I lived in the mountains this summer. Everything I needed was strapped on my back as I trekked across the 484 mile long Colorado Trail. It was idyllic, in that brutally arduous way the best things usually are. But I missed taking hot showers. I missed getting into bed without having to set up a tent, blow up an air mattress, and unroll damp sleeping bags. I missed waking up in the morning to the smell of coffee. I missed scrambling eggs in my bathrobe. I missed ice in my drinks and eating pizza on the couch and fizzy cans of sparkling water. I missed smelling good, wearing dresses, curling my hair. I missed the little ones I care for and their lavishly bestowed hugs. I missed normal, every day life.
We’ve been home for several months now. And with every passing day I become more nostalgic about our time on the trail. The coziness of our little tent, our granola and powdered milk breakfasts in the morning sun, the simplicity of having all I needed in one bag, the solitude shared only with my husband, the burning in my lungs and thighs as we ascended peak after peak. I miss trail life.
It is excruciatingly easy to want what we don’t have, to long for the place we aren’t in, to wish for the moment that is not now.
Last Thanksgiving break my husband and I road tripped to Disneyland. Three days running through the parks, regular churro stops, the whole thing. It was entirely delightful and I keep getting pangs of nostalgia thinking about it, especially as this Thanksgiving break draws near. We have fun plans with family and I’m genuinely looking forward to it, but my heart gets a little achey when I think about the firework show that ended in snow or the way Small World’s lights shone as we raced by it on The Matterhorn.
I regularly find myself wanting something else than what’s right in front of me.
These past weeks have been full for us. I like the work that keeps us busy, but I’d been dreaming about a lazy Saturday, one where we sleep late and eat breakfast on the couch and stay in sweats all day. My wish came true last week and I spent the whole day rotating between novels and Netflix. It was perfect, or at least it should have been, but I had this nagging feeling all day the time was slipping away. If only I had a few more hours. And then it was over.
It seems an innate longing and want have lodged themselves so deeply that not even the fulfillment of my desires can remove them.
I scold myself regularly. I grit my teeth and will myself to be present. I give myself pep talks about today being all I have. I pull out a pen and write all the good things happening in my right-now life.
And yet I’m still here, missing our backpacking adventure, wanting to go back to Disneyland, wishing today was Friday.
So much of the Christian faith is lived in paradox. We are broken and whole, sinful but righteous, living in a kingdom that is already established but not yet here, learning how to die to live. Perhaps we can be content at the same time as we ache with longing.
Missing the trail never once means I don’t get giddily excited as I crawl into our soft bed at the end of the day. It doesn’t mean I don’t linger in those hot showers and let the steamy water run down my face. It doesn’t mean I don’t pour that first cup of coffee with satisfaction or treasure all the dailiness we’re currently walking in. Wanting to stand on Disneyland’s Main Street at Christmastime doesn’t mean I won’t love getting to tromp around a mountain village with my in-laws, or that my heart won’t be filled to the brim when I sit down around the table with my siblings and parents. Counting the days till Friday doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy the quiet hour before dawn on a Monday morning, or appreciate going to work alongside my husband or be glad at each student who sits at my piano.
We are bound to want. As long as we’re humans living on an imperfect planet unmet desires will be part of our nature. There’s nothing wrong with accepting the gnawing appetites in our soul, but they do grab tight and pull hard. If you’re not careful they can rip you off the ground you’re standing on, uproot you from your path.
And so we weigh ourselves down with gratitude. With noticing. With acts of presence. We step outside on the morning after a snowfall and we marvel at that smoky winter sky. We take that first sip of coffee and taste it on our tongue and feel how its warmth slides all the way down into our bellies. We look up from our phones more, we look up at the sky more, we stop multi-tasking, we feel the earth beneath our feet and we stay present. We still feel longing, we still have cravings bubbling up within, but we temper them with ceaseless thanksgiving.
We choose to live in the tension required of all inhabitants of earth, the tension of embracing both desire and contentment.