It’s a bitterly cold night for December.
My kids are in bed, the house is warm and quiet, the lights are turned out except for the twinkle lights which I’ll miss come January. It’s the kind of night that I love. Everything in me should feel content. The long awaited answers to years of hard praying arrived this year in bursts of surprising joy. Last night we had dinner with some dear friends, and after a evening of laughter, good food, and watching people I love pour out family affection on my kids, I felt the calm of Christmas that I’ve been waiting for. I drove us home on a dark, drizzly road while the kids slept in the back and music softly filled the quiet of the van. My husband and I talked a little, but I was content to just feel the fullness of contentment, that elusive, slippery dream that I can vaguely describe but can’t fully seem to remember.
But the frustrating thing is, my heart still yearns for something more. I’ve tried to fill it with love, children, food and drink, entertainment and products. But the hole never fills completely; it’s a cup that won’t stop leaking no matter how much I pour into it.
I feel this way every Christmas. I always feel hungry and wonder what it is I’m missing. The ritual of lighting candles and reading words about the baby Savior in the hay anchors me to Jesus in the way I so desperately need this time of year, but there is still some nagging, hungry yearning gnawing at my insides.
Is it wrong to feel untethered?
Maybe you’re driving home from a Christmas party and can’t settle the unnamed longing in your stomach. Or you’re sitting in a room full of family members but can’t quiet the yearning for something more in the middle of a chaotic swarm of happiness. You hear a song that puts an ache in your chest you can’t explain. You’re standing in the kitchen at the end of a long day, and the stillness tells you how much you want something, something. And when you look at all the goodness in your life, you feel bad for yearning for more.
But I think there’s an element of discontentment that isn’t inherently wrong.
Yesterday my husband and I leaned in close to one another on the couch and talked about our chronic discontentment. Nearly all the “if-only” situations of previous years are now our recognizable realities. We were so certain we’d feel full and content when those situations were resolved, but resolution only perpetuated our continual circling, canvassing the world for what it is we’re hungry for.
“What if,” I asked William, “we’re supposed to be hungry. We can try to fill up what seems to be lacking, but what if this is part of the always longing for a better country? Where our real citizenship waits for us, whose architect is God? Maybe we’re not supposed to feel satisfied on earth.”
“So you think Paul was bluffing when he said he’d found a way to be content in every situation?” he replied, always challenging me to think more deeply.
“No. I think he really was satisfied in whatever circumstances he found himself in. But I know he said he wanted to be with Christ more than anything and was hanging around for the good of others. I think you can do both—feel content and yet long for something more.”
There’s a tension there—an education in learning to be satisfied in Christ alone, but also continuing to be hungry for the Bread of Life, always thirsting for the quenching Living Water. It’s paradoxical, sure, but it’s the way of this already-not yet kingdom living. Jesus came, but He is coming still. Our hearts were made to long for Christ, and maybe we’ll feel unmoored and untethered until we’re face to face with Him. Perhaps that’s the point of the failed attempts at filling the bucket with pleasure. When we try to fill our hearts with things that were never meant to seal the cracks, everything runs out. But when Christ is the One rushing in and filling every empty space, He seems to have this way of satisfying us so well that we continually want Him. Satisfied yet hungry still. But with a kind of hunger that won’t be silenced with food or sex or consumerism or oblivion. Feeding on Christ fixes our broken “wanter” and rights our funnel for answering our deep-seated longing with the only thing that will properly fill us up. Him.
After William and I muddled through our dissatisfied thoughts, we gathered with our boys around four lit candles for our nightly observance of Advent. We opened up our reading for the evening and let these words wash over us in the most timely of ways:
“And this is what God does again and again. He may be doing it for you in this Advent season—graciously and tenderly frustrating you with life that is not centered on Christ and filling you with longings and desires that can’t find their satisfaction in what this world offers, but only in the God-man.”
-John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, “Graciously and Tenderly Frustrating”
Though it leaves us feeling a bit raw around the edges, yearning is good for us. Our hunger propels us to find fullness, and when we try to satiate the hollow places in us with people and experiences and pleasures bound to earth, it comes up short. They are poor solutions that were never meant to seal up the cracks. But Jesus does and is and always will.
Let your heart long and hunger this Christmas. And give yourself over to Jesus with every pang of discontentment. Let that deep yearning propel you to the manger, the cross, the empty tomb, the promise of return.
He came once.
He’s coming again.
You were made to yearn for Him.