When you’re weary of unmet longings, run to your Shepherd.
During my time in ministry, I had the privilege of meeting with people who needed help navigating difficult seasons of life. From those conversations, I learned that most, if not all, of their issues had one thing in common: longing. It’s that prolonged sense of disappointment. I believe longing is the emotional response to the gap between the life you hoped for and the one you actually have. Like many experiences in life, longing presents all sorts of questions. But one particular problem with longing is that those questions tend not to have easy answers. Even more so, when life gets to be too hard, our immediate reaction is usually to run away. Almost instinctively, we will dedicate the majority of our emotional resources to finding safety, fulfillment, significance, and security outside of the Lord.
Longing is the emotional response to the gap between the life you hope for and the one you actually have.
But the truth is our practices of emotional escapism don’t work. The pain we are running from will eventually show up in another area of our life. So instead of running away from the Lord, our best option is to run to Him, for He is the only One who can bring our soul the healing it desires.
Scripture is full of examples of God’s people running to Him for spiritual restoration, but one of my favorites is Psalm 23. As David writes the words that are familiar to many of us, tradition suggests he is hiding from his son Absalom who is trying to kill his father to secure his kingship. Whatever the setting, it would be an understatement to say David was experiencing significant hardship and longing. But rather than ignore his pain, he embraces it, choosing to find strength in the unwavering character of God. In the first few verses of this psalm, I believe David shares two essential truths about God that help encourage us to run to Him in a season of suffering or longing.
In verse one of Psalm 23, David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd.” With these opening words, David attributes a role to God that he understood well. Before David was a king, he was a shepherd, so he knew how a shepherd continually works to care for his sheep, providing them with a consistent source of attention and tangible evidence of his love. David knew how a shepherd would provide food and water for his sheep, a safe place to sleep, and protection against danger. So in the first verse, David highlights the intimacy of care, attention, and love he receives from God.
When we experience prolonged seasons of suffering, we may believe God is oblivious to or unbothered by our pain. Yet, the opposite is true. Our compassionate God cares deeply about His children. (See Isa. 49:13; 2 Cor. 1:4.) I am reminded of this when I read through the Gospels and learn how Jesus interacted with those who were suffering. The tears He shed over the death of Lazarus always stand out to me. (See John 11:35.) Jesus knew He would resurrect Lazarus but still wept over his death. He did not push past the grief of Lazarus’ sisters but entered into their pain with them.
God brings His children back to a place of peace.
In the same way, Jesus cares about the brokenness in our lives and is present with us in our pain. And His presence is not passive but active. Our compassionate God is not only standing with us in our suffering, but He is also working to bring us provision and healing.
At the end of verse 1 through verse 3, David continues, “I have what I need. He lets me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” God doesn’t just find David any type of food and water source. He provides him with one that is peaceful and serene — overflowing with abundance. But this provision is linked to God’s greater goal of restoration. David’s use of the word renews paints a picture of how, as a shepherd, God brings His children back to a place of peace when our lives drift off into a place of brokenness or hardship. And this peace is not just a warm emotional feeling but “shalom,” a state of completeness or wholeness where everything is as it ought to be.
Prolonged seasons of suffering or longing can make us weary as our souls become tired from carrying the weight of our pain. Because God cares about our pain, He sees our weariness and steps in to provide us with spiritual restoration. Whether He changes our circumstances or gives us a respite in the middle of them, God will provide us with the rest we need. By His grace we gain fresh spiritual energy that rejuvenates our hope and joy. I have seen God do this through a good meal with friends or by removing me from an unhealthy work environment. No matter if it’s small or large, I believe God is continually working to provide His children with rest; our job is to have the eyes to see it and the humility to receive it.
I think back to the ministry conversations I had with people who were navigating seasons of suffering. Sadly, some people I talked with were stuck, unable to live with the pain they were carrying. But others were thriving, having somehow learned to find joy amid their longing. Over the years I saw a consistent trend that accounted for this vast difference. Those who were thriving found rest from their pain in God; the other group did not.
We live in a fallen world, which means that longing and suffering will, unfortunately, be companions with us on our journey through life. The world will give us plenty of options to run from our pain, but only with God can we truly embrace it and heal from it. So when the weight of life becomes too heavy to carry, I hope you choose to run to the Lord to find rest.
ELIZABETH WOODSON is a Bible teacher and author who is passionate about equipping believers to understand the theological truths of Scripture. She is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, contributing author for World on Fire, and author of Embrace Your Life.