Something is missing.
I’m speaking of that feeling that remains long after we have found what we wanted for so long; or after we have achieved that which have we worked so hard for. After a while, we realise that it just wasn’t enough. We want more, or we want something else, we want to go further and higher. The feeling of enjoyment fades and soon our souls start searching for it again. Any person courageous enough to return to the mirror and view their soul honestly will find a dissatisfaction that runs deeper than the day before.
Some realise this gradually when the things they enjoy lose their ability to bring them joy. Others become acutely aware of this when they experience trauma – like a romantic break-up, losing a loved one, or receiving news of a serious illness. Apart from causing pain, loss also makes us aware of this vacuum inside ourselves. After working through the emotional wounding of loss, trauma, and depression, it will eventually become evident that a hole of another kind remains. We would’ve found joy if we received a cure for our illness, or were reunited with a lost loved one, but there is a part of us that will remain deeply unsatisfied, even despite such a miracle. The loss of enjoyment could be a sign of depression and needs treatment, but awareness of this ‘missingness’ could also take us to an impasse in our spiritual journey that brings with it (along with the pain) the opportunity to view our core beliefs and recalibrate the ‘compass’ we use to navigate this life.
I don’t think we swing between painless times and painful times. I think that life is constantly painful. At birth, we became the hungry, the mourning, the poor, the lost. We all fall short. We all have a constant ache, but at certain times we grow more aware of this incomprehensible ache. Incomprehensible – because it is like an itch that can’t be scratched, a hunger for something we have never tasted, an emotion that cannot be felt, a yearning for someone we have never met. Sehnsucht is the german word CS Lewis used to refer to the inconsolable longing we all have. He described this longing as a longing for our own ‘far-off country’ which we have “never actually experienced”. Travel, love, food, warmth, studies, acceptance, wealth, and fame are only mirages of that something that can not be had in this world. They stimulate our dopamine receptors (reward system), but not our spiritual longing. Yet, our compass is directed towards things like these, because it guides us away from the ache, bringing only temporary alleviation.
Therefore, in a way, the pain we experience in this life takes us a little bit down the abyss of our inconsolable ache; and the joys we experience are like advertisements of our ‘far-off country’. Not only do our bodies consist of receptors to receive the positive and negative things this life can give, but we, presumably, also have receptors for things that this life does not contain. Therefore, an inconsolable longing remains.
Depending on how we view this fundamental truth, we will either be left hopeless; or hopeful. CS Lewis said that if we have a longing that is inconsolable by this world, the only other explanation is that there must be another world to which we belong. So, although we ache, we are not doomed, for if a shadow exists, there must be a light. Between the poles of an eternally ancient ache and a future home in a ‘far-off country’, a tension exists that not only keeps us yearning but also keeps us alive. No matter what we try, the tension remains, and it remains for a good reason. In fact, life ends when this tension stops – like a guitar string with no tension that seizes to make a sound, or a tree that doesn’t grow and has seized to live. Most people who have all the things they desire know this better than those who have less. The worst poverty is that unsatisfied feeling that you feel when you, indeed, have everything you desire.
The point of this is also not to neglect all things ‘worldly’. We must feed our bodies what it needs, and we must also feed our spirits what it needs. Don’t stop enjoying life – we were made to experience all the good and bad that this life demands. But this life will not address our spiritual poverty, hunger or mourning. Only when we are aware of our eternal aching can a satisfactory recalibration of the ‘compass’ happen. Only then can the true meaning of life be pursued and our ‘far-off country’ be reached. I recognise people who have joined the eternal journey – their compasses are calibrated by other things. Growing a pure heart, being merciful, serving others and peace-making are things that grow in priority for them.
We all have a belief system. We have all placed our hope in something. We follow our compass with conviction because we have faith in what we believe in. Contrary to many popular ideologies and philosophies, I do not believe that we will have abundance in this life. Judging by the depths of our pain, we currently fall terribly short in comparison to that which awaits us. We will either be overcome by this incomprehensible ache or grow the perseverance to fight ahead in pursuit of what we believe lies ahead.
Perseverance will grow the character needed to tolerate this longing while traveling, searching, and pursuing. And how important this journey is! Putting our next foot forward holds the promise of finding the door to our home in the ‘far-off country’ once our compass has been calibrated correctly. A strong character will grow the faith that keeps hope alive and hope remains if we continue tolerating this tension while pursuing this eternal desire.
If you are longing, there is hope; if your longing is inconsolable, then even more – because we are not of this world.
- Mere Christianity. CS lewis
- Mat 5:3-11