What do you long for? Pray for? Save all your hopes for? Does it have a name? A title? A feeling?
Gosh, I wish you could come over. I wish we could sit down in the library and talk about this together. I really do. But since we can't - not today, anyway - let's do this: let's have a book talk. Not a book review. (There are plenty of those out there already.) Oh no, I want to introduce you to a book that has quietly changed my life... has subtly changed the way I look at myself and my oldest wishes and rawest hurts. The book is called The Beautiful Ache: Finding the God Who Satisfies When Life Does Not, and it, my friends, speaks to the most deeply-buried longings in your heart.
I've never met Leigh McLeroy, the author of this book. We've never met but we do have a mutual friend. When I begged our friend for Leigh's information, she did me one better: she put me in direct contact with Leigh. I was ecstatic. Direct communication with one of my favorite authors? Wow!
This is what came of it. This is what came of my chance to ask a favorite writer about a formidable subject: how do I deal with the aches in my life? How do I invite an almighty and all-knowing God into my hurt? This is our conversation, unedited:
Brin: This book is emotive. Personal. What, exactly, drove you to write it?
Leigh: This book has been slow-brewing. I wrote parts of it more than five years ago, unsure of what (if anything) they might become. The thread that ties them together was revealed to me gradually – but I’m so gratified that it has finally become something whole and true. As to what drove me – maybe it was simply the realization that no one that I know is completely and utterly satisfied with their life. No matter their state or status, they have longings – desires – that seem out of reach. C.S. Lewis said that If we experience desires that no earthly thing can satisfy, the most logical explanation is that we were made for another world. We are! But we live in this one…and this world has aches that can’t be avoided, and shouldn’t be. I’ve come to believe that it is important to embrace these longings and let them teach us…not push them away or try to stuff or stifle them. That’s the message I wanted to share.
Brin: Tell me about having a "beautiful ache". What is it? What's yours?
Leigh: The “beautiful ache” is that nagging “heart hurt” that leaves you wanting more, hoping for more, than what you have felt or known. When I explained it to someone recently, she said “Oh that! I call that my ‘homesick feeling’”. Something inside every one of us just knows there’s more. And we ache for it.
I have many “beautiful aches.” In fact, I describe 17 of them in the book, from the ache to belong, to the ache for beauty, to the ache to celebrate. One ache of mine centers on hope – in particular the hope or ache for a family, for a husband and children. Up to now, that is not the way God has led me. I’m not sure if this ache will ever be satisfied in the way I desire…and it certainly has not been in the timing I desire. But I invite God into that ache by refusing to deny it, or to stop asking him to satisfy it. (Which, by the way, is a lot different than frantically trying to figure out how I can do so myself!) I pray a very specific prayer in this regard, and I believe I will know with certainty if, and when, God chooses to answer affirmatively. But even now, the ache compels me to cultivate other relationships that call out my loving and nurturing side, and that keep me emotionally engaged and honest. And I remind myself in the midst of the ache that there is not a single day of my life I would have traded for marriage and motherhood before now, because God has blessed me with some wonderful relationships and experiences I might not have enjoyed had my life taken a different turn.
Brin: Do our aches have a purpose?
Leigh: My belief is that their purpose is to turn our hearts God-ward, so that we can come to know the one who truly satisfies, even when (or maybe especially when) life does not.
Brin: In the book, you address how to "embrace the gap between the life you know...and the life you can't help longing for". Do you believe this is truly possible?
Leigh: I do. It’s not our natural response to embrace an ache…but experience has taught me that it’s a possible response – and even a desirable one. Because I believe in a God whose kingdom has come, is coming, and will come – I am more able to live in the tension of a world where all is not as it should be, or will be. I am less prone to try to “resolve” everything here, trusting instead that one day, my King will return, will right all wrongs, defeat all foes, judge in righteousness, and rule a new heaven and a new earth forever. When I see my aches in light of eternity, they take on a whole new meaning. They no longer taunt me, they teach me. Mother Theresa once said that, from the perspective of eternity, the very worst experiences of this world will seem like one night in a bad hotel. I like that.
Brin: Wow. Can - or how do we go about - letting God into the midst of our aches?
Leigh: That’s a great question – and a fair one. I try to live “wide awake” – with my heart and spirit and senses engaged. And from reading your blog, I suspect that you do, too. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God – but only he who sees takes off his shoes… It hurts sometimes to get glimpses of that beautiful “other” and not have more of it – but the glimpses are worth lingering over, and even the emptiness they leave in their wake is a good, true thing. I try not to rush by those things that elicit the ache, or to medicate the longing they evoke with business or activity or food or drink or any lesser pleasure. I try to let the longing teach me, and take me where it wants to go.
Seriously. I can't tell you all how deeply this book has impacted me. And I can't encourage you enough to find a quiet corner and a soft hankie and read this book. Ask for it at church or order Leigh's book by clicking here.
And Leigh, thanks. Thank you for sharing your ache with us and, as a result, helping me identify and take hold of mine. You're such a blessing. I can't wait for the next book! -Brin