As I approach the milestone of turning 30, I am struck by how differently my life has turned out than how I anticipated. I am beginning to realize how deeply I’ve bought the lie that true “living” is where the glamour is, where the cross doesn’t accompany me—that it’s somewhere over there, somewhere I am not.
Becoming a youth minister was something along those lines for me. As a college student imagining the life of a youth minister, I saw excitement and an unquenchable flame of passion. What a heroic, fulfilling, satisfying career! And , while I am convinced that Jesus has called me to this incredible ministry, it is far from glamorous. Most days, in fact, I find myself wondering if my efforts are worth it, if God is really using me, if I’ll ever know a life where my work schedule is relatively normal.
I imagine that marriage is a lot like this, too…incredibly meaningful to talk about, but far less glamorous and much more challenging to live. My married friends certainly attest to the beauty of this vocation, but they also transparently reveal that marriage is not a fairytale. It is work. It requires sacrifice. And, just as any true vocation should do, it sanctifies.
I know this, but the glamorous image remains. A recurring voice in my life says, “Once you’re married, then…” Then your problems will fade. Then your longing will be fulfilled. Then your feelings of being forgotten, unworthy, unseen, and unchosen will finally subside. Then your life will have meaning. Then you can give that “gift of self” which St. John Paul II so beautifully emphasizes in his Theology of the Body. Then you’ll finally have true intimacy with your married friends, because at last, you’ll be in the same life stage again. Marriage, indeed, so easily becomes an idol for me. My desire for it distracts me from the gift of today, convincing me that my life does not begin until I am in my ultimate vocation.
After a recent breakup, I realized that while some things I had longed for had been fulfilled in the relationship —being kissed and held by him, sharing my heart with him so intimately — my longings remained. I found myself reflecting on the many times in my life where I am convinced that things will be better once x, y, or z happens. And this is especially true in terms of my relationship status. I just want to be married. But as I took this to prayer, a still small voice said to me, “Ashley, if you can’t be content in your single life, what makes you think you can be content in marriage?”
This caused me pause.
I thought about the many conversations I’ve had with married women who express the longings that followed them into marriage. Longings to be seen, to be heard, to be fulfilled. Marriage didn’t fix this for them because marriage wasn’t the fulfilment of their real longings. Their husbands couldn’t fix them and their kids couldn’t distract them from the aching within their hearts.
While it is true that my heart longs for marriage, it is also true that marriage is not my greatest longing. The desire to have a baby is a deep, holy longing. Still, it is not the deepest. I know this because every time one of my desires is fulfilled, I am still in want. I have the youth ministry job I dreamed of, and still my heart is not fully satisfied. I finally started a blog, and still my heart longs.
There’s a longing in our hearts that this world cannot satisfy. Because the reality is as St. Augustine says: our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord.
So what are we to do with these longings? I’ve tried squelching them, pretending they aren’t there. I’ve lectured: “God knows best. Stop wanting.” But this doesn’t work. I’ve tried denying my desires; it has made me bitter toward God, led me to believe the lie that God is holding out on me, and led me to move through life disconnected from my heart. And if I am not connected to my heart, how can I be connected to the hearts of others?
But the opposite is also true: I cannot stop my life and lament that my longings have not yet been fulfilled (not that I haven’t done this while eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or anything…).
It’s taken me awhile, but I’m now realizing how much God wants me to bring my desires to Him – to let him in and to tell Him just exactly where my heart aches and just exactly how I’d like Him to fulfill my longings. I’m learning to “get my hopes up” that I will meet my husband at the event tonight, that I will get that job I wanted, that my friend’s 17582th pregnancy test will be positive. To lean in to my longings.
The truth is that life is now. With all its longing and fulfillment. God isn’t surprised by my circumstances (even if I am). God doesn’t abide by the world’s standards of relationship status, number of babies, houses owned, vacations had, job achieved…No. His plan is much greater. His plan includes the long-view, the view that extends beyond the present reality and into eternity. His plan includes the utter fulfillment of our longings in ways we cannot even fathom.
As for now, He’s got some pretty great things in store for us. Just look around. See the sunshine. Feel the wind. Taste that scrumptious blueberry scone. Lavish that 3-hour long phone conversation with your best friend. And lean into your longings, believing that our God can handle them. Together let us embrace this life, content with our longings as we journey toward the place of ultimate fulfillment found only in Christ.