This is kind of “first-worldy,” so bear with me a moment. I am returning from a family vacation — a holiday away from mundane worries and stress, unplugged from social media—and far away from the pressure to promote myself and strive for success.
Sunshine, swimming, sans social media: I hope this is what heaven is like.
How jarring then to return not only to cold Chicago weather, but also to the pressure I feel to MAKE SOMETHING OF MYSELF. Somehow on vacation, I let all of that go. I didn’t even think about it, not even once. However, in returning to real life, I find that I’ve returned to the burden I put on myself to BE SOMETHING SPECIAL and DO SOMETHING NOTEWORTHY.
Here’s the reality: if God has called us, created us, and anointed us for something (which he has; you’ve been created by God with purpose and for a passionate pursuit!)—we have to go for it. We have to walk through the door, say yes, get up off the sidelines! But after my little vacation escape, the work of going for it begins to feel imprisoning and even shameful somehow. Something has gotten twisted in my spirit and I needed to untangle it. Have you ever felt that way?
Whenever I get stuck in moments like these, I have learned, instead of beating myself up, to stop and ask this question: God, what is your invitation in this?
Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist David was in an actual desert expressing something that all of us can relate to—even now in 2020, in our spiritual and emotional deserts—longing.
In Psalm 63, David cries out, “My soul thirsts for you. My whole body longs for you in this parched and dreary land where there is no water.”
All of us are longing for something: for that dream to come true, for transformation, for breakthrough. Many of us wander through our days so driven by those longings that we rush to meet them with substitutionary gods – things like unhealthy attention, stressful striving, addiction to social media, real-life avoidance, ungodly pursuits, and well, you name it—we do it. Other times we try to stuff our longings away or pretend like they don’t exist.
This, I recognize is my post-vacation problem; I’ve jumped back into my pursuits without actually pausing to seek God’s presence. And because of that, I’m aching and striving for elusive things that ultimately sell the soul short. My invitation now is to allow God to gracefully refocus my longings on him and his Kingdom.
What we don’t always realize is that all we long for—from our vacation escapes to success to the perfect relationship—are actually cravings for God’s presence. We were created to desire the satiation that comes from God’s rich feasts, his unfailing love, his living water and his power and glory (Psalm 63). In fact, our holy invitation is not to avoid or feel ashamed of our longings; it is to re-center them on the only One who can satisfy.
If you’re anything like me, we sometimes need a little bit of help putting our desires back in proper order. David offers some insight for that, in the remaining words of Psalm 63. As he waits for God to meet his longings, David:
Sings songs of joy to God. v.5
Meditates on God. v.6
Relies on God for help. v. 7
Clings to God. v. 8
Trusts God to hold him secure v.8
Let’s quickly walk through David’s wisdom:
Even if it’s “fake it ‘til you make it,” when you’re in a season of longing, it’s a powerful act to turn off the negative, depressing music or Netflix shows, and turn on something positive and worshipful. Blast your favorite worship music and sing your little heart out to God. He’ll use that to re-center your heart on him.
In Hebrew, the word “meditate” actually means to mutter and groan. Meditating on God literally means to actively express your longings to him and for him. Consider God’s amazing character and attributes, and tell him why you’re grateful. Focus your meditation and your words on God and for God—and he’ll meet your desires in greater ways than you could possibly imagine.
This is an act of surrender. Actively trust God to be the one who meets your needs and desires, rather than stressfully striving to meet them yourself. The word Helper in scripture is famously known as ezer- a helper in battle. Did you catch that? God is your warrior. When Satan is trying to imprison you with substitutionary gods, get on your knees and ask your Warrior for help. He’ll show up with victory.
Relentlessly cling to Jesus. Talk to him all day long and at night when you’re anxious. Do not let go. Every day, be in his Word, soak up his Spirit, and seek him first. Make space to allow God to speak over you. Receive God’s loving presence and invite him to meet your heart’s deepest, secret longings.
Returning from my trip, this is the big one I have to focus on; God, do I trust you to hold me secure or am I trusting myself? And, along with that, am I serving myself or serving your Kingdom? In dying to self and serving others, we find that God’s been here all along, holding us and our longings secure.
Whether you’re taking a break on vacation, or working hard and kicking butt every day, your longings are not something to be ashamed of. Our longings are gifts from God—because they leave us hungry and hankering for him. Ask God’s grace to transform you—and all that feels disordered will gracefully fall back into its proper place.
Aubrey Sampson is the author of Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul and The Louder Song. She and her husband Kevin, with their three young sons, planted Renewal Church in the Chicagoland area, where Aubrey serves on the preaching team. Aubrey is part of the Propel Cohort at Wheaton College and travels around the country speaking and preaching. Find and follow Aubrey on Instagram, Facebook, and on her website.