Love or Longing?

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“I dream of a Love that even Time will lie down and be still for.”

When I was in my 20s, I used to say, if I marry, I won’t marry until I’m 30.  I could count on a few fingers men who had touched my heart–men who also only saw me as sister and friend.

Love–the covenant, life-long-promise kind of love–remained a distant hope.

“There is plenty of time,” friends and family would say, during seasons when I’d flail and founder, and demand a reason for my singleness.

Now I am 40, and can look back at two decades of dating experiences (less than one hand could count) and a brief engagement–infrequent, glorious and often painful forays into the realm of love and heart.  The Lord took me on a journey this past year after I caught another glimpse of this longed-for- Love, and promptly reached out with both hands and held on like one drowning, squeezing out its life.

I have felt a lot like Elijah impatiently pleading with God at the mouth of the cave.

Patiently and gently, the still small voice responded, “So you want to be married? Good, let’s take a realistic look at what you call love and what you would bring to a future marriage.” Through the verses of the old standard, Proverbs 31, God asked the tough questions: Do you have your house in some sense of order? Do you have an understanding of how you deal with stress and discouragement? Are you following My call on your heart and willing to make it a priority? What are your habits, good and bad? Are you able to nurture a relationship? Are you financially and emotionally stable?

I reeled and was silent in the face of such Love. Love that sought my best, not just for me, but for all whom I am in relationship with. Love that wasn’t interested in coddling me or worried about my reaction.  Love that would speak its peace and then still be there in the morning.  The kind of Love I longed for, but didn’t know the first thing about how to give or receive.

And then God had a heart-to-heart with me about the difference between love and longing.

Longing is that deep heart-desire for a kindred spirit, a person who knows me intimately, a person who loves me even when I’m not likable; the desire for comfort after a hard day, for a hand to hold in fear; for the kiss that curls the toes.

But the focus of longing is on me and what I desire.

Love was not in my relational earthquakes or the wind or the fire, the tumult or anxiety, the intensity or the tears.  Longing, yes, but not Love, a Love that simply loves, without demanding payment.

Now, the desire to be loved is good and wonderful, and this desire has a place in relationships, but actions rooted in this longing are not the same as love.  Love places the beloved at the center–not a desired response, not the fulfillment of my longing to be loved.

Am I giving love or longing? Am I seeking to do and give what is loving for the other person, or only what will garner a fulfillment of my longing?

It is a question that is changing how I approach all relationships.

But what do I do with the longing?

I write this only as one in the midst of asking the question.  I believe God is the only One who can bear and fulfill the full intensity of our longings–no person can be our fulfillment.  Deep friendships , family, and covenant relationships have space for the mutual sharing and fulfilling of longing—for love, intimacy, encouragement, delight.  However, I am persuaded that even then, the call is to love those in our lives first, and our longing’s fulfillment comes only as a grace-full gift.

I am practicing giving God my longings and giving others love.

holy experience

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  • Thank you for these words. Even in marriage there is longing and there is love. You’ve given me something to chew on a bit. “Practicing giving God my longings and giving others love” may this move from practice to habit to character.

  • Kelly

    After a full day at work I’m about to transition to home relationships. Your words give me much to think about,Susan. Thank you.