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The Hungry Heart

By their design, our souls seek satisfaction like a starving man seeks food. Regardless of race, culture or creed, we have one commonality: hungry hearts. What is it our souls hunger for? Relationship.

We have a universal appetite for relational connections. We need connection with our Creator, with ourselves and with others. This need for companionship is our core appetite, and it’s a good one. Learning to nurture this appetite is a critical life skill. Until the heart finds connection with others, it is lonely.

When our true needs go unmet, we can feel desperate. Like a man who is starving for food, and will eat whatever he can find.

As with any type of appetite, soul hunger cries out for satisfaction. The cry itself is both ancient and new. It began long ago in the spirit of humankind, and it resurfaces in the life of each newborn baby. Soul hunger is more basic than the need for air and food, for its nature is spiritual, not physical.

Most of us are equipped to meet the needs of our bodies. We learned as children what to do to have a strong body. But who of us were taught how to nurture our spirits? It seems much of the problem exists between what we truly need and what we really want. For example our true needs are largely internal, while our wants are often external.

If we don’t know ourselves well, we will try to fill an interior appetite with external attachments like people, places and things. These kinds of attachments, however, won’t truly satisfy the hungry heart.

Someone has said that we are not physical beings having spiritual experiences, but we are spiritual beings have physical experiences. Knowing who we are is important. We need to understand what makes us tick.

Spiritual anorexia

It’s easy to busy ourselves with the things we want, burning lots of energy getting the next thing on our wish list. But in the pursuit of our wants, we may become numb to our inner needs. Like a young woman who is physically anorexic and starving herself, we can become spiritually anorexic and waste away.

If we fail to understand our appetite for spiritual nutrition, we’re left to suffer without meaning. Soul hunger wears many faces. In our quiet desperation to be happy, we’re left to question our worth or the meaning of life. We find ourselves bouncing between extremes. We strive. We quit. We begin again, only to find the cycle deepens each time.

The hungry heart is destined to continue its search for meaning. Yet many of us try to intellectualize our needs. We want explanations and assurances that we won’t fail again.

If we remain confused about needs versus wants, we may find ourselves self-medicating. If killing the pain becomes our goal, we may become even more self-destructive. Instead of responding to our painful circumstances with greater understanding, we may react impulsively and dig our hole even deeper.

Time-out

Sometimes the best thing we can do is take a “time-out.” This requires two steps:

  1. Stop comparing. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others — it’s not about them — and take an honest appraisal of ourselves. By dropping our masks of pretense we can begin to embrace the reality of our lives.
  2. Ask the hard questions. What have we been pursuing, and why? How has the pursuit changed us? Have the changes been good or bad? What have I had to sacrifice along the way in my effort to satisfy my wants? Whom have I injured with my insatiable appetite for more?

We need to wrestle not only with life’s meaning, but also with our approach to life’s pain. Since our earlier attempts to avoid pain only made matters worse, we must learn a new way.

A new beginning

If by my nature and life experience I find that I am more spiritual than physical, what do I do? What if I’ve learned that the things of this world really can’t satisfy me? What am I to do now, having learned that nothing I’ve done in the past has worked thus far?

The Bible has many lessons, all of which point to our need for help. It says, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). God’s Word emphasizes how sin deceives us, and how much more, therefore, we hunger for comfort and compassion from a loving God.

The Christian message is that God’s companionship meets us in our desperation. Unfortunately religion about God has been mistaken for relationship with God. Religion can’t satisfy the hungry heart that longs for nurture. Relationship with God satisfies the hungriest heart continually.

A loving God created us. He designed us with the interior need to be cherished, to be loved, to be understood. All of the legitimate needs of humanity were fully met by God before sin traumatized our race. Now that we struggle daily with the reality of sin, we can come to a deeper amazement of God’s kindness.

Instead of writing off the word “sin” as outdated or somehow inhuman, we can come to understand that our sin condition alerts us to our need for God’s intervention of grace.

An ongoing renewal

Our hungry hearts have taken us on quite a journey. In our search for intimacy, many of us know the pain of broken relationships, hopes and dreams. We may be angry with God for not fixing our broken lives. We may have run after people, places and things, trying anything to make us feel better.

When it comes down to the meaning of life, we find that the purpose of it all is to know God and to enjoy Him. Soul hunger isn’t a bad thing. The heart’s cry for intimacy, as it turns out, is really like the survival instinct of a hungry infant crying to be nursed.

By His compassionate nature, God’s ear listens for our cries. He is attentive. In His complete and unfailing knowledge of all things, He orchestrates our lives so that we are willing to feed on Him.

God has many names for Himself. He has identified Himself as a father to the orphans. He is known as the Wonderful Counselor. Our hearts are designed to respond to His love, so that our lives can take on more meaning and reflect the wonder and glory of God.

Choosing grace

Soul hunger is not optional. We have an inborn appetite that won’t go away or settle for substitutes. The nature of soul hunger involves both pain and pleasure. How we cope with the pain and pleasure of our hunger makes all the difference.

Early in our journey we may feel entitled to a life of ease. We may seek to satisfy our wants without concern for deeper things. Living only for today, we can numb ourselves to the core motivating factor in our lives: intimacy with God.

Later in our journey, having learned that we can’t satisfy ourselves, we can choose to slow down and begin to listen for the voice of God. Having been created in His nature, our natures can respond to His kindness. Here we find His pleasure, and our souls are satisfied.

God designed us to respond to His truth. When we recognize our legitimate needs, truth is the only thing that satisfies.

We have a profound need to experience God and His goodness. We can make it our constant ambition to return God’s love authentically. Having found our soul’s satisfaction, we can begin to reflect this love to others.

Once we catch a glimpse of God’s creativity in our lives, it makes sense for us to try to live our lives so that we intentionally connect with more of His grace.

Copyright © 2002 Rob Jackson. Used by permission.