3 Reasons Brokenness Can Lead to Joy

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.

When my children were very young we lived in the parsonage next to the church. I taught piano lessons in the afternoon and took my kids to a neighborhood babysitter before my students came. One day I was running a little late. I picked up my toddler, grabbed the diaper bag, and told my 4-year-old to hurry up. I rushed out the door and locked it behind me before realized I had left my keys in the house. Ordinarily, this would not have been a big problem because I could have just walked over to the church next door and gotten a set of keys from my pastor husband. But that particular day he was at a pastors’ conference an hour’s drive away.

My mind clicked through my options.

Option 1: Go to a neighbor’s house and call a locksmith. (Much too slow and expensive.)

Option 2: Break the small window in the door and unlock the lock. (Much faster and probably less expensive than the locksmith.)

So I grabbed a big rock and took my daughter’s doll blanket from her. I wrapped the blanket around the rock and my hand and smashed the window. Now I could unlock the door, grab the keys, take the kids to the babysitter and get back before my students came.

It all worked out very well—except for the fact that when my husband came home later that day he thought a robber had broken in!

And I had to admit that I was the one who had broken the window.

But I had to break the window in order to unlock the door.

I find this is true in my emotional life as well. Sometimes God uses painful experiences to break into my life. Sometimes it takes a disappointment or a sorrow for God to get my attention. I don’t enjoy the painful periods in my life, but sometimes it is as if those experiences break through the stuff of the world and help me feel God’s presence more clearly.

God Breaks Through 

King David experienced brokenness. The prophet Nathan confronted the king with his sin and David responded with repentance. His pride was broken. After he confessed his sin, he asked God to restore his joy:

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Psalm 51:8

I, too, have experienced this brokenness. And this joy. When I realize my sin, I feel the burden of my mistake. But when I confess, God gives grace. My heavy spirit is once again free to enjoy the forgiveness and freedom of mercy.

But we are not always broken because of sin. Sometimes we are crushed by thoughtless comments of others. Our lives are shattered by tragedy. Our spirits are fragmented by grief. We don’t know if we will ever find joy again.

That’s when we need to remember that brokenness can be the beginning of joy–God’s incomprehensible joy. Our heavenly Father can use that very brokenness to break through with His presence.

3 Reasons Brokenness Can Be the Beginning of Joy

3 Reasons Brokenness Can Lead to Joy

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it tears away the unimportant. Without all the clutter of life in the way, we can see God.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it pushes us to our Savior. We can see Him holding out His hands to us, waiting for us to step into His embrace. We can see the mercy and love in His eyes.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because God’s joy isn’t limited by our situation. Jesus can transform our brokenness into joy. A joy that can’t be explained by our circumstances. A bubbling up of peace and happiness that makes no sense except in the presence of God.

Sometimes our heavenly Father uses pain to break through the myriad of distractions in our lives and unlock the door to His presence.

Sometimes joy begins in brokenness.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in darkness and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

3 Myths About Joy

It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

I’ve got joy like a fountain

I’ve got joy like a fountain

I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul.

The preschoolers in my music class love to sing this song. And when they do, I have no doubt that they have joy.

But what do we do when joy doesn’t naturally bubble out of our souls?

When disappointments are around every corner and happiness is nowhere to be found?

When we feel sure that we will never see joy again?

Life is often difficult, discouraging, and disappointing. But before you give up on joy, see if you are believing one of these three myths about joy.

Myth 1: Joy and happiness are the same thing.

When you win a trip to the Bahamas or get a promotion it’s easy to find happiness. But when medical bills pile up and your job is teetering on the brink of corporate layoffs, happiness hides. Happiness is based on circumstances.

Joy, however, is a deeper sense of contentment that is available even when life is full of challenges. Think of the apostle Paul in the book of Acts. Even when he and his friend Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison, they spend their time in the jail cell joyfully praising God (Acts 16:16-40). God’s joy is present even in difficulty.

Remember:

Joy is the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. David Stendl-Rast

3 Myths About

Myth 2: If I could only have __________, then I would have joy.

We often make joy contingent on certain criteria. When I get married, I’ll be happy. When I have a child, I’ll have joy. When I can afford that Dooney and Bourke designer bag, then I’ll know I’ve made it and then I’ll be satisfied. But studies show that making joy dependent on some future event or possession only postpones joy. Often when we finally get what we want, we start longing for the next thing on our wish list and simply move our criteria for joy further down the line.

But focusing on the blessings we already have, inspires joy in the present. There is a saying I love,

It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

I’ve found this to be true. I may not have everything I want, but when I focus on the blessings I already have–like my loving family and supportive friends–I can find joy. When I appreciate a cup of my favorite Mango Passionfruit Tea or a hug from those preschoolers, I discover pockets of joy in disappointing days.

Myth 3: I don’t have any control over the amount of joy in my life.

It is true that we don’t have much control over what happens to us in life, but this does not have to banish joy. Theologian Henri Nouwen wrote,

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

That sounds a little like what James said in the Bible, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2 NLT). Now most of us don’t view hardship as an opportunity for happiness, but James goes on, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:3 NLT).

If we can’t find joy in our circumstances, we can find it in what those circumstances bring us: Lessons learned. Endurance strengthened. Intimacy with God renewed.

We can choose joy because we know God is with us. In Emmanuel joy is always available.

Abandon the myths of joy. In this world we will always have disappointment. But in Christ, we can always have joy.

Next step: What myth about joy do you sometimes believe? Write out the quote or Bible passage that refutes that myth, and post it where you will see it often this week.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in dark and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

 

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

The Secret to Finding More Joy

we might not always sense God’s presence. It might be hidden behind some clouds.

It was a gloomy, dreary Friday.  

The doorbell rang and a crew of carpet layers entered. Soon my house was in a state of chaos. The noise of old carpet being scraped off and new carpet being nailed down filled the air. Every room was either crammed with workers or stuffed with the furniture from the rooms that were being worked on.

The only place left for me to sit was in a little corner of the kitchen.

To make the situation even more memorable, I had not rescued my computer from my desk before the workers completely blocked it off with dressers and mattresses. I couldn’t do any of the work I planned to do that day. To pass the time, I decided to read a book I had checked out of the library. It didn’t take me long to become completely engrossed in the novel City of Tranquil Light. I read page after page and cried through almost every one.

So here I was sitting in my kitchen listening to the pounding of the carpet layers, dabbing my eyes and blowing my nose as I read this heart-searing story. The view out of my patio door reflected the sadness of the book. Gray clouds still filled the sky. Thick storm clouds blocked out almost all the sunlight.

Then it happened. The sun peeked through a hole in the clouds. Light filled the kitchen. The atmosphere changed for just a moment.

I thought—that is what God’s joy is like. Even when your world is in chaos, even when your emotions are like a roller coaster, joy in the Lord is always available because He is always there.

The trouble is that we might not always sense God’s presence. It might be hidden behind some clouds.

But His joy is there. In the turmoil. In the noise. In the gloom.

King David wrote,

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

According to David,

Joy is found in God’s presence. I often look for it in my current circumstances and am dismally disappointed. I can’t find it in the clouds of heartache. God is the only true source of joy.

God fills us with joy. The world tells me that success or cute shoes will fill me with joy, but that joy will never last. I have to look to the Father for a fresh supply.

Eternal pleasures are at God’s right hand. When we are with God–holding His hand–we are given lasting joy, not the fleeting happiness of the world that melts like a chocolate bar on a hot day.

The world may be a discouraging place, but when we wait in God’s presence, He will break through the chaos and darkness of our lives to give us a glimpse of joy.

Next step: Write out Psalm 16:11 on a sticky note and post it where you will see it often today. Remind yourself to wait in God’s presence when you need a fresh supply of joy.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in darkness and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

The Secret to Finding More

 

 

12 Places to Find More Joy In Your Life

easy joy

Joy.

This word has been rolling around in my head for awhile. It all started a few years ago when my husband and I traveled to China to visit my daughter and her family. One day we decided to take a trip to visit the Stone Forest–a beautiful Chinese national park. My daughter and her husband don’t own a car in China, so we hired a driver to take us to this amazing park. On the way, the driver stopped at a gas station. The driver was already getting ready to drive away when I noticed the sign for the convenience store. I asked my husband to get a quick picture through the car window with his big zoom lens. The name of the store was: Easy Joy.

IMG_4095 - Copy

I wondered if this name was an example of Chinglish–the awkward and often humorous translation of Chinese into English. Maybe the concept they were really going for was something like Simple Pleasures, but I loved the idea of a store named Easy Joy. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an Easy Joy store in every town and city across America and when you got low on joy all you had to do was drive down to the shop and pick up a can of joy? When you faced a disappointment, you could buy a box of happiness? When you suffered a painful loss, all you had to do was purchase a jar of bliss?

Even though I am certain that no such shop exists, the concept of an Easy Joy Store got me thinking about joy and happiness. I wondered: What does the Bible have to say about happiness? Is there a biblical way to get Easy Joy?

One of the first things I discovered was that God wants us to have joy!

Jesus said,

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 ESV)

That word full means to supply liberally, to fill to the top. God doesn’t want us to simply have a drop of joy in our lives, He wants our hearts to be overflowing with joy. He wants our souls to be bursting at the seams with His gladness.

This is reassuring to me because I thought perhaps my quest was shallow. Life on earth is definitely not guaranteed to be a continual ball of fun. I wondered if God wanted me to seek something deeper.

But God does not consider this search superficial. He wants us to have joy–His joy.

So I began to explore this concept. I searched for answers to the questions:

  • Is there a biblical way to have Easy Joy?
  • What does God’s joy look like?
  • How can I have more joy in my life?
  • What are the secrets to a joy-filled life?

The result of my search is a new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World. In this course, I share that joy can be found in some surprising places. Joy can be found in:

  • darkness
  • brokenness
  • choosing to trust
  • rituals

These are only a few of the places I found joy. Explore this course and you will discover even more.

When you sign up for this course you will receive a series of email lessons in your inbox. First, an introductory message will arrive. Then once a week for the next 12 weeks you will receive a message about finding joy. The message will contain a short lesson and an assignment. Each lesson will take about 15-30 minutes. The rest of the week you will put the new knowledge into practice.

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

Don’t you wish you could walk to the nearest Easy Joy store to buy a box of happiness when you’re feeling blue?

While that isn’t possible, you can find more joy for your life in God’s Word. Find specific ways in the Easy Joy eCourse.

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

easyjoyecourse

Practicing Lent: Examen

practicing4

This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

Another busy day. Teaching music at the Lutheran school in the morning. Piano lessons in the afternoon. Dinner with my sweet hubby. Bible study with my small group in the evening.

I fall into bed exhausted. But before I step into dreamland, I take time to practice Examen. I close my eyes and watch a “video” replay of my day.

I thank God for the good things: a big hug from a preschooler at school, time with my husband, laughter with my awesome Bible study gals.

I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where I messed up that day–yep, I lost my patience with those antsy third-graders–forgive me. Lord.

I look for God’s presence in the ordinary moments of my day and I see Him in the unexpected warm weather in the middle of winter, in the faces of the children as they sing of God’s love, and in the words of hope in God’s Word.

I go to sleep forgiven and grateful.

The Spiritual Discipline of Examen

The practice of Examen is one of my favorite Spiritual Disciplines.

practicingPIN 4

I know intellectually that God is always with me. I grab onto God’s promise:

I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)

But sometimes I forget. I get caught up in my to-do list, in the hectic activities of each day. I forget that God is always with me to love me, guide me, and cheer me on. Examen helps me be more aware of Christ in the mundane moments of every day.

You too?

To practice the Spiritual Discipline of Examen, start by finding a quiet place and asking the Spirit to guide your time of reflection. Close your eyes and review the last 24 hours. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What inspired gratitude today?
  • What happened that was painful, sad, or disappointing?
  • What moment do I now regret and need to confess?
  • What moments of my day were life-giving?
  • What moments of my day were life-draining?
  • When did I sense God’s nearness?
  • When did my hectic pace of life crowd out a sense of God’s nearness?
  • When did I give and receive love?
  • When did I feel an absence of love?
  • What did God teach me today?

Spend some time thanking God for His presence throughout the day and thank Him for the things that brought joy. Confess the sins the Spirit brought to mind and receive forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Visual Examen

Recently, I discovered a more hands-on way to practice Examen in a book titled Praying in Color:  I have adapted this method for our Practicing Lent journey.

For this practice,

  1. Start by downloading and printing a sheet with a geometric pattern that will guide your experience.
  2. In the center of the pattern, write the words of Joshua 1:5: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
  3. Then, in the spaces closest to the center, write down things for which you are grateful. Did you get a hug from a preschooler? Did you see a spectacular sunset? Write down anything from the last 24 hours that brought you joy.
  4. Next, ask yourself a few questions about your day. In the outer ring of the pattern, write a word or two that recalls these moments:
  • When did I feel closest to God?
  • When did I feel distant?
  • When did I mess up and sin? Where do I need to confess and receive forgiveness?

End with a time of confession and thanksgiving. If you like, color the spaces of the design while you pray. Many people find the act of coloring focuses their thoughts. (I suggest that you at least darken the spaces listing your sins so the words are no longer visible–symbolizing God’s cleansing mercy.)

God is with us. But sometimes we forget. Examen helps us appreciate the Lord’s presence in the ordinary and mundane. During this holy season of Lent, appreciate anew Christ’s nearness.

Examen helps us appreciate the Lord's presence in the ordinary and mundane. Click To Tweet

Next step: Download and print the Examen pattern. For a summary of the Visual Examen practice and a list of Scirptures that will guide your practice–Click here. 

 

The Characters of Christmas: The Shepherds

TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY

Good news.

Doesn’t your heart do a happy dance when you hear that phrase?

For me, this year started out with a lot of bad news. My husband was diagnosed with lymphoma. A friend of mine lost her battle with lung cancer. Life seemed to be one long string of bad news.

But in the middle of the year things started to turn around. My husband, John, responded well to chemotherapy and we rejoiced when his oncologist gave us the good news that he is officially in remission. Then my daughter shared the happy news that she and her husband are expecting baby number four. And the cherry on top was the news that my daughter and her family are taking an a sabbatical from their work in China and will be here in the U.S. for six months.

Lots of good news!

I bet the shepherds near Bethlehem on that Christmas night felt much the same way. The whole nation of Israel had been groaning under Roman rule. They were tired of seeing foreign soldiers in the streets. They were tired of obeying a ruler who lived far away. Life seemed like a long string of bad news.

So when the angel announced that he had good news for them, he immediately had the shepherds’ attention:

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

THE shepherdsThe shepherds didn’t wast any time in going to see what all the good news was about. They raced to Bethlehem to see the baby and immediately told other the good news (Luke 2:17). They praised God for all they had seen and heard (Luke 2:20).

As I think about the shepherd’s response I am humbled. 

You see, the good news they received did not immediately change their financial situation. Sharing the good news probably gave the their 15 minutes of fame, but it didn’t get them wealth or power.

Still, they realized that this was the best good news and so they told others and praised God.

I, on the other hand, may not always be exuberant about spiritual good news. I can’t wait to tell everyone the happy news that my grandchildren are coming for Christmas, but I may be timid about sharing the best news of Jesus coming for Christmas. I may be brave about talking about my new book, but may be timid about talking about the new life I have in Christ.

So this Christmas I’m praying that I will be more like the shepherds–rejoicing in the best news ever!

This Christmas rejoice in the best news ever--Jesus Christ is born! Click To Tweet

Jesus Christ is born! We are rescued from sin and death! In Christ we have life and peace! We are welcomed into God’s family. 

Next step: I would love to hear your good news! Share any good news you received this year in the comments below. And think of one way you can share the best news of all this Christmas!

When You Struggle to Rejoice

 

phil 4-4

Does that command in Philippians 4:4 make you wince?

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I certainly have days when it’s hard to be full of joy. Hard to rejoice in anything.

And what is rejoicing anyway?

I looked up the word rejoice in my Greek dictionary and found that it comes from the word chairo.

It carries the idea of being glad about something. It is the picture of a person who is euphoric over something that has happened. Other words to describe chairo would be overjoyed, elated, ecstatic, exhilarated, thrilled, jubilant, or even rapturous. (from Sparkling Gems From the Greek, p. 682)

When I read that I asked myself–when was the last time I was purely ecstatic about God? When did I feel thrilled in God’s presence?

I think it’s been too long.

But perhaps it’s because I keep looking for joy in other things. I expect to find it in success. Or friendship.

I wait for joy to happen when everything goes according to my plan.

And because that isn’t very likely, joy remains elusive.

Perhaps I should be glad that I can’t always find joy in something other than Jesus. Because then in my desperation, I’m forced to look to the only reliable Source of joy–my Savior.

God doesn’t tell us to be euphoric over success, or achievement, or even cute shoes because none of those are lasting.

God asks to be elated in Him.

Question: What has brought you joy in the past week?

struggle to rejoice

Where Do You Find Joy?

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Joy can be an elusive commodity. I often wish it were available at my corner convenience store. (In fact I saw a convenience store in China named Easy Joy. You can read about it here.) Because I am searching for joy I have been diving into God’s Word to find out what God had to say on the subject.

One thing I learned is that:

Joy is found in God’s presence.

Psalms 16:11 says:

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ( NIV 1986)

God fills me with joy in His presence. There’s no doubt about it. When I am turned toward God, looking at Him, I feel joy. When I am facing my problems, I feel anxiety, disappointment, and doubt.

Where do you feel closest to God?

For me, one of the places I feel closest to my Creator is when I am in nature. Places like the Shawneee National Forest in the picture above make me realize that God is so much bigger, so much more original, so much more amazing than my mind can comprehend. Looking at what He has made helps me to see Him.

But I live in a city and it requires time and effort for me to get out into nature. I admit–I don’t make that effort very often.

God tapped me on the shoulder and asked:

Wouldn’t it make sense to go often where you feel closest to me?

Whether it is in a brick and mortar church or a forest cathedral, shouldn’t we yearn to go where God seems near? Whether it’s sitting in a quiet room listening to music or skiing down a snowy mountain, shouldn’t we make the effort to go where we can almost touch Him?

Even though it’s February, even though it’s cold. I’m going to go outside and worship. I’m going where I sense God is near.

Question: Where do you feel closest to God?

Book Review: Fight Back With Joy

HowToFightBackWithJoy“More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.”

Author Margaret Feinberg makes this profound observation in her new book Fight Back With Joy.

Her journey with joy began by choosing “joy” as her one word for the year. She expected the year to be a mix of giddy feelings, spreading kindness, and banning worry. But in the middle of this year of joy, life threw another ingredient into the mix: cancer. Not a very common ingredient in a recipe for joy. Fight Back With Joy is Margaret’s story of how she found joy in the midst of pain.

But the book isn’t just a retelling of Margaret’s battle with cancer. Instead, she writes for all of us who fight for joy in our life battles with money troubles, broken relationships, and painful loneliness. Through her story and the stories of other joy-fighters in Scripture, Margaret gives all of us the tools to discover joy in the midst of life’s heartaches.

Margaret writes:

The Bible insists that joy is more than a feeling: it’s an action. We don’t just sense joy; we embody it by the way we respond to the circumstances before us.

What is the genesis of joy? I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us.

This resonates with me because I have found this to be true. If I simply take time to remember God’s fierce love even when deadlines loom, over-packed schedules crush my soul, and life comes crashing in, I am comforted. When I take the time to hear God whisper, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) my heart pushes back the deadlines, the busyness, and the looming darkness to rest in the joy of God’s grace.

Margaret reminds us that no matter what life brings, God can help us fight our way back to joy. Her book and Bible study give us the tools to win the battle.

Purchase the book here and here and the Bible study here!

Question: How do you fight for joy?

How to Live with a Holy Longing

HowToLiveWithAHolyLonging

 

A holy longing.

I love that phrase.

There are a lot of things I long for: my family nearby, time with friends, a little more success, a new handbag, dark chocolate that has no calories. The list could go on and on.

I tend to beat myself up about this because the really disturbing thing is that even when one of my desires is met, I’m not immediately satisfied. Instead of sitting back and thinking–Now I have everything I want, all is well–I start wanting the next thing on my list.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what is wrong with me. After all, I’ve been a Christian a long time. I should have made a little more progress on this contentment thing.

 

Then I read this quote by Augustine:

The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing.

Suddenly everything made sense. A good Christian will not be satisfied here on earth. In our hearts we will always be longing for more because we were made for more than this world. No matter how big our houses are, or how successful we are, or how much money we have in the bank, we will naturally want more. While all of those things can be good things, they won’t truly satisfy.

2 Corinthians 5:2 puts it this way:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

In this life we groan, because whatever we have now simply can’t be enough. We yearn for the time when we will be in heaven, perfected in holiness united with Christ.

Perhaps this is one of those unlikely truths in God’s kingdom, but when I realized that I won’t be satisfied while here on earth, I began to be more content.

To me, living with a holy longing means:

  • I don’t have everything I want–but God has given me some amazing gifts–I can be thankful.
  • I don’t have everything I desire–but I’m trusting that my Lord is leading me on an amazing adventure–I can watch in expectation for His plan.
  • I don’t have everything I long for–but I know that someday I will–I can begin to hold my Savior’s hand with patience.

All my little wantings–all my silly desires for cute shoes and dazzling success–are actually a shadow of something deeper:

a holy longing.

Question: How would you describe a holy longing?