As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for the living God,
When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 42: 1-2
We can go days, even weeks without food. But we cannot go very long without water. Water is a basic survival need. When any of us are deprived of water for a while, our body begins to ache. Our stomach hurts, our head throbs, our mouth and throat are parched deserts. Given enough time, even our kidneys begin to hurt. Our entire body experiences thirst.
The metaphor of thirst in this text is a powerful image of the urgency of our need for God and of our longing for God. Deeper than our questions, deeper than our protest, deeper than our doubts, is our longing for God. Our whole being thirsts for God. Our entire being longs to experience the presence of God.
We long for the One who is our Source, the One who is our heart’s true Home, the One who is Love. This is the deepest truth about us. But for too many of us, it is a truth that we cover up and push away.
We come into the world with an urgent thirst for love. It is as real and tangible as our physical thirst. But if our thirst for genuine love is not met by those who care for us, or if this thirst is shamed, or is only responded to when we somehow perform, we shrink from the terrible pain this creates. We harden our longing hearts and tell ourselves that we didn’t want love after all. We protect ourselves from the pain of unmet longing by telling ourselves that we don’t really need the love of others and we don’t really need the tender love of God. We despair that love exists or that it is truly available to us. This despair, as dark as it is, feels more tolerable than our longings.
But burying our longing does not make it go away. It is a core reality that lives and breathes in us. It is central to the way God made us.
Our longing for love may be painful, but when we allow ourselves to experience these longings they offer us the wisdom to seek what we need the most. Like the thirsty deer yearning for water is led to find water, so our thirst for the One who is love, leads us on a quest to find God, as if our lives depended on it.
I ache for you,
I long for you,
I thirst for you.
Where can I find you?
How can I truly know you?
Sit quietly, asking God’s Spirit to reveal your longing for God.
Let the feelings that accompany your longing come to the surface.
As you are able, talk to God about your longing to know God’s presence.
from An Enduring Embrace: Experiencing the Love at the Heart of Prayer,
by Juanita Ryan, 2012