Unfulfilled Longings

This post is adapted from a column I wrote for a singles newsletter in 1999 (when I was in my thirties). Since it also touches on the topic of contentment, I thought it was a good companion piece to my July 13, 2014 post, “The Quest for Contentment.”

Last night’s flavors linger fondly in my memory . . . a warm, robust soup served around a candle-lit table . . . the laughter shared among five long-time friends . . . the rustle of tissue paper as birthday gifts were unveiled . . . delicate sips of fragrant tea . . . the softness of cozy afghans as we curled up to watch a movie after dinner. These are memories I savor with fondness and thanksgiving.

I could choose to recall the evening differently. Instead of focusing on the positive moments, the night could have quickly become a reminder of what I don’t have. My four friends are all happily married with beautiful children. It was only natural that much of the chatter centered on their families. At times it was hard to join in the conversation. If I hadn’t carefully re-directed my thought patterns, the evening could have easily become fodder for a pity party later.

Like many singles, it’s sometimes a challenge to feel content when most of your peers are married. For a number of years, I thought the solution was to reach a point of maturity where I no longer felt the desire to marry. Perhaps I assumed that if I just tried hard enough, I would receive the magic “gift of singleness” that would take all my longings away. An article in Today’s Christian Woman captures why this is unlikely to happen. The author wrote, “The desire to be married is actually a hundred different longings, from the want of physical and emotional intimacy, to the simple wish to feel a sense of belonging in a room filled with couples.” No wonder it was an exercise in futility to try and suppress my desire for a soulmate.

So how do we live with unfulfilled longings, whether it is the desire to be married, to be a parent, or something else? I am discovering that one of the keys to contentment is to savor what I have, instead of focusing on what is absent. To savor is to “taste with delight.” It implies a sense of lingering and fully relishing the flavor of the moment.  Savoring means noticing little things, like last night, when I smiled at the artistic way my friend folded the napkins.

It also involves savoring the broader strokes God has painted in my life. While he has not opened the door for me to marry, God has given me many other opportunities, like pursuing an education. One of my married friends expressed her feelings of inadequacy because she had never attended college. As she shared, I realized that everyone deals with issues of insecurity and unmet dreams, especially when we compare ourselves to others.

What would happen if we stopped looking longingly at the grass on the other side of the fence and started savoring our own garden? For example, when I reflect on all the things I have in common with my precious wedded friends, the differences in our marital status seem to fade away. When I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for the things I typically take for granted, I’m less likely to envy. As I step out in faith to share my unique talents and gifts, I discover that I can make a difference, just as I am. When I take time to nurture my relationship with Christ, I find true belonging, security, and a love that never fails.

Savoring doesn’t come naturally in our fast-paced world, but ultimately we have the choice of where we focus our thoughts and heart.   The more time we spend savoring, the more content we are likely to become.   Something surprising might even happen along the way—we may discover that our longings are being fulfilled in unexpected ways.   God’s desire is to give us fullness of joy—not in some distant future when all our “dreams” are met, but as we trust Him today.

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