God’s Longing

I think I have been longing for God, for that Mysterious One, the tuner of my soul, since my childhood. Along the way, though, religion got in the way of my natural ways of conversing with God. I found God while walking in the woods, when playing music, in the campfires at camp, and in relationships. I got mixed up trying to match what I was experiencing of God with what I was learning about God. In the church of my childhood I received a good foundation of scripture, great leadership opportunities and close friends, but the confusion about who God was for me prevailed. My image of God from my church was like Santa with a stick. He was portrayed as a loving and generous guy like Santa, but in addition, there were so many rules, so much that would damn us, so many dire consequences if we broke the rules. So I lived in fear—when I thought about it—but I kept busy so I wouldn’t think about it much.

Yet into my adulthood my longing persisted for the Mysterious One, the one who met me in nature and always brought me a surprise. I experienced God in the discovery of a rare Indian Pipe flower or in the deep quiet of the woods. Then I began noticing that there were words or phrases from songs that made me cry for no apparent reason other than that they touched me in some deep way. One line that moves me is this: “Love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” It connects me with the God who is love, who is beyond all doctrine, and I feel like I am home.

So I know in my heart that I do long for God even though I needed to do some remedial healing work to reconcile this longing. The image of God from my childhood was deeply embedded in my psyche. As I did the work of healing my image of God I also began to see more clearly the deeper ways in which I longed for God. The more I opened my heart to the love of God, the more the longing grew. I began to see my longing for God filling me with some new desires, like not wanting resentment or revenge to live in my heart. With God there, it seemed like there was less room for that lack of forgiveness that held my soul hostage. The longing for God began to nurture other behaviors as well, like desiring to be quiet and prayerful in starting my day, listening for God as my guide for each day rather than advancing my agenda. Over time, I even began noticing that what I used to crave and what I clung to (busyness, recognition, material things, control) weren’t as satisfying. A spiritual and emotional crisis helped me see God’s love as a wise replacement for some of that stuff.

One of my dear friends, Gary, would call this process of longing for God, receiving God’s love and, as a result, longing to live differently, Grace (God’s unconditional love) and Torah (God’s guidelines for our lives); grace coming first and then the life change emerging from that. We don’t need to behave in order to receive God’s love, we need to receive God’s love in order to desire healing and new behavior.

A few weeks ago I had another revelation through prayer that has left me rather astounded. I heard a soft whisper in my heart that God longs for me too. It had never occurred to me that God might also long for me the way I long for God. But it opened a small door in my soul that could entertain that possibility. I began to see ways in which, perhaps, God was longing for me to be his Beloved. I wonder how my life would be different if I really believed that I was God’s Beloved?

One way I’ve come to experience God’s longing is through a set of special scripture verses I’ve collected over the years. I’ve typed them on small cards and put them into a purple velvet bag as a spiritual resource for people. Whenever I prayerfully draw cards for direction or inspiration I get messages that strike directly to the heart of my issues. And I draw some of the same cards over and over until I can see the meaning or until I absorb it. It feels like God is longing for me to see what is lovingly in store for me and to live it out in my daily life.

Another way I feel God’s longing for me is when I feel anxious or afraid or angry and I stop what I am doing to sit in my prayer chair and write in my journal about the issue. I feel God desiring intimacy with me, granting me insights, giving me truths that can heal me. Sometimes these truths are so profound I cry.

I’ve come to see that God has longed for me since childhood. All those times I’ve longed for God in nature, those walks in the woods, the delicate Indian Pipe flowers, the lyrics to songs that make me cry; they were all ways that God was also longing for me. Now, if religion or theology enhances my longing for God I embrace it. If not, I can let it be and still embrace God. My longing for God and God’s longing for me are what transform my life and heal me. Longing at its core is about love—love that draws us closer, not out of fear or shame, but out of a desire for healing and restoration.

A poem I wrote about doubt expresses this truth about love in an image that is more powerful than words.

 

You Learned Along the Way Not to Believe in Love

 

I asked God a question/that’s been plaguing me/for a long time

As I travel on my journey/and uncover miracles/in the midst of pain

Why do I still doubt

God became very quiet/sighed then smiled at me

Because you are afraid and/you learned along the way/not to believe in love

But why did I learn/not to believe in love

Because you never/felt the depths of mine

Then God took me/gently in his arms

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010, All rights reserved

The person who explained Grace and Torah is Rev. Dr. Gary Klingsporn, now a pastor at the First Congragational Church on Nantucket.

The scripture cards in a velvet bag that I wrote about are available on my web site http://www.janethagberg.com

Reflections on this essay

How did you experience longing for God as a child, even if you were unaware of it at the time?

How did religion help or hinder that for you?

How do you feel God longing for you now?

How has this longing influenced your life; beliefs, image of God, behaviors?

How do you experience being God’s Beloved?

What poem is waiting in your soul?