Sehnsucht– A huge and painfully unrequited yearning to find and touch the mystery. An extreme desire for a far off country you have never been to. A deep and insatiable desire for a home that you haven’t yet had.
This German word is very hard to define in any language. But when you read the definition you know exactly what it means, don’t you? You can conjure up the feeling associated with the word because you feel it every day. It is a hidden desire running under your skin even as you go to the bank and sweep the floor and buy your groceries. It’s the aching and mystery that arises as you mourn over your singleness or are reminded that your marriage is not all you hoped it would be. It is the faint pain like bruising on your skin that grows more beautiful and more painful as you get older because of the wisdom and the regrets that are birthed from the days you have walked.
This word has been on my mind since my last session with my counselor. I was talking to her about my recent visit to my college town and the longing I now had for that season, the longing I had for men that I dated in that season that I gave up on. The wishing I had done things differently. The wanting to go back to that mysterious place and make different choices. The deep desire to revisit the essence of the nostalgia I was feeling in order to live it out in the present moment.
She said to me “did you like being there while you were there? Were you happy?” I couldn’t remember. I found it ironic that I longed for a place that I missed now, but I didn’t even notice it while I was there.
“Kate,” my counselor said “you have always had this deep sense of longing, of dissatisfaction, even of suffering. You had it then, you have it now. Even if you one day finally have children and a husband, you will still have it. You can’t escape the longing. ”
I knew she was right. I can’t escape this longing, this desire for a place I have never been to. Because I am human. Because I was born with that longing. It has been said that no other creature is as inherently dissatisfied as the human being. But I don’t think it’s our fault. I think it’s part of our nature.
In fact, I would argue that this sensucht, this deep longing for somewhere we’ve never been, is evidence for the existence of heaven, evidence for the existence of God. Can an atheist argue against his insatiable desire for home? Can an agnostic ignore the fire down in his bones saying that he was made for more than the life he is living?
Psalm 84:5 says “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Another translations says “in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” Our hearts are set on pilgrimage, a long, beautiful, painful journey that will end in a glorious homecoming. Our hearts have highways to Zion in them, and after many years of walking those highways with perseverance, we will reach that mountain in which the glory of the Lord dwells, where all of our desires behind our sehnsucht will be realized.
CS Lewis’ was all but obsessed with the idea of sehsucht, the idea of looking for True North. In his book The Problem of Pain he says
All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.”
One day, at the end of your journey, you will say these words. “Here at last is the thing I was made for.”
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