Image: My Photograph of St. Paul’s Bay in Malta
So we are looking forward to our half-term holiday—to sleeping in, no stress, family movies…and especially to getting away.
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The funny thing is, we had all that—sleeping in, staying up late, family movies, luscious meals, creaking family dinner tables, and travel– last summer (when we squeezed in an epic drive through Belgium, Germany, Austria and Slovenia in our motorhome) and for 24 days over the Christmas holidays (home, and Florence).
And towards the end of each holiday, I was actually looking forward for school. For a routine. For those rascally girls to get to bed at a half-decent hour, and not sleep in. 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 later this month, and am really looking forward to sunlight and movement and seeing beautiful things. Sometimes, I have had very exciting, dream holidays, full of doing and seeing and learning—Istanbul, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, and after an intense 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.
Life is a gift from God. 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 restlessness in our hearts is meant to lead us to the one who stills all restlessness.
German has 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. (Pilgrim’s Regress, C. S. Lewis).
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The restlessness in your heart is 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 by the sea…
“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 to 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.
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