Eternity in our hearts

September 13, 2008 | My Jottings

I remember getting up to go to the bathroom right before dawn about a year ago.  The reason I remember this particular morning is because as I was sitting there in the dark, looking out of the bathroom window toward the eastern sky, I saw a very bright light. Everything is a blur without my glasses, so I thought it was a large plane, close to flying over my house on its way to the airport. I waited for the plane to come closer so I could hear it go by, but it stayed put and I never heard a sound. The light was huge and low in the sky, so I retrieved my glasses and went again to the bathroom window, where I could then clearly see that it was a star or a planet like I’d never observed before. I went downstairs to look up online what I was seeing, and learned it was the planet Venus, at least 26 million miles from us. Standing there at five in the morning and gazing at this heavenly sphere, my thoughts turned to God. And I felt something I’ve been experiencing more often as I get older: a longing, a difficult-to-describe yearning, an intangible ache that comes in an instant, like a stab, and then it’s gone.

There are other things that have brought on this longing, and I wonder if any of you will relate.

Certain music, with haunting melodies, brings a subtle yearning.  Wind chimes barely touching in the breeze.  The way some authors can put words together has made me feel that pang.  Brilliant autumn leaves.  God’s Word, prayerfully and humbly read.  Looking at the night sky and meditating on its vastness, and knowing God is so much bigger.

My grandchildren often evoke an indescribable sweet ache in my heart. It feels like wonderful joy, and it feels like pain.

When my husband and I visited Scotland a while back, the ancient heather hills and the lonely sound of bagpipes seemed to call to something deep inside me; I wanted to fall to my knees and weep, but I didn’t know why.

One characteristic about the fleeting sense of these longings, is that you can’t duplicate them if you try. Maybe tomorrow the same drive up the shore of Lake Superior or the same view of Venus won’t bring that same feeling back.

Have you ever longed for something, for someone at times, and you can’t quite put your finger on what you’re yearning for, and then it’s gone? Do you sometimes grow restless even when everything is going well? Do you ever get the sense that something you’re hearing, something you’re observing, has a meaning much bigger than the moment, but you can’t say exactly what it is?  You’re not alone.  And if you’re a Christian – if you have surrendered your life to Jesus – I believe that ache, that longing, has been put there by God. It’s a reminder from Him to us, that this earthly life isn’t all there is.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

My Bible notes on this say “this verse means we can never be completely satisfied with earthly pleasures or pursuits”.

He has set eternity in our hearts. There’s something always there, something that feels like we’re being strummed by a huge, unseen hand, some sort of chord that’s being struck in our souls. Like a distant bell is being sounded, and a tiny bell in our own soul answers. At times it’s a thrill, and often it’s a little painful.

Sometimes it’s the passage of time that makes us aware of this pang. We run into an old acquaintance after ten years and are shocked that her children are ten years older and that her hair has begun to turn grey. How did this happen? Why are we surprised at time and why do we feel that longing as the years go quickly by? Could it be because we are eternal beings temporarily confined by time?

C.S. Lewis describes this phenomenon in one of my favorite quotes:

“If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown up and married! I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.”

I’m convinced that some people feel this longing deeply, but try to quiet it or squash it because it can be uncomfortable. I think I’ve tried to silence this vague yearning or to fill it in ways that have not served me well. Some might choose alcohol or busyness or spending money or control to silence this longing we all feel. Or we might pressure our friends or spouses to fill that yearning in us, which of course is futile, because a human or a substance or an activity can’t ease a yearning that God has put in us to remind us that we’re pilgrims here, only passing through.

Psalm 63:1: O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

I think our whole beings long for what only He can give us. Even when God has lavished us with kindness and blessings untold, deep inside we know there’s more. And we long for it. Even those who haven’t acknowledged God, have felt this yearning and can’t identify what, exactly, they’re aching for.

My husband and I bought a new house recently, and I have endeavored to pick just the right paint colors for the kitchen, three of the bathrooms, five of the bedrooms, the living room, the garage door, the laundry area, the office and even the outside shutters. Many times I spread out the entire fan of several hundreds of paint chip colors and still thought to myself, “This can’t be all the colors there are – there have to be more colors than this! I just can’t find the colors I want.” And then this verse from 1 Corinthians 2:9 came to mind:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

I believe there are colors in heaven that we don’t have here – colors no eye has yet seen. I think there will be musical notes and sounds in heaven that we don’t have here – songs no ear has yet heard.

And once in a while, God seems to part a veil to give us a momentary glimpse of those beauties and joys that await. And then in a flash it’s gone. And we feel that longing, that yearning, that deep ache.

He’s a loving and generous God, and when we consider His creation and His Son, we can know this about Him: He loves beauty, and He is generous and patient and merciful. But in His wisdom, I don’t believe He allows us to be completely satisfied here on earth. He gives us just enough of what we need to learn to love Him and depend on Him while we’re here, but He often gives us those transient glimpses of eternity to help us to set our hearts on minds on Him, not on the things of this earth. 

While He’s pouring out His abundance and help and correction and grace and instruction on us here, He frequently reminds us of what is yet to come. While we can have His peace through Jesus now, deeper peace is coming, and while we can know His joy today, more joy is around that eternal corner. We live in mere shadows of what will someday be true and glorious substance.

So even though I still sometimes sob when that veil is pulled back and I sense that horribly wonderful and ephemeral ache, I’m beginning to rest more in what I believe it is.  I will never be truly at home here.  My Lord is good to remind me of that. He helps me to live in this very beautiful and painful place, and lifts my chin now and then and whispers to me of the Place where all boredom, confusion and pain will forever cease, and my longings and yearnings will be completely fulfilled.

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