We come into the world wired to expect Eden. But it’s no longer here. The innocence of children is the innocence of the Eden. It is the horror of the fallen world that strips us of Eden’s innocence and poisons our souls—this is the worm that crawls its way into the human condition.
The psalmist claimed that we live “in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psa. 63:1). I think he was saying that we humans need more than this fallen world has to offer—that we all long for something else that used to be here. Bottom line: on some level our life in the world as it is will always suck eggs a little.
This gives birth to an internal ache—I think it’s a longing for Eden, which now needs to be seen as a longing for God’s future restoration (Rev. 21). The ache is that unsettling gloom we bump into deep within the dark corridors of our souls. It shows its ugly head whenever we get quiet or lonely or tired or hungry or bored—or when we feel rejected or stressed out. It’s the thing we often call discontentment, loneliness or despair.
Truth is we all ache for Eden … saint and sinner. It’s like the ambient noise in the background of any environment—it’s always there but we don’t notice it until we really listen. Go ahead and turn off the TV, the radio, the computer, get off the phone and sit still. We are not used to stillness. You will discover the ambient noise seems to intensify; it almost becomes deafening. It’s like that with the “ache.” Though it’s always there, we usually don’t notice it until we get quiet. Once we calm, the ache intensifies (I think it’s the main reason most of us avoid silence). What’s critical is what we do with the ache once we sense it.
Many are so afraid of this inner discontent that they ignore it or try to drown it out with other noises—noises like working harder, hunting for romance or more intense friendships, playing video games, watching too much TV, et cetera. Others try to anesthetize the ache with inappropriate destructive activity like roaming into fantasy and lust; eating whole cases of Twinkies; going on unnecessary shopping sprees; or participating in compulsive behaviors like drug or alcohol abuse.
Where do you run when you ache inside?
I wish I could say that the ache completely leaves us when we come to Jesus. But it doesn’t. What does happen when we cross the threshold of faith is we get insight that can help us channel the ache into something positive. Unfortunately, the Christian way of life does not resolve our inner aching. I know there are a lot of Christian people who claim they never experience anything other than eternal bliss in their souls—that their faith is always an ecstatic, unwavering “glory” that bubbles inside their bosoms at all times—always clean; forever effervescent; never encroached upon with doubt. But I don’t think they are being honest. I think they are pretending, being overly simplistic and Pollyanish about their faith. In fact, I think that the true Christian way openly recognizes, protects and even cherishes the “ache” as a gift! If you keep in mind that the ache points us to a world built by God and untouched by evil, you will want to protect and cherish it because it is filled with promise for those who can tolerate its sweet pain.
Here are some positive things to do with the ache:
1) Practice IDENTIFYING the ache
2) WATCH which direction it pushes you (Do you turn on the TV; grab a cupcake; start entertaining sinful thoughts?)
3) REFUSE to do what you normally do (especially if that’s being naughty)
4) REINTERPRET the ache as a reminder of your deep need for God and a longing for the future New Creation
5) ASK GOD for help to embrace the ache and to let it motivate you to participate in appropriate activities
6) RECOGNIZE you will ache till death and you will continue to struggle till then (The good news is if you process the ache with your faith you will struggle well!)
Christians are not perfect people; we are a redeemed people (which means God is committed to composting our garbage and growing a garden from it). And we are an achy people. We live in a broken world and we all come from the land of broken toys. Knowing this keeps us humble before God and keeps us kind toward outsiders who are aching as well as us—though they may be struggling badly. We may not be able to save the world, but we can show them an alternative way to deal with the ache—one that highlights the role of the One who does save.