I think I’m becoming an expert in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Not because I study them, but because I live them. They seem to follow me and buzz, like a fly, around my ear. Unwanted, with no sense or reasoning, but at a tempo that hums so softly it pulls my attention away from all the busyness around me.
I spent a season being homeless in my early to mid 20s. I wasn’t on the street, but I was bouncing between houses, basements, and through spare rooms of generous friends. Affordable housing was hard to find.
My series of moves created a conversation with Abba about need. What does it mean when He says He provides for my every need? It was hard to trust this sentiment when it felt like a basic need for housing wasn’t being met.
As I’d pack up boxes I’d ask, “Do you see my need?”
I divided my needs–they seem easier to manage that way. There’s emotional, spiritual, physical needs. The easiest way to separate them are the ‘practical’ needs vs. ‘impractical’ ones. “Will this pay rent?” “Will it help me stay here another year longer?” I’d calculate. I felt like a child again, playing that sorting game where you match the shapes and colors. If you match the right color the shape falls into the block with ease.
If I could maintain most of my practical needs then sometimes, I could ignore the others—the ones I’ve labeled impractical. Those needs are shapes that don’t fit. Those needs nag because they’re more than simple needs; they hold deeper truths.
When I ignore them, though, my pragmatism blinds me to the present. I don’t want to deal with the impractical, intangible needs. Even as I feel their tug, I ignore them, shooing that fly away…
Abba whispers back, “What do you desire?”
I don’t want to start a conversation about desire. I don’t want to dig into those things.
“A home, Lord”. I’d sharply answer. His question seemed silly when my need was quite obvious.
Sharing in his suffering is a honor and reward.
What do you desire? It would always come back…. bzz bzzz… like that pesky fly to remind me again I’m not paying attention.
Then my heart hurries. It can’t avoid where Abba’s question settles, deep in my soul, demanding it to pause. It does not want to be still. It does not want to desire. Because desires may not happen and when they are delayed it’s confusing. Unfulfilled desires put my heart in the stagnant waters of longing. Longing is uncomfortable. Longing is painful. Longing is foreboding.
But longing calls me into attention. When I sit in my longing I’m called to an undoing. It shows me my limitations and invites me into a mystery of discomfort. Longing is a type of indefinite suffering . . . but deep longing creates capacity to give and receive. It’s there that I am able to know the love of Christ.
Sharing in his suffering is a honor and reward. It draws intimately from my heart and calls me to pause at the softness and the depth of my desire. He knows what I long for. He gave those desires to me.
The challenge of longing is that I want to solve it. I want to talk to Abba like He’s a solution to my need. In my mind, providing is synonymous with “fixing”; that is why He asks what I desire. It’s not that He wants to ignore the practical, like a house, health, bills. I must unlearn the temptation to fix my needs as a means to quench my desires.
The lessons of longing begin when I ask God, “How do I let you be present in my longing?”
As Richard Rohr says, there are things God can only do in hidden spaces. In allowing my needs to reveal my desires I welcome his presence. My longing is turned into a hidden space for the work of deeper things.
How do I let you be present in my longing?
I want to have courage enough to be disappointed and to meet his presence in disappointment. I want to learn the ministry of presence as his Spirit stays with me, and shows me what it is to be misunderstood and unfulfilled. I want to know the intimacy and strength of a hope that isn’t frail. After all, our hope does not disappoint.
So this time as I pack up my bags and wade into transition, the waters don’t seem so stagnant. Even though the unknown of a transition is familiar, I still feel my heart flutter. But this time it’s my perspective that’s changed. I know the things that Abba wants to “fix” for me are not always the practical. The fixing, rather, is a renewing of my heart, my mind, and yes, sometimes even the longing. My need has becomes a courageous way to pray.
Abba, help me find you in my longing and not push you away. May it be a sacred space of transformation and mystery.
Latest posts by Ruthie Johnson (see all)
- A Prayer for Resilience in the Face of White Supremacy - August 23, 2017
- Dear Portia: How Do You Find Belonging When Your Ancestry Is Erased? - July 24, 2017
- Ruthie’s Multicultural Book List - June 26, 2017