The Thirst for More
By Sharon Hersh
“I don’t make resolutions,” I said with more intensity than intended. “I can’t stand the disappointment of breaking them.” My girlfriends and I were discussing how we planned to deal with the issue of relationships in the coming year. But the truth was, I felt a little shaky when it came to talking about them. Any confidence I felt on the subject had vanished when my husband of more than 20 years told me he’d found a soul mate and wanted a divorce. My family broke into what felt like a million pieces that all the counseling and wisdom in the world couldn’t put back together again.
“I vow to stop nagging my husband about helping with household chores,” said one friend. “After 15 years, it’s time for me to accept his attempts rather than complain about all he doesn’t do.”
“I’m committing to spend more time with my boys, even if it means watching guy movies.”
“I just want to establish a genuine bond with my son.”
“I’m going to date my husband.”
I nodded my head in response, but my heart felt the sting it always does when people talk about their marriages. I’d been divorced over ten years by then and still suffered a tinge of shame with every reminder that I was no longer a member of the marriage club.
My divorce was just the first event in a harrowing season of difficulties. I relapsed into alcoholism—and hurt a lot of people in the process, including myself. My son became depressed and tried drugs; he told me it gave him a little peace. My daughter had earned straight A’s and won the Christian character award in middle school but confessed eight years later that she might be an alcoholic. My best friend for over a decade determined she could no longer remain in our friendship. My church split, and other close friends landed on either side of the division.
Perhaps you can see why I was a bit reluctant to make any resolutions. But I also knew I wasn’t alone in feeling confused about what to hope for. Ask women over age 30 if life has turned out the way they dreamed, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories of hard times, broken hearts, and regrets. As I looked around the table at my friends, I thought about their stories of hurt and disappointment and wondered at their resolve to continue hoping for something more.
Our yearning isn’t wrong. But I suspect I’m not the only one who has incorrectly interpreted that longing through the years, believing a simple human connection can satisfy our thirst. The reality is that we all fail. We all have relationships that falter. We all get lonely. I knew that God created me to be in community with others but was afraid to hope for anything in a world I couldn’t control.
Begin Again, Believe Again
How can we regain the courage to love with abandon when we’ve experienced brokenness in the form of a fractured family, addiction, abuse, or shattered dreams?
Take a moment to think about what your relationships would look like—especially the hard ones—if they were images hanging on the wall. Even if some evoke feelings of sadness, shame, anger, or disappointment, isn’t there something else within them as well? In and out, around, and through all of our foolish scheming, desire tugs at our hearts. We mistakenly believe this yearning is calling us to something merely external. It seems as though what we seek exists just around the corner, but when we get there, it’s gone.
Our longing for connection is so strong that even after turning the corner a thousand times, we’re compelled to hope with each new opportunity, even if in a small way, This is going to be the “one”—the experience that works, that will fulfill me.
Yet as Augustine wisely noted, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.” It’s humbling to realize that God designed this need to compel us toward His love. He created us with a thirst for communion with Him. But that desire often gets confused by life’s struggles and disappointments, especially when we rely solely upon others to satisfy it. Confusion, frustration, and disappointment remain constant in the midst of romances and friendships that come and go.
That New Year’s Eve when I couldn’t make a resolution, I needed to understand the connection between the empty space in my heart and the God who could fill it like water in a glass.
Since then, I’ve come to understand that it’s only after we take steps to make sure we have entered into the single most important relationship in life—the one with God—and are growing in it that we can begin to grasp His purpose for other relationships in Him. But truly appreciating our need for companionship and community is possible only if we’re honest with the Lord and ourselves. The constant pull that makes us vulnerable is a holy nudge and nothing to be ashamed of. When we’re tempted to say, “I don’t care anymore” or “I don’t need anyone,” we risk losing the wholeness God intends us to experience in Him through others. Turning from His plan hardens our hearts and slowly makes us bitter. I see now that shutting people out of our lives has dire spiritual consequences: it’s impossible to ignore our need for connection without damaging our oneness with God.
I’ve also made a discovery—namely, that the fellowship of family, friends, and neighbors isn’t the destination; it’s the path that leads us to something more. Perhaps you find this truth frustrating because you’re not looking for some mystical experience; you simply want a spouse who doesn’t fall asleep in front of the television, children who don’t constantly talk back, and friends who return your calls. Since our flesh-and-blood relationships are right in front of our faces, it’s hard to let go of the natural tendency to believe our longing for connection is only about these human realities.
But the most striking aspect of the revelation is this: The ups and downs of our interpersonal lives are intended to lead us into deeper oneness with Christ. Our hearts were designed by a Creator who wants to commune with us beyond what we can imagine. This is what His story is about. This is the original purpose of our existence and the substance of our life with Him. Knowing that fact allows us to love fearlessly, even when we get the feeling that everything’s lost.
That night, as my friends and I spoke honestly about our desires and failures and foolishness, we acknowledged that being willing to believe again in relationships seems a little crazy. With all the hurt and disappointment we faced in the past, it was only natural to question whether hoping for a new start was a sane thing to do. But we remembered the wise old words of Scripture, promising, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26)—and that relationships are no small part of His design for making us holy. Bowing our heads in prayer, we worshipped the One Who gave us the thirst for connection, and asked for strength to drink deeply from the source He provided to quench it.