To have both longings and peace simultaneously might seem contradictory. While longings might be associated with unrest, I have come to see my unresolved longings filled with peace—and more, I have seen them re-purposed.
First, a clarification: As I see it, good unfulfilled longings are those desires compatible with the holy will of God (i.e. not intrinsically wrong or evil) that are not within his present will for me (i.e. within his wise outworking of my life for his glory and my good). Of this kind of longing, which I am calling good unfulfilled/unresolved longings, I write here.
Because, as believers, we walk “by faith, not by sight” on this earth (2 Cor. 5:7), we are not assumed to understand all that comes (or does not come) into our lives, understand all of the intentions or plans of God (or the seeming silence), or understand all of the reasons some desires remain unresolved at present (while others that feel less important are resolved).
But knowing we will stand before the Lord one day—seeing at last the one who has dealt wondrously with us—we “make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9) in what the apostle Paul calls the “groans” of this life before we are overcome with heavenly glory (2 Cor. 5:2). With this aim, I desire to resist temptations to be pulled away from devotedness to the Lord. To that end, here is a set of proposed resolutions:
(1) I will not draw self-created and assumption-based lines between my desires and any necessary implications in God’s plans for me. God alone is God—and he is not beholden to my feelings.
I assume that when God says he will give me the desires of my heart (Ps. 37:4b), this means he first guides my desires. The beginning of the verse is indispensable to understanding his guidance: “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Ps. 37:4a). Consequently, my directing desire—or, my desire under which all other desires must fall into compliance—is to be living for his sake. God is not subject to my feelings; my feelings are best directed by my delight in him.
(2) When I come to see or understand that one sketch I had conceived for honoring God through my life is not viable, I will not cause myself to be stuck.
I intend to willingly lay down my prior path and trust that he can show me a new way to pleasing him—a detour around the plans I previously knew. And I will trust that in the mind of the Lord, a holy longing unfulfilled is not a detour, but my exact path to pleasing him most.
(3) I will not doubt that his sovereign plan and goodness prevail when the sketch of my life—that I had formed—fades.
When the trajectory for my life that I had envisioned is not realized, I will assume that occurrence as one more positive reassurance within me that I am not sovereign or all-wise, like God, such that I can plan what will work out for my ultimate good on this earth. I will welcome with gratitude every new assurance that he is God, and I am not.
(4) I may be groaning with raw longings, but I will not seek an ultimate remedy for them apart from God. I will let them remain raw—if needed—and let them be his.
When I let my longings be as they are, and let them ache, I find I am exceedingly sensitive to the touch of God’s Word. The suffering Savior alone is comfort; his intercession for me before God alone means peace and perseverance; the skies that will yield to his coming alone promise the display of my hope. I will not numb my longings with sin; I will let myself be open to him.
(5) I will trust that whatever I bypass on my revised life trajectory—even if what I bypass is good in principle—would not have been good in his sovereign plan for me to have.
Not only do I trust that God’s path will best allow me to serve him, I trust that his path will indeed be best for me. And when I peer closer—as I must—I find that the two are not disconnected. For I do not know what is better for me than serving him.
(6) I will pray that the truth of his sovereign goodness becomes so lifted in my sights that my joy about him outweighs the ache of what I do not have.
I may be required to interact with the joy I know of God’s character differently than how I would have interacted with the joy that my unfulfilled longing would have brought. Meaning, the latter would have been tactile and tangible, and the joy I do know of God’s sovereignty and goodness are often neither of those, but spiritual in nature. The experience is different. But the theological/spiritual command no less direct bearing upon me—but more when considered rightly. Through the Word of God, the voice of God speaks to my spirit, and I trust that the joy I find there can outweigh other possible good.
(7) I will not so diminish God in my sights as to believe another life sketch to be better than him.
Another path that I envisioned for my life would have brought joy; my desire was not wrong, and I cannot—in fact, I should not—deny it. Yet, no good path can prevail over and above the goodness of who God is. And so, I compare the two. I determine to compare. Specifically, I find that God himself is my good all the time, in every fulfilled or unfulfilled longing. That this goodness remains when longings go unfulfilled leads me to thankfulness.
When the disciple Peter started to weigh his life’s difficult trajectory against factors outside of a peace-filled singular commitment to the Lord, Christ pointedly and simply responded, “…what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22b). And when I am called on a groaning earth through the way of unfulfilled longings, I think of the same penetrating words: “You follow me.”
God has asked me on this “revised” life trajectory; he is the one saying “follow.” Associated with him I perceive unfulfilled longings to be ennobled; following God through the ache matters to him. In this my unfulfilled longings are filled with divine purpose.