I could give you two versions of my 2014 so far.
Small-Talk: I’ve got the training contract with a law firm that I had tried hard – working night jobs alongisde internships while scouring the half-off aisles and eating near-compostable vegetables – to get. The boy I have loved since meeting him years ago in Uganda has moved from Canada to London and we are making a go of things. We can do normal things like meet for lunch and call each other at human hours of the day. Hello late twenties – I’ve got my stuff together!
Beneath the bedcovers: The start of a corporate career which surprised me as much as anyone and left me wondering what on earth God could want to do with me here. A persistent cough which burrowed its way into my lungs and decided to camp out for two months. The boy is here on my doorstep – he’s going to have to see it all. Oh dear.
I’ve always been pretty good at putting on a game face. If you meet me for a quick coffee you’d doubtless get/have got version 1. But stick around a while and you may be lucky enough to get the full-on version 2.
Because deep down I was – still am – longing. I was discovering that truth which no one tells you until it’s happened: that the fulfilment of a dream can be the scariest thing. Or maybe we just weren’t listening before. A dream’s fulfilment means you have no choice but to stare at it in the face and have a conversation. ‘Huh. So it’s you, is it?’ Prowl around it, size it up, check out the shiny front and pore over the small print on the back. Challenge it, dare it to be more to mask the gnawing sense….is this it? I wonder if that is how the Israelites felt, deep down, as they gazed doubtfully up at their beautiful golden calf. Take a snapshot and it looks perfect – but left with a longing.
Longing seems to be part and parcel of what we get up to in this life. However much I hope for that dream, that friendship, that relationship – in the end I always seem to do the prowl when it arrives on my doorstep. I guess it is as C S Lewis reminds us – that when we reach the end of our longing and realise that there is nothing on this earth which alone can satisfy, we must conclude that we were not made for here.
This is complicated by the fact that none of these things – a career, a relationship, friendships – are bad things of themselves. I find myself resisting daily the temptation for disillusionment that they’re not what I expected to slip into ingratitude. But these things alone do not satisfy. How many times have I spoken such assurances to friends? Sung these words for all the world with conviction in the pews?
I’m wrestling through the fact that it is perhaps a befriending of longing which will free me to enjoy the good gifts God has given me as they were meant to be. Held lightly. To savour the gifts of a career – however strange a fit it may seem, the gift of a boy who will move halfway across the world and not make it seem a big deal. To celebrate friendships for what they are – not what they’re not. Imperfect things transformed into daily bread when surrendered into the hands of my Creator-Redeemer. It is sufficient, He whispers.
It seems there’s only ever one way to learn with our Shepherd, and that is the narrow, messy and beautiful way. 2014 has taught me that as we hold dreams tight in a sweaty grip do we really understand how quickly they dissolve into dust. We look down in disbelief at empty hands, peer over our fingers and appreciate the terrifying depths of our longing.
It’s been a few months since the wobbly start to the year now – and I for one am pleased to say it is now officially ‘mid-2014’. My steps are still shaky. But I pray I am learning, day by day, to flourish in the longing.
To allow my longing to not be joy’s thief but rather release it to sing in harmony with the longing of a world groaning towards redemption. To allow my longing to lead me into the very heart of the battles waged over this world. The places where we as a Body can choose to lean into the longing, filling the space with a of groaning and a whisper of praise – because we believe in Kingdom Come.
Henri Nouwen talks of ‘befriending our sorrows’ and discovering the truest joy right there in the midst of it as we hold them and acknowledge them rather than prowling suspiciously around them.
This is what I long for in this season. To befriend the longing, a sweet heavenly signpost towards what I am truly made for and made to be. To fully live and fully lean into all which is not yet as it will be. To lean into messy community. To lean into a challenging job. To lean into the hard conversations in my relationship. To lean because we are reassured that we have permission.
Things are not as they should be. But my prayer is that we have eyes to see the redemptive work brewing in the longing. May we whisper through the tears and the hopes and the joys to one another that yes, He is here on this side of the longing and on the other and the view of both sides as we crest the hill will take our breath away.