Catholic priest Ronald Rollheieser says that there is, in all of us, “an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, a loneliness, a gnawing nostalgia, a wildness that cannot be tamed, a congenital all-embracing ache.” He also believes, and I agree with him, that “spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. . . about what we do with our unrest . . . about what we do with the fire that is inside of us” (The Holy Longing, pp. 4-5)
Our yearning is ultimately and finally for God. We experience that yearning as a hunger for meaning and a thirst for joy. It lures us to search for wonder and mystery. Most of all, I think, it drives our desire to be known, understood, accepted, and loved.
Of course, thirst is a question, not an answer. Hunger is a need, not a satisfaction. Desire is a drive but not a destination. So, it’s crucial to ask: What am I doing about my thirst? Where am I feeding my hunger? Where am I taking my longing?
We are all tempted to squander the longing—to misspend the yearning. Most often, we spend it on “more,” when we need what James Hillman describes as “beyond and within.” We push ourselves into more activity, when what we need instead is a sense that what we do matters. We go for more money, when what we need instead is a feeling of worth. More control, when what we need instead is be released, to be free. More consumption, when what we need is fulfillment.
We mismanage our longings when we invest them in symbols of success, alcohol and drug abuse, workaholism, mindless eating, loveless sex, neurotic religion, and unhealthy relationships.
More–no matter how much more–will not substitute for the beyond. Beyond, in the mercy and magnificence, the beauty and love, of God, is where we find significance, worth, freedom, and joy. With God and the friends of God, we find the welcome we yearn for and the love we crave.