I’ve Lost my Longings! by Robynn
Several years ago I accidentally attended an eight day Ignatian silent retreat. (Robynn? Quiet for Eight Days? That doesn’t happen on purpose!) At the start of the retreat, before we slipped into our silences, the director had us go round the circle and name our longings. What were we wanting to experience? What were we asking God for? What were we looking for?
Our longings is where we start. Knowing what our hearts are yearning for is the place the journey begins. It’s the start line, the place of departure.
I’m re-reading Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms. She says it perfectly: When we pay attention to our longings and allow questions about our longing to strip away the outer layers of self-definition, we are tapping into the deepest dynamic of the spiritual life. The stirring of spiritual desire indicates that God’s Spirit is already at work within us, drawing us to himself. We love God because he first loved us. We long for God because he first longed for us. We reach for God because he first reached for us. Nothing in the spiritual life originates with us. It all originates with God. So it is that the spiritual life begins in this most unlikely place. It begins with the longing that stirs way down deep, underneath the noise, the activity, the drivenness of our life.
I’m so ready for these new awkward routines to feel like regular life. Many of you have tracked the Bliss family and the tumultuous summer of 2014. We’ve entirely turned our lives upside down and inside out. We moved and then a week later welcomed a new house-mate and family member into our daily lives, namely my mother in law. The kids started back to school. Lowell’s started back to work. I’ve started back to a schedule that screeched to a halt to accommodate our newest family member.
With an ache coming from a deeper place than my tummy, I’m determined to settle down and find myself again. I’m intentionally seeking a rhythm, some routine, some regularity.
And apparently that search begins uncovering my longings.
I’m trying not to panic. According to the directions Barton gives, I’ve sat quietly, I’ve been willing to “name that desire in Christ’s presence,” I’ve waited patiently. But…and here’s the scary part…. I can’t seem to find my longings!
I’m not sure what I really want. I can’t put my finger on what my deep desires might be.
I do want a glimpse of what our new normal might eventually look like. But that’s hardly a profound pining.
The story that Barton highlights is set on a dusty stage. There’s only a couple of main characters: Jesus the prophet and Bartimaeus the blind man. Bartimaeus sits on the side of the road and he begs, usually for money I suspect, but on this day he begs for mercy and for healing. He knows what he wants. He’s pinpointed those desires. Like every good drama there’s a crowd in the story. Everyone knows if you don’t get a main part you’re lumped into the crowd. Here the crowd says, “Be quiet!” They shush him. They squelch his honest assessment of what he longs for. Bartimaeus cries louder, over the chorus, a particular tone that stands out, “Have Mercy on Me!” The crowd, now again in unison, continue to quiet him. But Jesus hears. And he stops half way across the stage. He turns. He calls for Bartimaeus to come. The crowd, now completely off script and a little confused, change their tune. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!”
And I love what happens next. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t weigh the pros and the cons. Na-uh…!
Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus simply asks the blind man to articulate his desires, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus doesn’t hem and haw, he gets right to the point, still honest, still humble, still aware of his weakness and Jesus’ power and strength, he names it. “I want to see.”
Simple. Inelegant. Vulnerable. Obvious.
I feel like a member of the crowd at this point. I mutter, I shake my head, I walk away jealous and a little sad. Admittedly I’m surprised at the healing. I’m surprised that the ignored and street-side beggar knew how to articulate what he was after. I’m jealous that I wasn’t calling for mercy. I’m jealous that I wasn’t brave enough to ask. And if I’m honest I’m sad that I’m not sure what it is that I want. I’m sad that the idea of wanting something from Jesus still leaves me wanting.
Is it so simple? Am I over complicating my longings? What if in saying what I want I realize that what I want doesn’t sound very spiritual? What if that’s where my vulnerability leads me. If I’m honest and if I dare to speak the obvious I might not come off as profound as the blind man sitting by the side of the road.
And honestly it’s hard to imagine Jesus taking the time, stopping, and actually asking me, “What do you want Robynn? What can I do for you?”
I want healing. I want rest. I want to forgive. Those sound noble and they are all true. I want a new sense of purpose. I want a guarantee that I won’t disappear in this large house with this new living arrangement. Those don’t sound quite so valiant.
But what if I also want a nap? What if I want a night out with a friend and an Amaretto Sour?
Barton says to be patient. She says, You may need to sit with the question and your response for quite some time before you have fully gotten in touch with your heart’s desire or have fully expressed it. Give this question and its answer all the time it needs.
What do you want? What do you long for? When you stop for a bit and listen what is your heart crying out for? Maybe no one’s asked you in a very long time. Maybe no one has taken the time to look you in the eye and inquire after you. How are you? What do you want? Jesus has stopped, and he turns around, and he’s seeking you out, looking you in the eye, he’s asking, “What do YOU want? What can I do for YOU?”
In the meantime I’m auditioning for the blind man’s part. You could try out for it too if you like. These are open try outs. We can run lines together. We can take turns practicing Bartimaeus’ lines, “Have mercy on me.” It’s not a hard line to memorize. I’ll keep reciting it until my hankerings surface, until I have better sense of what my longings really are. Somehow, I think, if we both try out for it, we might just both get the part!
And then at the point when He stops and asks, when he stops and sees me and I dare to make eye contact….hopefully, maybe, I’ll happen upon my longings reflected back to me.
So I’ll ask again – What do you want? What do you long for? When you stop for a bit and listen what is your heart crying out for?