You know the feeling. The abyss that stretches in your chest in the silent places. We’ve all felt it. Sometimes the ache is cast in a halcyon glow, like when the sun rises over the water in a riot of color or we stand before the staggering expanse of mountain peaks. It’s those moments when beauty threatens to carry us out of our chest.
But sometimes the ache feels like something else. It’s not a bursting out. It’s a caving in. You know that feeling, too. The cavern, the canyon, the dark valley. It’s the feeling we all brush up against in the solitude. It’s an ache that demands to be filled.
Before we proceed, there’s a few things you should know about me. I’m a woman. I drink coffee every morning. I know way too much about Star Wars. I’ve gone on cross-country road trips more than once. I have two tattoos. I taught myself how to play guitar and most days I sing really, really loud. I’ve also been sexually attracted to both women and men.
The boys were first, in middle school, but standing a full head taller than most of them and rocking wire-rimmed glasses didn’t do me many favors. Then came high school. I had some friend drama and, as one friend slipped away, I realized I wanted to kiss her. The next year I wanted to kiss my best friend, also a girl. The longing went ignored.
I can still remember when I fell in the love for the first time. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It wasn’t the boys and it wasn’t the girls. I fell in love in the back corner of a massive gymnasium. I fell in love among dim lights, lit candles, soaring music, and 2,000 other teenagers. We were at Eucharistic Adoration during a Steubenville Conference. In the packed crowd, I looked down at the little host like He and I were the only ones in the room. I can’t describe the realization that a God so great would want to come and be with me. I was trembling. I think Heaven was, too. The longing wept for joy.
There was no going back from that moment. I was a tenacious little thing, devouring every Catholic book I could get my hands on, driving myself to our parish adoration chapel once I got my license, and spurning the “worldly ways” of my classmates. I went to college at Franciscan University, where I majored in Catechetics and Theology, grew in prayer, and learned the value of committed Christian community. I also found myself in a series of co-dependent female friendships, each tinged with romantic feelings on my part. The longing pierced.
Next I worked with NET Ministries for several years. I experienced the love of Christ-centered brothers for the first time, gained invaluable ministry skills, and had adventures all over the country. I also fell, over and over again, for my dearest female friends. The longing wanted to punch my heart in its metaphorical face.
Reading this, you can call me what you want. I say I’m a person and I’m complicated. Those words should be familiar to you, since you too, fellow longing one, are a complicated person. You’re a human being, after all.
Like most complicated people striving for holiness, I’ve realized there are key areas I need to prioritize. I pray every day. I have intimate friendships and supportive community. I receive the sacraments regularly. I deepen my knowledge of theology and spirituality. I drink coffee, sing loud, and plan my next road trip. I take a deep breath and step into the longing.
Because here’s the thing. Someone already waits for me there. He’s the One who created the universe through an overflow of love, causing galaxies to become raging bursts of light in the darkness. He’s the One who tailored the rules of astrophysics to bring us these delights in the night sky from billions of light years away.
He’s the One who made me with a similarly intricate intentionality, who sculpted my body with the means for unity and new creation when it became paired with its opposite. He’s the One who took on a body Himself, forever elevating our flesh by His very presence.
If I want to believe this God fashioned the glory of the world around me, how can I deny that He fashioned us? Can I embrace one and reject the other? Of course not. My heart cannot shrug off splendor.
The truth is, my Maker has a plan for me, for my body, for my life, beyond what I could ever know in any given moment. At the end of the day, the longing isn’t that I choose not to kiss women I’d want to kiss. The anguish is that I haven’t fully seen the God I’m seeking. That’s the longing for every human person. Our hearts were made for an infinite love and we don’t always know how to receive it.
“I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” I used to think these words meant that, once I figured out the holy trick, the ache of the longing would go away. The truth is much more terrible and much more wonderful. In the words of the saints, we ascend to God through a series of disappointments. At each step of the way, at each idol we face down, a Sound whispers truth into the silence: “This is not the god whom you are seeking.”
No matter our individual temptations to settle, Christ invites us beyond compromise. This side of the grave, we will always exist in a tension between Lover and lesser. We will always face competing desires, from the innocent – eat the kale and be healthy or eat the donut and be satisfied? – to those with far more import – watch the pornography or face the loneliness? When our busy schedules finally still, do we take the opportunity for solitude or do we pour the red wine and turn up the volume?
Brothers and sisters, God didn’t invite us to be “fine.” He didn’t invite us to dumb the ache and get by with moderately contented. Jesus Christ wants to live His life in us. He re-enters our fallen humanity every Eucharist, every confession by the indwelling of His Spirit and sanctifying grace.
We all face crosses we didn’t choose, but somehow, He allowed them for us. This is no cause for shame. It is no cause for mistaken identity. It’s just our particular version of the phantoms of half-love that confront every human being. Christ is alive in us – every fragile, slipshod, striving part. Let’s not be afraid to meet Him. His longing Heart is waiting.
Anna Carter (NET ’09-’10, Staff ’10-’12) currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is the Co-Founder of Eden Invitation, an emerging ministry to Catholic millennials questioning their sexual identity. You can check out its beginnings here: www.edeninvitation.com For the record, she would choose donuts over kale most days.