The Relentless Ache of Unfulfilled Longings

unfulfilled longings+

 

I was lonely for years.

I longed to remarry, but I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. Not even to myself.

I didn’t want to pin my hopes on something that might never happen. And if I never remarried, I didn’t want to look like I had wasted my life, hadn’t trusted God, and couldn’t be content. I’d be pitied by others and embarrassed for myself. I didn’t want that.

So I buried my feelings.

At times those stuffed feelings would resurface and I would ask God for a husband. I’d journal about it, pray fervently and be on the lookout for who God might bring. Then I would try to forget about my longings, surrender them to God, and convince myself I didn’t want to be married anyway. I told myself, and other people, that it wasn’t important. That I was completely content. That I had come to terms with where I was.

That was a lie.

A lie I wanted to believe because it seemed that everyone who loved God was satisfied with their circumstances. Besides, it seemed better to deny a longing that might never be fulfilled than it would be to keep longing. It certainly was less painful.

Others had accepted their unfulfilled longings. They had come to terms with their singleness. Or infertility. Or discouraging careers. When they finally let go of their desires, they gained a sense of stability.

So I was torn about what to do. I begged God to take away this desire and he didn’t. So I cried out to him to meet me in the midst of this unfulfilled longing.

For years he met me there. And then God blessed me with a husband who is beyond my expectations.

And yet in other things – with longings just as real and intense – God has not given me what I was yearning for. He has left me with unmet desires. Desires that may not be fulfilled this side of heaven. Desires that I may live with forever.

Right now I want a healthy body that can do the things I want to do. With post-polio syndrome, I am deteriorating daily, much more rapidly than I am prepared for. Some days I wake up with intense pain, which gives way to a dull ache that drags on throughout the day. On those days, my arms are limited to basic tasks like eating and dressing. If I can use them at all.

It’s been excruciating.

I have sobbed and questioned God, begging for deliverance. For me, as a “helper” personality type, serving has been one of my greatest joys. And when that role is reversed and I am the one who needs to be served, I feel uneasy. Uncomfortable. A burden.

I want to be the perfect wife who makes great meals, keeps a neat house, and has boundless energy. A thoughtful mother who serves her children tirelessly. A dependable friend whom others can count on for anything. But I often can’t be any of those things. Rather than serving, I have to be served. At the most inconvenient times.

Friends have encouraged me to relax and be content with my circumstances. To give up my longing for things to be different. They say that is the only way to have peace.

I wish I could. I have known for over a decade that my body is failing, yet it is still hard not to meet the physical needs of others. I am wired to serve. So whenever I can’t do that, and the roles are reversed, I grieve.

These limitations bother me daily. And whenever they do, I am invited to surrender them to God. As an act of worship. A living sacrifice. An offering of faith and trust in God.

The Bible says that there is great gain in godliness with contentment (1 Timothy 6:6). God has a reason for all of our circumstances. We should live life to the fullest with what we’ve been given. We should learn to see his grace and find joy wherever we are.

At the same time, it’s unhealthy to deny our pain and pretend everything is fine when it isn’t. It’s okay to want things to be different. It’s dangerous to squelch our longings, stuffing them down so deep that we are devoid of emotions and passion.

It’s far better to be completely honest with God. To offer my longings up to him. To ask him to change the situation, or give me the grace to handle it. Strangely enough, that process of crying out to God, and being honest about my pain, has drawn me close to Jesus.

False contentment doesn’t do that. Quite the opposite, feigned contentment pulls me away from Christ because I can’t even see my need for him. Deadening our desires may make us stoics, but it won’t make us passionate followers of Christ.

Contentment that is borne out of suppressing our longings leads to empty platitudes at best and bitter hypocrisy at worst.

We all have longings. Crying out to God to fulfill them, or change them, or give us the strength to endure them, strengthens our faith.  Denying our longings under the guise of contentment may keep us from pain, may look more spiritual, may make us less emotional, but can lead to spiritual deadness.

God may change my desires and bring lasting contentment even when he denies my cherished requests. That would be a great gift. But it does not always happen that way.

And if those desires remain, if I still feel those raw places in my soul, if I still long for something more – the Lord may want me to lean into him more closely, trust him more fervently, and cling to him more tightly. And that is a mercy as well.

Life is full of pain. Sometimes God miraculously delivers us. When he does, we rejoice and give him glory. He makes all things new and brings beauty from ashes. Sometimes we aren’t delivered, but he gives us true contentment in our circumstances, so the world can see his peace and satisfaction. And sometimes he leaves us with a constant ache, a reminder that this world is not our home and we are just strangers passing through.

This relentless ache is what drives me to my knees, brings me to Jesus, makes me long for heaven. And perhaps in heaven, I will thank God most for my unfulfilled longings because they did the deepest, most lasting work in my soul.

 

 

 

This post is adapted from the archives and included in my book, The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

 

 

  • March 17, 2017 - 12:14 am

    Sofia Perez - Vaneetha,

    I understand your desire to serve others. I too feel an emptiness when I am not being poured out into others lives. But don’t think you are not serving. It may not be physical in the capacity that you desire to give. However, you are serving thousands of people who are hurting and looking for hope. You are feeding dry souls who are aching and long to understand how suffering can be good in God’s hands. Through your many articles you have encouraged me in my sadness to continue to press on. You are serving far more than you can imagine by sharing your trials with the world and pointing us towards Jesus.

    I cannot thank you enough. I frequently check your website for new updates because I know that whatever you write will lift me up when I am down. I am going through a difficult season and I am so grateful for you.ReplyCancel

    • March 17, 2017 - 11:55 am

      Vaneetha - I can’t tell you how much this meant to me today, Sofia. It is encouraging to know that the Lord is using my writing to point people to Jesus. That has always been my prayer. Praying for you as I write this that God will walk closely with you through this difficult season of sadness and comfort you with his everlasting love.ReplyCancel

  • March 17, 2017 - 4:19 pm

    Mike R - Bless you for this article, Vaneetha. As I have been going through more specialist visits, more lab tests and procedures, and more “new and hopeful” medications, only to find that I continue to spiral slowly downward, I have been shown, once again, that my only hope and rest is found in God. My greatest peace is found at night, when I lie in bed, deep in prayer. I can cry out, complain, argue, and weep. Or quietly rest under His wings. God does not change, but I do. I still struggle and your writing helps me to realize that it is normal, and even more, a blessing.

    Like you, I have a desire to serve. I spent my professional career helping those in physical need, so I am not surprised. It is built-in. It is who I am. I thought that my later years would redirect my energy to the Church. Instead, I find myself living the life of a a person much older than my physical age. One-a-Day now describes my activities, not my vitamins. Vacuum the living room. Or, go to the grocery store. Or, mow my tiny front lawn. Or, go to church, to the doctor, or to the pharmacy. One activity per day. The rest of each day is spent on the couch, sitting or lying.

    God seems to have said, “Be still and know that I am God.” My prayers travel a well-trod path, from desperation to joy and back again. One day I can tell him, “It is good that I was afflicted”, and mean it. The next day I am slogging through the swamps of depression, resentment, and self-pity. It is as though I must eat my meal of bitter herbs before I am given a taste of honey-sweet manna.

    Like many who have been given the blessing of bitter herbs, I have read the book of Job over and over, again. Sought reassurance in biblical passages concerning patience during afflictions. Wondered at the life of Joni Eareckson Tada, and marveled at the life of Elizabeth Elliot. But how can I relate to Job, a righteous man beyond my understanding, or compare myself with Joni? Worse, who am I to complain when there are Christians in the world who are under great persecution, and with great need for even the basic necessities of life? It is humbling to think that I falter under lessor trials.

    This entry to your blog is a bit of a psalm, or so it struck me. You acknowledge your pain and your struggles. Yet you remember God’s deliverance. And in that you find hope. God has gifted you with a remarkable ability to communicate.

    Thank you, finally, for helping me to see that there is purpose, even in my sinful failure to endure trials joyfully. What a thought that God can use my painful yearning and lack of contentment to draw me to himself, the only true answer. And to teach me that He is far greater than the temporal things I ask for. I am praying for you as I write this, in that I know that as much as you have been a teacher and encourager to the rest of us, you still must face each day of pain anew. May God bless you and your writing, Vaneetha.ReplyCancel

    • March 17, 2017 - 5:08 pm

      Vaneetha - Mike, I have reread your comment numerous times already. It is beautiful. You have such an incredible gift with words and I can so relate to much of what you said. Your words have ministered to me today, as I know they will to everyone who reads them. Thank you for sending this.ReplyCancel

  • March 17, 2017 - 5:45 pm

    Trudy - I’m so sorry your body is deteriorating, Vaneetha. It must be so hard. I have a chronic illness, so I know the struggle when we have to give up something we can’t do anymore. But what you go through is far worse. I can’t imagine it. Still, I feel less alone when I read your posts. I feel like you understand me.

    You serve far more than you know. I shared your post “Do the Next Thing” with some online friends, and they were encouraged as I was. I always look forward to your posts. They offer so much hope. I love your honesty and your thoughts of not denying or suppressing our pain, but to pour them out to God. Your close relationship with God shines through. You always point us to our only hope in Jesus.

    This reminds me of a woman in a nursing home who couldn’t do anything like she used to. When someone questioned her, she said, “I can still pray.” It really struck me. She couldn’t busy herself with serving anymore, but actually she still did serve as she continued to be a prayer warrior. Love and gentle hugs to you!ReplyCancel

    • March 18, 2017 - 2:56 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you so much Trudy. I am so glad my posts make you feel less alone- because when I post, it makes me feel less alone too. Its amazing how God uses everything!ReplyCancel

  • March 18, 2017 - 9:25 pm

    georgia - thank you for this. you can’t know how timely it is for me to read this. meeting with my counselor tomorrow to discuss this very thing. she actually reminds me very much of you, or you of her, and i know she would/will tell me these very same things. i will pray for you regarding the longings you still have. i ask for you to pray for me, as i am deep in struggle right now.ReplyCancel

    • March 19, 2017 - 2:23 pm

      Vaneetha - So thankful this was helpful, Georgia. Praying as I write this that God would meet you in a tender way in your struggles.ReplyCancel

  • March 20, 2017 - 6:51 am

    Crystal - I love your blog and this definitely spoke a word to my heart as I am going on 40 and have never been married and still have the desire to be married although I have questioned many times if I should give up that desire altogether. I strive for contentment but it certainly gets hard although, like you said, God asks us to still trust that He knows what’s best for our lives and will sustain us even though He might not give us what we want in the end. Thank you for your insights and spiritual encouragement Vaneetha. Oh and by the way, your book was WONDERFUL! Please keep me in prayer and I will do the same for you 🙂ReplyCancel

    • March 20, 2017 - 6:12 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you Crystal for writing. Living with unfulfilled longings is a hard balance, isn’t it? I would love to have complete contentment but I have definitely found that constant crying out to God has deepened my prayer life. I’m glad this post in the book were helpful to you. Praying as I write this that God would meet you in the midst of your unfulfilled longings and show you that He is better than your dreams.ReplyCancel

  • March 20, 2017 - 9:49 pm

    Michelle - Your words are what I needed to hear today. I have been crying out to God these last 3 weeks, asking Him to take this cup that He has given us to drink. He hasn’t and I have struggled with not being content with His plan. Thank you for speaking this truth. This endless ache is what He is using to bring me closer to Him. Please know that though you may not be serving Him in ways that you had imagined, you are most definitely being used by Father to encourage and help those of us who are weary. You are loved, my dearest sister.ReplyCancel

  • March 21, 2017 - 1:55 pm

    Lori - Chronic illness is a hard way to grow in Christ. And those of us that have an invisible chronic illness suffer not only the pain and fatigue from our illness, but also must bear stigma and marginalization from an uneducated society (even friends and family!).
    But God … has been pleased to afflict me (Ps 119:75), and He tells me also that it has been GRANTED to me to suffer (Ph 1:29). HUH? That’s counter-intuitive. God evidently has far different thoughts about suffering and pain than I do. I must take Him at His word – who am I to be displeased with His choice when He is pleased with it? He has tailor-made my affliction for my good and for His glory. To refine me and sanctify and mold me into Christ-likeness.
    These are the things I know … but I must preach them to myself daily, because my heart’s default is forgetfulness about God’s faithfulness.ReplyCancel

    • March 26, 2017 - 6:18 pm

      Vaneetha - My heart’s default is forgetfulness, too, Lori. But thankfully as we preach to ourselves daily, the Spirit helps us remember His faithfulness. Thanks for writing.ReplyCancel

  • March 24, 2017 - 5:39 pm

    J - Vaneetha, I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now, especially since I began struggling with an unexplained chronic condition about two years ago. I am relatively young and in my mid-late twenties and yet your words resonate so deeply with me. I desire marriage, yet I also struggle with feeling like a burden, being one who often receives more than I can give, and possibly not being able to be the wife and servant that I imagined to be because of this broken body I’ve been given. I’ve spent more nights than I’d like to admit crying and pleading for God to take this cup from me, yet He has in His good purposes responded with, “Not yet.”

    Only being a few years into this physical battle, there are many days where I feel absolutely overwhelmed at the very likely possibility of many, many more painful days left ahead of me. What if it never gets easier? Oh, how I long and groan inwardly for our return home to heaven! But then I read your transparently honest words which bring such comfort and encouragement to my weary heart. Your continued perseverance in clinging to Christ after all these years has shown me that indeed, this road ahead may not become easier, but there is still hope as we sojourn on this earth. Your words point me to the hope of our Lord who sustains and gives grace to endure each and every day with contentment.

    Thank you for sharing your hope, but even more, thank you for sharing your pain, because truly God’s power has been displayed and glorified through your weaknesses. You are such a blessing.ReplyCancel

    • March 26, 2017 - 6:21 pm

      Vaneetha - Thanks so much for writing. I understand the pain of looking at the future and wondering, “what if this never changes?” When I do that, I ask God to remind me, tangibly, that He loves me extravagantly and whatever happens will ultimately for my joy.ReplyCancel

  • March 31, 2017 - 9:42 am

    Linda Swanekamp - Vaneetha, your words are always rain on a scorched ground. I do have chronic pain, but not like yours. I wish there was no suffering, but God has always used suffering since the fall for His purposes, even if we can’t see it. Growing closer to Jesus would not have been possible without the suffering I have lived. It pains me to even write that. Jesus served us and we can never pay Him back. He asks us to be faithful, to witness of Him, and lean on Him. Your words serve all over the world. Your prayers are not bound by physical limitations. He is enough. We either believe that or are crushed . He was crushed by the worst of humanity and pain, but resurrected and intercedes for us daily.ReplyCancel

    • March 31, 2017 - 10:56 am

      Vaneetha - Thank you for writing, Linda. Love this, “Growing closer to Jesus would not have been possible without the suffering I have lived. It pains me to even write that. Jesus served us and we can never pay Him back. He asks us to be faithful, to witness of Him, and lean on Him.” Amen.ReplyCancel

  • April 6, 2017 - 12:37 pm

    Carly - Dear Vaneetha,

    Thank you for this post. I have been struggling lately as a single mom, with feelings of unworthiness and distance from God. I guess I still have a naive notion that being a Christian and receiving the Holy Spirit, somehow will mean that all of my problems will be solved. That somehow God will be my genie and just make everything perfect. I have been playing the track over in my mind that goes “God if you love me, why did you let X happen” or “Why didn’t you stop X from happening?”. Though reading your blog helped me to remember that in my weakness his strength is made perfect. I am blessed in so many ways, and although I have my heartache and trials, the silver lining is that I do have God to lean on. I do not know what the future holds, but God does not expect us to do his job for him. Sometimes we simply need to ask that he give us our daily bread and trust in his promise and unfailing love. Thank you for your blog.ReplyCancel

    • April 6, 2017 - 1:03 pm

      Vaneetha - I am all too familiar with those “tracks” that you’ve been playing, Carly. I’m sure they have grooves worn out from all the times I have played them myself. But I am grateful that the Lord is reminding you, as he graciously reminds me, that his strength is made perfect in my weakness and that he is using my suffering for something bigger than I can imagine. One day I will see it and rejoice. And while I may not see it today, I can grow in my love for God and trust in him as I wait.ReplyCancel

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*

Share to Facebook|Subscribe|Tweet This Post