Some days, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how much I am longing for something else, some idealized version of the future where I have that one thing that would finally make my life complete. It’s not the best way to spend time because it leaves me with a feeling of utter dissatisfaction with what actually is present in my life, regardless of how good they might be.
What I have been craving most in recent months is a sense of home and a community to belong in. To be rooted and connected in a place where people know each other deeply and are in it for the long haul. Perhaps this is because for many months I have felt, to my great despair, that I do not belong anywhere very much. Or rather, that I have belonged a little bit with many different places and people, but only transiently; if some connections endure, geographical distance becomes a barrier to continuing to share life together.
And so, in fine form, my unfailingly inventive imagination dreams up the most charming of scenes, which most often involve life in the country with family, and pie, and a great deal of gardening. If I could only hide away in a cozy little cottage with people to love and to be loved by! Sounds idyllic, right? Sigh.
When I catch myself thinking such thoughts, I try to stop and pray. Lord, is this what you have for me? Is this what would be good for me, good for You, good for the work You have for me in this world? It is true that in experiencing a longing for home, I can be more in solidarity with those who experience displacement or marginalization, and I try to bring these thoughts into the prayer. Even so, the discomfort lingers. Wanting to escape it, my mind races. Where can I go, what can I do? Do I choose to just settle myself somewhere, anywhere? Do I root myself?
This experience of desire for belonging is captured eloquently in the words of Henri Nouwen, who writes that “[the] need for some kind of satisfaction, some sense of belonging, is enormous. The ache is so deep we are willing to do anything to fill it…. People, so hungry for each other, want to get closer and closer, tighter and tighter…. But still it does not work”. (1) He goes on to explain that it does not work because we discover that no matter how close we get, no matter how much we share, there is still a loneliness, still a sense that we do not truly know or understand each other. So if becoming very close with people will still leave me feeling lonely, does this mean I will never find the home that my heart seeks to satisfy its aching?
When I share these thoughts with the wise people in my life, they always point me back to coming to know my belovedness in God more and more. In some ways, it seems like a pat answer—and in hearing it, a restlessness sometimes surfaces for something more practical that will help me find what I think I want.
Gradually, however, I am coming to realize that the simplest answers often contain the deepest truth.
The truth is that dissatisfaction is inevitable regardless of circumstance because the created world can never make a heart whole that was created to find wholeness wholly in the love of the Creator God.“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:2) The desire to create home is not a bad thing; in fact, it can be a very beautiful thing and a great gift. For some, a home can be the first place where the deepest needs for love and belonging can be realized. But it will never be possible for it to do so completely. I have known this to be true, but perhaps I have not truly known it to be true. Maybe chasing daydreams to feed insatiable desires leads to neglecting to nurture this love that truly does satisfy, enrich, and make whole.
Oh so slowly, I am beginning to learn that being free from my compulsions means resting in this divine love of such abundance. Again Nouwen says it best: “Prayer, contemplation, meditation, solitude, silence—they are all meant to develop an awareness of the voice in your heart that says, ‘I loved you long before you could have loved one another. I accepted you long before you could accept one another. I embraced you long before you could hold one another.’” (2)
It is when we live out of this love that we become free to be a mirror reflecting it to others, a pipe or conduit open to receiving and flowing to bless, no longer seeking love so much as a channel for its expression. We become more able to experience and create the spaces of belonging in freedom that before we desired with such neediness. We can enjoy and rejoice in these spaces without needing it to be the thing that completes us.
And as for home… home is heaven. In drawing near to God’s heart, we can echo St. Francis of Assisi and pray, “make me a channel of Your peace”, sowing love and creating heaven on Earth, right here, right now. So many are thirsting and hungering for it.
Notes: Quotes are taken from “The Essential Henri Nouwen,” page 162 for the first and 164 for the second.