Thirst. It is summer, and we can all relate to being thirsty more this time of year than any other. But what about the thirst in the soul that demands our attention all year round? Whether it is a vacation, a blockbuster movie, time with friends (or worse things like over-drinking or over-eating), we all have ways to satiate our soul thirst just as we do our physical thirst. Although we drink down those tasty, cool refreshments to quench our physical thirst, we will feel thirsty again. Same too with our soul thirst.
Dr. Larry Crabb, author of the book "Inside Out", says that remaining a comfortable distance from inside problems that create a soul thirst is strongly encouraged in our society and our religious circles. "It is important to realize that deadening the pain of unmet longings does not make them go away." (pg. 93) He remarks that the fact that we treat what will help us as a path toward death and that which won't help as the path toward life is "a tragic commentary on how far we have gotten off the beaten track".
My thoughts on this are that thirst does not go away and neither is it intended to. Physical thirst keeps us drinking liquids so that our body stays nourished. If we weren't thirsty, we wouldn't bother to drink what we need to, and we would die. So, if physical thirst provides a service, perhaps a soul thirst does too. The word thirst reminds me of the word longing. It is not a far stretch to say that on a regular basis our soul longs (thirsts) for fulfillment that people and things cannot always provide. What do we do with those unmet longings?
One thing is for sure, we don't like going around with unmet longings. It makes us feel vulnerable, exposed. Can others see I don't have it all together? That I have needs? That I need support in this moment? With our strong independent natures, we take the proverbial fig leaf to cover our nakedness, and make some real beautiful origami out of it, don't we? Then we take our nifty coverart and hide behind it. This way when people look upon us they see the art work of our self-protection and are sufficiently entertained. Perhaps they even exclaim "how stylish!". Meanwhile, we are a walking ball of unmet needs that we stuff and then we take out that frustration on other people and ourselves.
Dr. Crabb describes this vividly saying that our ache goes "underground where it can't be dealt with effectively while it continues to press for relief with increased, subtle urgency." And this, the author suggests, is where real bad habits and unhealthy replacements often come in. When we use pleasures or anything else to quench our longings, the thirst becomes "a demanding tyrant, driving us toward whatever relief is available. Our god becomes our appetite". Now you may think of habits like drinking, over-eating, pornography addiction and all the other overt bad boys. However, have you ever thought of productivity, controlling others, memorizing scripture, sucking up every bit of head knowledge you can, and entertainment as habits that keep you in denial ?
"Self protection is silent killer of true community"--Crabb
It is important to emphasize here what Dr. Crabb emphasizes in his book: being and staying aware of thirst is important. Thirsts, longings, desires are not bad. Pain and emotional hurt is not something we should rush to cover with scripture, and positive thinking kind of platitudes. It goes without saying that we all do this when longings are too overwhelming and yes, sometimes we do need to shelve something till later, but beware when it stretches to months and years.
So what is the solution? I think the solution isn't important. Ironic and annoying, I know but bare with me. This is where physical thirst and soul thirst diverge. It could be less important that we quench soul thirst unlike physical thirst. It might be more important as first step (which Crabb agrees with) that we explore it to see what it is telling us. What is the soul thirst tied to? Where are you being led? Our physical thirst brings us to the nutrients our physical body needs. Is our soul thirst bringing us to something nutrient rich for our soul?
We know that people, money and things provided limited reward on a soul level. I love this quote by Dr. Crabb "Without an appreciation and acceptance of what we long for, our ability to love will be limited by a failure to recognize the way in which we violate love in order to protect ourselves from personal pain" (pg. 97). It is not easy though because we all have been disappointed or hurt deeply. Whether we admit it or not, we are committed to never experiencing pain again. Just like learning an electric socket is not something to mess with, we keep our distance for things like longing and pain. We immediate satiation. Keeping a distance from emotional pain and longing truly is more important to us than being close to God or others.
We hear a lot about thirst from the Christ: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink". I know that for myself God is the only resource that gives me hope to this thirst and helps me dialogue with my thirst. We are mistaken as Christians to think that religious hoops and activity, or that praise song, or more Bible study will quench it. I don't ram religion down my readers throats that much but I'm not shy about God's work with me either. I will just say that I believe from experience that our soul nutrient is God and love and that's where our thirst is leading us to daily. Most people who don't believe in a God can at least believe in love.
Dr. Crabb provides a few remarkable things to do when thirst pulls on your heart strings. I've altered it just a little so that it speaks to everyone, not just those with a belief in a Higher Power which his book focuses on. First, admit confusion and disappointment around unmet longings. Don't cover it up with dogmatism, easy answers or numb yourself with "the anesthetic of denial, forced love, or cheap forgiveness". Let your confusion and disappointment drive to you faith in yourself or God.
Last, let conviction drive you to love. Look squarely at your modes of self-protection from pain, relationships with others, and what you long for. If you stay in denial, the thirst will cry out more and propel all your habits that you use all the harder. Let conviction open you up to the reality that it's okay to thirst and not every single solitary thing will be met perfectly in this life, all the time, everywhere. This will open your heart in authenticity and make you open to love and a deeper understanding of self so that you can be open, empathetic and loving to others who also thirst just as you do.
Stay thirsty, my friends. Well, we don't have much of a choice, do we? Perhaps its better said, stay aware of your thirst, and realize those around you will thirst too. Admit your confusion, disappointment and let that drive you to conviction and love.