Caption: The Bay Where St Paul was Shipwrecked, Malta
So it’s the last day of this half-term, and I am tired. And my girls who’ve worked hard, and Roy, who’s woken early to drive them to school, are even more tired.
We are looking forward to the nine days of the half-term holiday—to sleeping in, no stress, family movies… And especially a five day trip to glorious Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales.
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Funny thing is, we had all that—sleeping in, staying up late, family movies, luscious meals, creaking family dinner tables, and bits of travel– last summer (when we squeezed in an epic drive to Copenhagen in our motorhome) and for 24 days over the Christmas holidays (home and Malta).
And towards the end of each holiday, let me be honest, I was actually looking forward for school. For a routine. For those rascally teenage girls to get to bed at a half-decent hour, rather than the early hours of the morning and not sleep in till noon. For the house to be tidy and not have bowls, mugs, plates, juice-boxes, and chocolate wrappers, scattered around couches and armchairs and bedrooms. Or coats, scarves and socks kicked off anywhere. For predictable silent undisturbed hours to sink into reading and writing.
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After weeks of them being home 24/7, I look forward to school. After weeks of school, I want them home.
You know why? It’s because both are good. It’s all good.
Life is good because it’s a gift from God.
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I am going away next week, and am longing to do so. Sometimes, I have had very exciting, dream holidays, full of doing and seeing and learning—Istanbul, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and after a week or so there, I am surprised by a yearning to be home, to spend a day in my pyjamas, reading or playing around with words.
What? I had so yearned to see these magical places. On my first trip to Paris, I heard an American say on the phone in a rich resonant voice, “I am travel weary. I am homesick.” Travel-weary and homesick in Paris? I thought. Yeah, it’s all too possible.
It’s all good, it’s all gift, it’s all grace. That’s why at home, we can think of glorious art, architecture, history, gardens, mountains, forests, and the ocean and yearn to be there. And that’s why, in the middle of Rome or Athens or Madrid, I have had a sudden longing to go nowhere, do nothing, just sit with green tea, God, a book and a laptop.
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“Thou hast made us for thyself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you,” St. Augustine wrote.
This perpetual restlessness in our hearts is meant to lead us to the one who stills all restlessness.
The Germans (of course!) have a word for this restlessness, this indefinable longing: Sehnsucht.
C.S. Lewis describes sehnsucht as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.” That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of “Kubla Khan“, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves. (C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress).
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The restlessness in your heart is essentially a God-yearning. Don’t confuse it with what you think you desire— finishing and publishing a beautiful book, having a successful blog, travel, stimulating friendships, the holiday cottage on the sea, let’s say.
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them,” C. S. Lewis says in “The Weight of Glory.”“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
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So listen to your restlessness. Listen to your longings. You are longing for more than Alaska, or Antarctica or the Amazon (places I would rather like to see before I die). You are longing for more than to write a beautiful book (something else I would like to do before I die).
You are really yearning for the infinite sea of God. For the ocean of God to pour into your spirit, and for your spirit to pour into the ocean of God now and in eternity. You are yearning to abide and dwell in Him, and be filled with his spirit, which Jesus says is possible in this life. The things of this world for which you think you yearn are just signposts to the things which will truly satisfy your soul.
This world, this life, which lies, “before us like a land of dreams, so various, so beautiful, so new,” is a gift, a love-gift from God. Its loveliness is designed to delight, but not entirely satisfy our hearts. Only the Giver can do that.