The Longing and the Mystery


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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14 thoughts on “The Longing and the Mystery

  1. Great post. One of the greatest causes of discontentment is the belief that we can be satisfied on earth.

    Nothing here will leave you “full” – not money, not marriage, not children, not even our relationship with God. We will always feel a little hungry, left longing for our true home.


  2. Hey lady. These are some powerful words. Thanks for writing them. There is something beautiful and mysterious in that longing that is sometimes inexpressible to others-and you paint that word picture better than Bob Ross paints his happy clouds :).
    I have to be honest, though, the whole the world is not our home and we can never be truly satisfied here thing doesn’t sit comfortably in my spirit anymore. That
    What has changed for me is that I don’t think it is a time reserved for heaven or eternity, or some abstract future place, but can be accessed here and now. This very minute even. Your counselor is right in that a husband and children aren’t going to change that longing for you, or any of us. No earthly thing can satisfy it, and C.S. is right on the money in that regard. But if Jesus really meant what he said in John 10:10 about the whole life abundant thing, I have to believe it is a plight we are chained to because we are human. If, right now, we are truly seated in heavenly places IN Christ, then can that longing be fulfilled now?

    And…I think I am rambling at this point. You know me,I am not one to blow unicorns and sunshine up your butt as I tie it all up nice and tidy in a Christian-ese bow. But I know, for me, that how I think about this on a daily basis is critical to whether I am going to walk in victory or defeat that day. And some days are better than others.

    Thanks for bringing words to the longings on so many hearts. Love you!

  3. Hi Jess. I see your point too. I knew this was a post that Bethel people wouldn’t like. I wish very very much that I could feel that satisfaction on the earth, even in Jesus. I do believe that heaven can come down now, and don’t believe Jesus talked about the kingdom as a far away place. I really do believe it! That being said, for some mysterious reason, I have never felt that way. Even at Bethel. I wanted it so much. I might have a disposition towards the sadness, I don’t know. It is such a tension with me because I know I believe what you are saying but I have never seen it lived out in my life.

    I know it’s not about a feeling, but I want the feeling. The feeling is what I focus on. I don’t know what the satisfaction is if it’s not a feeling. Maybe thoughts instead of feelings? If you could give me advice I would love it! I am inspired by people who feel this way and wish that I could, too.

    • Even as someone who eschews “escapism” and champions earthly joys (it’s the theme of my book), I would still argue that we are not suppose to feel complete satisfaction here.

      This life is the foretaste of Heaven, not the full thing. It is like all those samples at Costco – just enough to enjoy and make us want more!

      Josh Kelley

  4. Our pastor always says, “There is an ache. You will always feel the ache on this side of heaven.” I think it’s true, even when we are totally enraptured with the Lord. The Kingdom hasn’t come in its fullness yet, so the longing is valid. The whole creation is longing; why not us also? I know that I have felt “the ache” my entire life, even as a small child. I used to sit and sing/cry along with Gonzo’s song, “I’m Going To Go Back There Someday,” which is really like the Muppet version of Sehnsucht/eternity written in our hearts/John 14:4-5, and is–in my opinion–quite profound.

  5. i’ve been reading for a while, but i have never commented. thanks for sharing your heart and as a result encouraging me. you have such a gift for writing!

    i’m sure you are familiar with the C.S. Lewis quote along the same lines “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Don’t know if you are a familiar with Brooke Fraser, but I love the song she wrote using this quote as the lyrics.

    • Such a beautiful quote from CS Lewis who thought about this a lot, and SUCH a beautiful song! I can’t believe how beautiful it is! I don’t know why I don’t have any of her CDs. I will get one now!

  6. Pingback: The Longing and the Mystery | voce di donna

  7. Thank you for this post. I think it is well written, beautiful and so true. And I really love your blog! I discovered it thanks to Frank Viola. Your post are really honest and touching.

  8. Pingback: They Mystery of Oneness | The Sexy Celibate

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