.
Bobby managed the team, and each night I watched as Marla unpacked her scorebook, cowbell, and Quakes pennant to wave wildly from the stands. One night, Marla nestled up next to me, lamenting that she had to miss the game the next night. I looked at her quizzically as if to say, "What's the big deal?"
Marla looked me square in the eye and said, "I feel like if I'm not here cheering, the team may lose. They need me!"
Strange as it may seem, this comment delighted me. I don't know what else was going on in Marla's life, but when the Quakes were in town, she felt like she mattered. Her purpose was to cheer the team on to victory, and I believe this purpose filled her longing to matter, even if it only resonated with quirky mascots and the fans she called friends.
When my three kids graduated from high school and left home, although I was swamped with my own career and aspirations and my husband's insane baseball schedule, I stumbled around for a year with an empty feeling in my stomach. My social circle changed, my schedule changed, my focus changed—and a giant piece of my purpose for the last twenty years broke off like an iceberg detaching from a glacier.
The same thing happens when we leave a job to raise kids, move from a place we love to follow a spouse's paycheck, or leave behind the life of a single to join ourselves to a husband. Our longing for purpose overshadows every other need—and sometimes it needs to be redefined and re-created. We're built to feel like we matter.
I finally decided to allow myself those times of tears as I walked from empty room to empty room of the house and sat on beds no longer slept in. I began to welcome the quiet and peace, while allowing God to re-create a new sense of purpose. I could finally slyly mutter, "At least these empty rooms stay clean!"
We Long for Intimacy—To Hear and Be Heard
Children have an uncanny way of blasting through our smoke screens. When our oldest daughter, Brooke, was a toddler, she would take hold of my face and turn it to hers if she was trying to tell me a story while I was multitasking. With sticky fingers and marbled words she would say, "Mommy, why are you not listening to me?"
Even children know when they aren't being heard. Nothing burns like the sting of our voices being stifled, shut out, or ignored. I have to admit that I haven't always been the best listener. A few years ago, Bobby mentioned that he didn't think I paid attention when he was speaking to me. I'm embarrassed to say my response was, "Huh? What did you say? I wasn't listening!"
Since then, I've committed to tuning in. I no longer nod without the decency of hearing what I'm responding to. Whether it's our husband, friends, children, or bosses - we long to be listened to, even if we have to turn a chin to ensure that we're being heard.
We Long for Discipline
At first glance, you may think this concept doesn't belong in a list of longings. To some women, discipline is just shy of a cussword—dirty, nasty, and something we try for but never attain. The truth is, we long for it. We're built for it. Consider Paul's words to the men and women in Galatia: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22–23 NASB).
Sitting smack in the middle of such flowery words as love, joy, peace, and patience is the word self-control. It reeks of weed killer in a meadow of wildflowers.
We know we long for discipline when we've languished in laziness, procrastination, or disobedience and it no longer feels like we're getting away with something. Bingeing, sleeping in, missing deadlines, ignoring time with God, or lying around with our house in disarray ends up feeling lousy. It runs counter to the rhythms of our deepest longings.
If discipline is something we long for, why does it smell like mildewed laundry? In my life I have fought with discipline as if it were a pesky gnat, swatting at it as though I can bring it under control. Everything in place, everyone behaving nicely—eat perfect, dress perfect, smile perfect. Discipline becomes the taskmaster and whip that march me onto the stage of fake excellence.
Once I tire of the harsh boundaries of discipline, I toy with the spacious boundaries of indulgence. More food, more pleasure, more stuff. Somewhere between perfection and indulgence lies the outline of grace. Grace is both the permission to not be perfect and the invitation to leave self-gratification behind. Discipline blooms when we live in this gracious balance.
This leads to a basic question that begs an answer. If we're built with these longings and desires, how did things get so messed up? When did desires turn to hauntings? If we're created to long, what happens when longings languish in an evaporating pool of hope?
Excerpted from Spirit Hunger by Gari Meacham Copyright © 2012 by Gari Meacham. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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