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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Michelle On The Isle ‘O Singleness

You should give him a chance. Even if he doesn’t have hair like Rick Astley.

(For the post that inspired this story, go to “Throw Away Your List (Or Just Rewrite It)”where I talk about being selective when it comes to important things like kindness and compatibility, but to be lenient with shallow things, such as the way they look or their lack of hair or their taste in music. As my friend Jude says “Compromising is very different from negotiating.” You should never compromise the important things, but you should allow yourself to negotiate when it comes to the not so important things. Not everyone is Rick Astley, and you shouldn’t expect them to be.)

Michelle was shipwrecked on the Isle Of Singleness. She was stranded there for a long time and was very lonely. She prayed and said “God, please send me a perfect man to get me off of this island.” Soon, a man in a  speedboat came along. He was very kind and dedicated. But he was listening to Celine Deon on the radio. He said “Michelle, I have come a very long way to take you off of this island.” She told him “thanks for the offer, but God is going to send me the perfect man. And the perfect man cannot be listening to bad diva music.”

Soon, another man came in a rowboat.  He was great with children and had a wonderful sense of humor. But he was balding a little bit. He said “My darling Michelle, I have rowed many hundreds of miles to rescue you off of this island.” She replied “I appreciate what you have done, but God is going to send me the perfect man to get me off of this island. He has to have hair in all of the right places. Namely a lot on his head, and none on his back. Now why don’t you just take your little bald head and row right back to the mainland.” 

Finally, a man came swimming to the shore. He had a huge heart and an incredible faith. Breathlessly, he threw his arms around her and said “Michelle, you are the woman of my dreams. I swam five hundred miles, and then I swam five hundred more just to be the man to swim a thousand miles and fall down at your door. I also strapped a romantic picnic dinner, your hairdryer, and your favorite chick flicks on my back.” 

Michelle replied “What, no flowers?” 

Michelle stayed on the island many years. Finally she shook her fist at the sky.”God, why haven’t you sent me the perfect man to save me?” 

He said  “I sent you a potential husband in a speedboat, a potential husband in a rowboat, and a potential husband who swam a thousand miles to fall down at your door.”

“But God,” Michelle replied, “none of those men fit everything on my list!’

God said, “If you ever want to get off of this island, you’re going to have to write a new list.”

Married people, I’d especially love to hear your stories on this topic. How did you idea of a “perfect mate” change when you met your husband or wife? What do you think is important to look at when a single person is considering someone to marry?