Living with Unfulfilled Longings
Facing the ache of unfulfilled longings is a challenge. We all live, to some degree, with unfulfilled longings. Perhaps it’s the longing for a loved one’s salvation, for reconciliation with a family member, for healing, or for success at a long-pursued dream.
How do we embrace life – living fully, joyfully, and passionately with faith, hope, and trust – even as our hearts ache with unmet desires?
What Not to Do with Our Longings
First, let’s consider how not to respond to these unfulfilled longings.
Dismiss or deny our desires. God is a gracious and compassionate Father who loves to give good gifts to His children (Mt. 7:11). Why then, we wonder, does He refrain from granting certain desires? Confused, we may dismiss or deny our desires as unholy or displeasing to God. Otherwise, why wouldn’t He grant them?
Unfulfilled longings are not necessarily a sign that our desires are displeasing to God. The desire for marriage and children, for example, originated with God. And the desire for healing is one that Jesus often met during His ministry. Yet these desires are not always fulfilled.
Hebrews 11 lists God’s children who were obedient to the very end. Though all had great faith and were approved by God, only some saw the fulfillment of His promises in their earthly lifetimes.
We suffer many things in our fallen world. Just as some bear the pain of disease or disabilities, some live most of their lives with the pain of an unfulfilled longing. Yet God is a God of redemption who uses even our longings for our good. We can be honest with Him about our desires rather than dismissing them or pretending they don’t exist.
Demand our desires. The opposite of denying our desires is demanding that God grant what we think we deserve. God does not owe us anything. We owe Him our lives. We have surrendered all our rights to Christ (1 Cor. 7:22), including our right to demand that our longings be met by our methods and in our timing. “God does not just give us what we want,” my pastor reminded me one Sunday, “He gives us everything we would want if we knew everything He knows.”
Allow our desires to control us. Our desires may not displease God, but we do displease Him when we allow desires to distract us from Him or to lead us into disobedience.
To determine if our desires are controlling us, we can ask, “Are my longings hindering my relationship with God? Are they weakening my faith in His goodness and character? Am I allowing them to breed discontent in my heart?” Be honest with God. Ask Him to help you surrender to Him and trust Him.
Living with Unfulfilled Longings
How do we live with our desires when they are neither unhealthy nor unholy, when we are thankful for what we have, yet still deeply desire a particular blessing from God? We need to embrace them as part of our humanness and let them draw us closer to Him.
Let them teach us about God. Unfulfilled longings are a blessing because they teach us about the heart of God. In Luke 15, the prodigal son’s father waits and watches with yearning for his son’s return. Finally, after years of waiting, the father glimpses his weary son at the gate. As he runs to embrace his son – his heart’s desire – we see a glimpse of God’s longing and ache for the return of His own beloved children. In our pain, we catch a glimpse of God’s heart.
Honor them as blessings. Perhaps unfulfilled longings are, in some mysterious way, God-given gifts. As with Paul’s unanswered prayers for deliverance from the thorn in his flesh, our longings keep us dependent upon God (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
Moreover, longings are blessings in that they increase our hunger for heaven. They remind us that it is the only place all our longings will be fulfilled. We are not citizens of this world but are living for another kingdom.
Unfulfilled longings are also blessings because through them, as through an empty glass, we can more clearly see God being glorified. When Lazarus became deathly ill, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus to come and heal him. Yet Jesus responded, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God” (Jn. 11:4, KJV). Then He intentionally stayed away two days longer until their brother died. Jesus did not heal Lazarus as Mary and Martha wanted, for He had something better planned; He resurrected Lazarus so that many would see the glory of God (vv. 40-42).
Like Mary and Martha, we want Christ quickly to answer our longings, but it seems as if He waits forever. We may even conclude that He does not care (v. 32). He does. Not only about our desires, but that God may be glorified through them.
Recognize our deep desire for God. The door to true fulfillment is opened when we recognize our deepest longing. Jesus is the only one who can wholly meet that desire. Our desires can please us, but they cannot satisfy us. Jesus said to His followers, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry” (Jn. 6:35). Jesus teaches us that though physical bread is good – as are children, a dream job, a large ministry – it is not enough to feed our souls. Other desires may taste good, but only the Living Bread satisfies the deepest hunger of our hearts.
Let desires draw us closer to God. The enemy tempts us to pull away from God – either in bitterness or in idolatry. Rather than yield to this temptation, we can allow our desires to draw us toward God by asking, “Do I want the fulfillment of this desire more than I want God Himself?”
In certain Scriptures, the word desire has also been translated as delight. If we actively delight ourselves in God, He becomes our most compelling desire (Ps. 37:4). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). As we seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33), other longings, though legitimate, will pale in comparison with our longing for Him.
When I have not spent sufficient time with God, being filled by Him, my desire for affection, love, and affirmation from others intensifies. I realized this one morning when I ignored my usual practice of reading Scripture. Instead, I headed straight for my computer to check my email. I was more eager to hear from friends than to meet with God and hear first from Him.
God says, “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10). As we spend time with Him, our soul’s deepest thirst – to love and be loved – begins to be quenched (Ps. 63:1, 3, 5).
Between the Now and the Not Yet
Some days seem harder than others as we face yet another negative pregnancy test, another end of the month trying to make ends meet, another night in an empty apartment, another visit to the doctor, or another issue with an unsaved spouse.
God grieves with us over our unfulfilled longings. Yet we have hope, not that He will grant all our desires, but that He can redeem for His glory even the strongest yearnings in our lives.
As we live between the now and the not yet, we can have great hope knowing that our deepest longing is fulfilled in Christ’s love for us. And when the burden of our desires becomes too heavy to bear, when their intensity overwhelms us, we can ask God to carry them for us. He daily bears our burdens (Ps. 68:19). We can rest knowing our desires are safely in His hands.
For more on this topic read: Praying about Unfulfilled Longings