There are unexpected moments of wonder as a teacher when the roles between you and your students are reversed. The students teach you things at a moment when you least expect it and you suddenly become their student. It is sublime.
Late one morning I was standing in my reading well with the kids huddled around me. Sometimes I feel like a mother hen with her chicks surrounding her nest. We were reading The Growing Table, a biography of Farmer Will Allen, who wanted to grow food to feed the world. When I asked the kids how they would describe him after I had finished reading the story, one of the students raised his hand and said, "He was smart and he had longing." As the words fell from his lips, I stopped, so intrigued. "What did you mean?" I asked, giving him a high 5. "He had longing to make his dream come true."
As I went to lunch later that day, I wondered about Jesus’ statement, Let the little children come to me…for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. Kids are so full of wonder and perspective. Uninhibited, unafraid to spill fourth what is in their soul. Children, I am convinced, have something to teach us, and we are wise to surround ourselves with them, stopping to listen to what they have to say.
The student in my reading well gave me such pause because I experience a daily dose of L-O-N-G-I-N-G.
“Who thought up this word!?” I have repeatedly asked my friends, almost angry. “It has the word L-O-N-G in it!”
They shrug, unsure how to respond, not liking its nature either.
But I can’t get away from this experience of L-O-N-G-I-N-G. It’s been stretching itself out in me for months. Every day around 9:30AM, while I snack on nuts and cheese, and I feel this ache emerge from my soul. It’s as if someone has taken their fist, reached into my chest, grabbed hold of my heart with their fingers, and is now pulling me along in their grasp.
Longing looks in both directions. In one direction, longing stands at a closed door. Grieving over a beloved past, unable to enter that time or experience ever again. Longing knocks at the door in vain.
Longing also turns and stretches out its fingers over a new horizon, open and willing to grab hold of a breathtaking future that is rising with the sun. They skies are not filled with tears from this angle, but are bursting forth, highlighting the canvas with orange and pink.
It’s scary to name the things we are grieving or are reaching for. We don’t want to say Hope’s name aloud, because we all know that Hope has an ugly step-sister, Disappointment. She crowds the conversation sometimes, endlessly reminiscing about the pain of the past, and when she is done, you want to stop dreaming, stop feeling. You leave the room, realizing you have nothing to say to Hope.
But the second grader in my reading well hasn’t meet Disappointment, or at least, hasn’t learned to listen to her yet. His observation of longing, suggests that it is essential to moving forward, to being expanded. “L-O-N-G-I-N-G is this insightful word that has given feeling to distance. This ache between where we are and where we want to be. Longing, I realized that day, is the discomfort that ultimately propels people forward to make change in the world, to make their dreams a reality. Longing holds hands with hope, and together, their friendship brings forth our dreams.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12