“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” — C.S. Lewis
I was born to a nominally Catholic mother and an agnostic father. While I did attend Sunday school at a Methodist church from roughly Kindergarten through 6th grade, I would not say I grew up in a religious household by any means. I know my mother kept a Bible tucked away in her bedside table, but from what I can remember, I knew more about where it came from (it was my great grandmother’s, and it was old and delicate and beautiful), than what was in it. I had much better access to the literature on the bookcases in my father’s den, where I found the writings of Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell. He and I read them together, and often discussed their claims book club-style.
But before I was old enough to read about alternative ways of thinking, or to inquire about the silk screen cover art on an old Bible, nothing — no religious painting or statue, no learning rote prayers, no regular church routine — nothing in my material experience instigated a spiritual (or non-spiritual) notion. That being said….
I have always believed in God. Always.
Well, perhaps “believed” is not quite the correct word, because it seems to imply a choice of sorts — a choice that proceeds an examination of evidence and then some sort of commitment to a particular conclusion.
And because of the intellectual capacity required to hold a belief, I know that I could not have possibly “believed” in God as a baby, or maybe even as a toddler. But, from the moment of my first conscious thought — from the time I first became self-aware — the notion of something “other,” something beyond my five senses, was perfectly real to me.
And trust me — I have a lot of memories from my early life. I have fact-checked the details with adults who “knew me when,” and I can safely say that my recollections are on-point with reality.
So, God was real, and obvious, and inarguable from the very beginning just like arms and legs, and thoughts and ideas, and the breath that went in and out of my lungs in a particular rhythm to keep me alive.
So while “believed” might not fit, “known” seems to.
Let’s say instead that I have always known God.
He just was.
Now, I know if I was you reading those words I just wrote, I would want a little more.
But, how did you just “know?” I’d wonder. What does that really mean? And how do you know you really knew anyway? I’d insist.
It’s so difficult to properly articulate. Language can’t do it justice, but I’ll try:
When I close my eyes and fully concentrate on how I know — and have always known — that God is, I keep coming back to this analogy about milk.
Alright, do you remember being a kid and spending the night at your best friend’s house? And how, upon waking up in that friend’s house the next morning — even though you had a blast, and you didn’t exactly want to go home just yet — something felt a little “off?”
It’s usually the milk.
I know you didn’t like the brand of milk they had in the fridge — I know because nobody does. Milk is such a personal thing, and when the cap is green instead of purple, and when the label has an image of a daisy as opposed to a monogram of the store’s name your mom shops at, well, you don’t really want to pour it into your cereal bowl.
But you’re hungry and you’re thirsty.
And the milk is perfectly fine — fresh and cold and full of Vitamin D.
And you really don’t want to go home over some friggin’ milk. So you use it.
But drinking it, you still feel thirsty for the “better” milk. The one stocked in your own fridge. In fact, this perfectly fine milk now before you actually makes you thirstier. You are partaking in what you thought you wanted (cold milk in a bowl of cereal), but yet, as right and correct as it is to ingest this milk, it actually leaves you yearning for a better version of it.
It literally leaves you longing.
Well, even as a very young child, all the seemingly “good” things that I thought I wanted always left me thirsty — longing — for more; they seemed a mere shadow of what could possibly be.
They were right and true, but they weren’t complete, exactly. And I somehow knew it.
Curled up against my mother in her big, fluffy, marshmallow bed, the lights dimmed and a pile of library books between us….
Nestled in the crook of a medium-low branch on my favorite climbing tree, my fingers stained orange from popsicle juice nearly matching the hazy hues of the evening sky….
Standing barefoot on ice cold squares of kitchen tile in the middle of the night, drinking apple juice from a Tupperware cup to chase the bitter tang of Children’s Liquid Tylenol….
Purer moments of perfect childhood bliss I dare you to find.
I always had to breathe in really, really deep — to drink in the faint scent of Prell in my mom’s hair; or the heady, sickly sweet air of Spring at dusk; or the sugary nectar with notes of dish soap against muted plastic — because it was never enough.
The comfort, the warmth, the safety, the beauty, the contentedness, the love — it was never enough.
And Prell and sweet air and dish soap against plastic weren’t exactly my aim, but they were the only ways I could conjure more layers for a bigger and truer experience.
And this is not at all to suggest that I didn’t like or appreciate what I had.
This is not to imply I was never happy. Quite the contrary.
I had a childhood full of all I could ever possibly need, and, embarrassingly, even a bit of indulgence.
But, I always intuited that there was something more — something beyond. A better, more fuller version of whatever good thing that was playing out around me.
Even before I had a word for it, even before I officially “believed” in Him, I sensed it was Him that I wanted. God — the comfort, the warmth, the safety, the beauty, the contentedness, the love that actually is enough. The “good” milk with the “right” label and purple cap, if you will.
I think we are all born knowing this. But I also think we tend to forget….
Years and age and time cast dark and distracting shadows over simple truths I once saw so clearly. As an adult, I have many times nearly lost my way. I have many times mistaken wanting more in this world for needing more from this world.
But then, a few years ago, during a journey of rediscovery, I read what C.S. Lewis had to say about longing and insatiable desires. And then, in my journal, I wrote the following synopsis after closing his book:
We have a longing in our hearts that nothing in this world can fulfill, but it exists because there is something that can fulfill it — heaven/God. Everything good here (falling in love/traveling/securing wealth/a satisfying career/having children) is merely a shadow, capable of producing only a hint of the feeling we truly seek. Yes, there is always an unquenchable longing in our hearts in this world, because we were actually made for another “world.”
And suddenly it all began to make so much sense again.
Even in my best moments, I am merely on the verge of something good.
Isn’t that kind of exciting — to live in a constant state of hopefulness?