Longing is part of all human existence, it is an impulse that drives us, or pulls us along, hunger, desire, need, hope, desperation… the need for food, warmth, safety, but above all, the need for love, for human contact, without which babies cannot grow and thrive, and adults shrink in on themselves.
The Romantic tradition, popularised in the lyrical ballads of court troubadours, tales of lowly knights in love with unattainable and often otherwise engaged ladies, caught something in the human condition that has never since fallen from popularity… from the subtley smouldering Charlotte Bronte to the maudlin Dame Barbara Cartland, from Eastern Concubines to Western Superheroes … the story of human longing has been fodder for the minds and hearts of women and men across the world for … well probably forever.
And somehow, unfulfilled longing, whether lovers parted by circumstances or forbidden desire that is ‘not meant to be’, has risen to the top of the strata of human ideals so that the notion of fulfillment… that the troubled hero might not die, or the principled heroine might actually give up her life’s work to be with her soulmate… just isn’t quite such a compelling story…
However more and more in these days of wish-fulfillment, human beings are choosing to grasp and live out their perceived ‘happy endings’, to fulfill their longings…So that:
-the couple formerly ‘parted by circumstances’ nowadays divorce their ‘circumstancial spouses’ and run off together, into a relationship that naturally turns out to suffer from a terminal lack of trust…
-the troubled ‘hero’ does not die, but becomes a little more selfish, a little more cautious about how brave he is now that he’s found his dream partner, packs in the heroism, gets a safer job and together they buy a flat and bicker about small things…
-the principled ‘heroine’, decides that any man who expects her to give up her ‘life’s work’ can’t really love her, and persuades her beau to give up his OWN career and follow her… in which state he grows chubby and complacent and she resents him… falling in love instead with someone at work… and starting her fresh ‘romance’ story as a lovestruck woman parted from her soulmate by circumstances…
…You see, the trouble with the application of ‘romance‘ to the real-life relationship, is that it has less to do with genuine love and more to do with a love of ‘longing’… at its worst there is something emotionally masochistic about it, whereby the individual who casts themself in their own story as the ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’, cannot remain in the role once the romantic story is ended and the longing is consummated… and so you have the ‘serial monogamist’… or sometimes the serial adulterer.
But longing, unfulfilled longing, has its proper place in human life…
NOT as its own end, a kind of emotional G-spot to which the well-fed, apathetic, compassion-fatigued modern Westerner can reach to feel alive again… as a reminder that they do not yet have it all, that they are still able, on occasion, to feel strong emotions… at least about the state of their own hearts.
BUT as a motivation to move towards Christ… a desire to love for Christ’s sake, to seek God in Prayer and Scripture and in each other… and not to grasp, but to accept, that this movement toward can only ever be made with open hands, and self-offering… just as Christ comes to us.
Unfulfilled longing for God, who loves us and longs for us and for all people to know him, is healthy insofar as it is built on a real relationship. We DO come to know God more, the more we seek him with open hearts and hands… and we come to truly love our neighbours more, the more we become aware of God’s love for us… and most importantly we do not long for our ‘unfulfilled longing’ to remain unrealised, so that the ‘romance’ can be prolonged, since we are not at the centre of this story, a tragic hero or heroine… but if anything in fact we are a second-rate villain… powerful in our own wicked way if we choose, but instead called to be powerfully redeemed by the Love of our divine creator… by the Creativity of our divine lover… which both calls us to cast off the petty works off self-aggrandissement, and to step up to the role of truthful Being in God… which is genuinely glorious.
But we do not move toward God in isolation… we move with others, and there is something truthful too, in our longing for one another… which if not distorted, can be a force for good… for if we see that God calls those around us too, to become beautiful in His sight, and that we can encourage one another to abandon worldly self-aggrandissment and move with open hands towards God, then we can see the beauty of Christ becoming revealed in our relationships with one another, and we can share something of the hope and love of Christ, as we share how we relate to God.
‘Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame. ‘ (Song of Songs 8:6)
The most important thing to note about unfulfilled longing, is that it is not a human invention…WE are not the primary movers in the universal story of love and passion, we are not the ones whose hearts have first been broken by parting, and on breaking, have done all that can be done for reconciliation… we are the beloved ones, the objects of God’s desire… we are the lost for whom the shepherd seeks, for whom he lays down his life… we are the ones who are being called by name… called in a voice that would raise the dead… that has raised the dead… that will again…called by One who knows us, our every weakness and distraction… called out of death and darkness in a voice that does not tire and does not give up.