Maurine Proctor’s columns appear every Tuesday on Meridian.
It is a secret we keep from each other beneath our bright surfaces. We don’t tell because we aren’t quite sure anyone else feels the same, that occasional hollowness, that yearning for something you just can’t find.
It’s as if you are far away from home, in a dream maybe, and you can’t find the station or the schedule with the train that goes home. It’s missing. Surely everyone else has found it, but you can’t, even if you run, even if you try very hard. There’s a something inside that is always saying, there must be more. You know there is, because you can feel it missing.
Sometimes you think, it must be something I lost along the way and you fantasize that there was a golden yesterday, the good old days, when everyone felt that “at home” feeling, that sense of completion. Sometimes you think there is somewhere else you’d feel more at home—a different house, a different town, a different circle of friends. Wasn’t there a time or place just out of memory when there wasn’t this empty room inside?
Maybe what you need is Christmas to come, or the family to gather, or a break in your schedule so you could breathe. But Christmas comes or the family gathers or you get that break and though you feel delighted for the moment, still it’s there—that sense that you forgot something really important—a piece of you, maybe—a golden key that unlocks the inner door to where there’s a treasure you have misplaced.
This may not be a feeling you carry all of the time. Busyness takes up your life and you are engaged. Sometimes you feel the Spirit with such sweet intensity, a washing over every gaping inner gorge that all is filled and all is well. But if you stop long enough or lay abed and think for long, there it is again—that sense of the loss of a brighter world and a brighter you.
If you should feel this way sometimes, even once in awhile, you are in good company.
The home sickness, the longing for something more, is common to the billions of us here. We are a silent chorus, an aching, bewildered band of refugees who have come from somewhere better, who were so much more, and have descended to a fallen world.
No wonder we are homesick or have some memory we can’t quite put our finger on of a place that is always morning. No wonder life sometimes tastes thin even when all is ostensibly going well. Someplace inside, we can’t help but notice the difference of where we’ve been and where we are.
Some of us try to fill that hole with addiction, some with variety, some with escape, some with resignation, but nothing on earth, of course, can fill what is really a yearning for heaven and for our deeper, true identity.
If you feel this loss, this aching sense of loss that is almost indefinable, you are not alone. Even the most ardent atheists cannot explain the inextinguishable yearning for God that is indwelling in the human soul. Smash him, trample him, make illegal any reference to him, ban him altogether from a society. Humans would come to him again because of this yearning. We came with it. It is in our spiritual DNA and we cannot help who we are.
Poets sing about this. Fantasy writers create alternative worlds. Bright Narnia is just inside the wardrobe if you happen to enter it just right. The magical creatures in fairy tales, who have the power to save the child from his dire circumstances, are the artists’ expression of this longing.
This yearning is not only for God, it is for ourselves, our eternal identity, which like a victim of war, who has amnesia, we lost at birth. We cannot even give our name, rank, and serial number. We have forgotten. We are like an iceberg, mostly underwater, inaccessible. Yet something tells us that we are more than we show, that there is a swelling something inside that is just out of reach and is connected to our longing for God.
“I can’t say the smallest part that I feel,” you lament, wondering how to put the thousand dancing ideas in your head into a sentence that thuds along one word at a time. “I can’t be as large as I feel myself to be,” you say. These are not illusions. The largeness that you have spent an eternity being is constricted, made puny in this place of temporary residence called earth.
When we came to earth, we were separated not only from him, but also from ourselves, and that homesick feeling will never be resolved until we fully rediscover and experience both. That is the essence of the spiritual life. That is what God is inviting us to and what we feel when the Spirit resides upon us.
Your coming to know God is an invitation to have your truest, deepest self revealed again.
The only access you will ever have to that missing part of you is in searching for him with all your heart. He is the one who truly knows you. You understand that others around you, even those closest, cannot entirely know you. But you also sense, that because of the veil that has dropped over your mind, you do not entirely know yourself. Maybe, in fact, you hardly know the wonder that is you. You are the royal child disguised in ashes, too often believing the ashes are all there is.
I am moved by the image so often used in scripture, and especially in Hosea, of Christ being the Bridegroom and Israel (that’s you and me) being the Bride. What a picture of love that works on so many levels. The Bridegroom will pay the price for his Bride. He will give her his name, his protection, his devotion, his sacrifice, his life for her well-being.
But I have always been struck by another part of that image, and that is that he knows her. She is not strange to him, not in any way. He knows all of her and she is not hidden from him. He is familiar with her scars and her wounds, her beauty and her strengths. He sees her for what she is when no one else can see her at all—or only vaguely. He remembers her youth and her joys. He will give her beauty for ashes, not just because he is capable of doing that, but because in knowing her so intimately, he finds her of great worth—even when she has forgotten. I could weep to think of that love, that love that has both the power to transform and remember.
Two moments from Christ’s life stand out for me from the record of John, that apostle whom Christ loved, on this idea of his knowing us. Nathanael is sitting under a tree when Philip invites him to the Savior, to “come and see.” Then, Jesus saw Nathaniel coming and said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
Nathanael was thunderstruck by that greeting. “Whence knowest thou me?” he asked. What could be more moving than having one peer straight into your hidden soul—the only one who really can?
Jesus told him, “Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
” Indeed, he saw him, saw right into him, into the totality of his very being—and saw with love. No wonder Nathanael would follow him anywhere. (See John 1:45-51). Who else could know Nathanael like that?
Something similar happened when Jesus visited with the woman at the well in Samaria and looked right into her life and her soul, telling her that she had had five husbands and the man with whom she lived now was not her husband.
The record, of course, does not begin to tell us the complete conversation of what else Jesus revealed to her about who she was, but this we know. This shunned woman, who could only draw water at noon when the rest of the village drew water in the cool of the morning, was suddenly emboldened to run and tell the rest of the city that this was the Christ. A big part of her testimony hinged on this, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did” (John 4:29).
God knows you, not just the tiny fragment of you that you have demonstrated since your birth, not the sliver of self to which you have sometimes disappointing access. He has the entrance to your eternal being that is now locked for you, and he is the way you can get back to yourself.
There is a moment in the Sermon on the Mount when Christ speaks of those on judgment day who have prophesied in his name and, according to their own estimation, done many great works in his name. Then Christ says that at that day, “I will profess unto them, I never knew you.”
Joseph Smith in his translation of the Bible makes an important change here. Instead of “I never knew you,” the line reads, “Ye never knew me,” because, of course, Jesus Christ can never not know you. He knows what you don’t know about you, can’t remember even with profound concentration. You are graven upon the palms of his hands. (Matt. 7:23 and JST Matt. 7:32).
Even when you hardly belong to yourself, you still belong to him. He is the keeper of the springs of your being, the life-giving springs you sometimes cannot find when you are parched for water.
We cannot call out our real identity; we cannot access the inestimable universe that is us, with all its suns and planets swirling, without the one who knows us. Try as we will to “express ourselves” or whatever is the current fashion in seeking our identity, we cannot see ourselves unless it in his reflection.
I am not sure that the yearning for something more is ever completely extinguished in this life, marooned from our true home, but I know there are flints and sparks that point to where all the aching pockets of emptiness are filled. I am certain that when we seek for God with all our hearts, we will not only find him, but ourselves as well.
One day when we are enfolded in His arms, we might hear the Lord say, “When you were acting out of only a portion of yourself, I missed you.” It is then we might reply, “I’ve missed me too. I once was lost, but now am found.”