I have learned so much since I knew it all.
My retirement years have taught me how little I really know about life. So many times in years gone by, I was tempted to follow the world’s path to success and happiness, rather than a more righteous walk in significance and contentment. There were moments I stumbled — times when the allure of earthly pleasures distracted me from a virtuous direction. Yet a still small voice whispered a warning that such seductions fail to satisfy, serving only to tease you with the briefest moments of pleasure or power, leaving one with an even greater thirst for more.
There is a longing within all of us, a desire that is hard to describe. Longing for meaning? Purpose? Joy? All of the above? Yet, we seek to fill that longing with all sorts of fallible, fleeting, and false substitutes. The individual autonomy promoted by the utopian promises of Modernism has only proven that choice divorced from morality produces chaos. (1) While the “me-first” goals of Narcissism may be self-serving, they too are ultimately self-destructive. Materialism and Consumerism are but futile attempts to satisfy our empty souls, filling them with deceptive surrogates. And while Hedonism explores the ultimate intimacy in the physical and sexual, one’s thirst is never truly satisfied.
Quietly speaking to my soul, the voice of Truth continued its relentless, but subtle appeal to virtue: “Is that what you think life is — a never-ending pursuit of that which never fulfills its promises? Or could it be that the desires of your heart signal a reality beyond the obvious? Much like hunger suggests, there is such a thing as food, maybe your desires hint at something beyond the material?” I know the answers to the Spirit’s promptings, but in the confused world I live in, reflecting upon the answers helps me to re-orient my compass.
One of my favorite hymns is Beulah Land. Written in the 19th century, it has a timeless theme. The opening lyrics speak of this longing. “I’m kind of homesick for a country, to which I’ve never been before.”
Does that make any sense?
CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory speaks of this desire within all people. “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. 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.”
If life seems meaningless, without purpose, if all the “isms” of the world fail to reflect the reality of life, could it be that our life choices only serve to validate the worthlessness of bogus worldviews?
Just as your body has a physical appetite, your soul hungers for that which satisfies. And what might that be? St. Augustine provided the answer back in the early 5th century. “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Could that be the tune we have yet to hear?
Could that explain the homesickness for a country we have never been to before?
Could that be the flower whose scent we have yet to find?
(1). Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, Il, Tyndale House,1999), xi
(2). Thanks to Ruslan at unsplash.com for the photo