It was the second wedding in which I've been a groomsman. It was the second wedding in which I've cried.
I'll be the first to admit that I can be a little crusty and cynical about marriage sometimes. It's not a fact that I'm proud of. If I have any defense, it's that my cynicism is a defense mechanism--an easier and less painful way to deal with my longing than actually diving in and feeling it.
But my cynicism is no match for that moment when the doors swing open, that radiant bride steps into view, and my dear friend--the groom--absolutely melts into a mixture of joy and awe.
There aren't many other moments I can imagine in this world that are more beautiful than seeing your friend so much in love, so happy and terrified and excited--and having the honor of standing up there next to him, wordlessly confessing, "this is good."
[Cue the waterworks.]
It is these moments--these few, but treasured, moments--which dissolve my armor of pride and independence and expose these beautiful longings I try so hard to stifle. There's no hint of jealousy or bitterness--no jokes and no defense. Rather, I'm overwhelmed by the beauty of God's gift of marriage--the beauty of a man and a woman pledging themselves to one another in covenant faithfulness. In these moments, I know I couldn't possibly imagine a moment that could ever be more beautiful than the one I'm witnessing...and then I do imagine that moment. I imagine myself as the groom, melting in joy and awe as my bride appears. I imagine my friends standing in approval of my wedding. I imagine making the commitment, before a church filled with people, to lay down my life for somebody besides myself.
And then the longing comes. And it hurts.
It's not a sharp, stabbing pain. It's not debilitating or disorienting. It's a dull ache, somewhere deep and ambiguous. It's a soreness that can't be massaged away. It simply must be carried.
And it's confusing! How can one feel such contentment and such emptiness all at once? How can one be so fully satisfied and yet so profoundly unsatisfied in the same moment? Is it covetousness? Is it ungratefulness? Surely it must somehow be wrong...
So it gets buried...just like that. As quickly as it was revealed, it gets a fresh coat of cynicism. Because it's easier to scoff than it is to long.
- - -
I felt it again, a few days later. I was talking to an older friend--a father. He told me how his three boys have always charged into his room on Saturday mornings and jumped on his bed to wake him up...how it always devolves into a wrestling match. It was one thing when they were little, he said--when he had the advantage--but now they're in middle school and high school, and they can do a lot more damage. We laughed as he talked about the minor injuries he regularly receives from his growing sons, because it was clear that he wouldn't have it any other way.
Again, I was filled with that warmth and wonder that comes when you witness something beautiful--in this case, a father whose teenage sons still jump on his bed on Saturday mornings...a father who is more than willing to put up with the noise and the bruises because that's how his sons tell him they love him.
Again, I was filled with that ache...that emptiness...that longing to be a father.
That fear of never having sons or daughters of my own.
Again, it hurts.
Again, it gets buried.
Because it's easier to distract oneself than it is to long.
- - -
On Easter, we celebrate Resurrection.
Of course, we celebrate Resurrection every Lord's Day, but we are seasonal creatures. In the same way that winter's waiting makes spring all the more sweet, the simplicity of Ordinary Time and the longing of Lent only prepare us all the more for that victorious joy of Resurrection Sunday. We need the power of Christ's resurrection every moment of our lives, but our souls thrive on the extra celebration that comes once a year--the long anticipated feast of victory-won and victory-to-come.
In winter, we long for spring.
In Lent, we long for Easter.
In the midst of life, we are in death--and in the midst of death, we long for new Life.
Longing is part of the human experience. We glimpse beauty. We taste it. We brush up against it. Our souls stir with the irresistible feeling that true Beauty lies just behind the curtain--just barely out of our reach. Like Tom in his never-ending pursuit of the elusive Jerry, we chase after this beauty--not even entirely sure what we would do with it if we ever caught it, if we could wrap our arms around it and once-and-for-all call it ours.
On Easter we sing about Resurrection. We sing about that Sunday morning when Jesus conquered death, and we sing about that day to come when this world will be made new. We glimpse the beauty. Like an AM radio struggling to pick up a distant broadcast, we catch bits and pieces through the static. We hear the pastor talk about good news and new life, and we long for that to be true...to experience this resurrection in full.
We are no strangers to longing. Even the new husband longs for deeper intimacy, for affirmation, for fulfillment. Even the seasoned father longs for more time, for the right words, for the lasting legacy. Those of us who long for spouses and long for children know deep down that spouses and children will never fully satisfy our longings--yet still we long.
The Resurrection doesn't promise me that one day I will watch my bride walk down the aisle. The Resurrection doesn't promise me that one day I'll be rudely awakened by teenage sons joyfully jumping on my bed. The Resurrection doesn't promise me that the longings of my heart will be fulfilled here in these pilgrim days.
The Resurrection promises that one day, every tear will be wiped away. Every sorrow. Every ache and pain. The Resurrection promises that one day, the longing will be no more. The curtain will be lifted. That irresistible feeling will be proven true. Beauty will no longer elude us...it will envelope us. We won't be the ones wrapping our arms around it. It will be wrapping its arms around us.
And this promise is already coming true in part. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, writes the Psalmist. He saves the crushed in spirit. He will answer those who long and who sigh. Indeed, God does not leave us alone in our longing. He gives us His Spirit. He gives us His Church.
We don't need to run from our longing. We don't need to bury it or hide it. We don't need to medicate it. We can enter into our longing; we can name it and we can feel it. But we can't do this without hope of the Resurrection. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, and if He is not coming again, then our longings will go unmet and unfulfilled, and we might as well do our best to stifle them.
But Jesus was raised from the dead. He is coming again. Our longings will ultimately be fulfilled, more abundantly than we can imagine, and now, in the in-between times, our longing is where Jesus meets us.
That is good news.