When I wrote about the pain of waiting a couple weeks ago, I promised this insight from my friend, Henry Bartel, a fellow sojourner on the path of longing. Henry’s piece today hurts with its honesty and resonance. If you are a pain-avoider like I am, you need these words on the beauty and benefits of letting yourself feel the ache of longing. Be sure to stop by Henry’s blog after reading to say ‘thanks’. 

Everyone’s familiar with it. If we’re honest with ourselves we know it all too well. Whether it’s a friend who’s moved too far away, a relationship that ended too soon, or longing for the answer to a desire that’s been met only with silence, we’re all acquainted with heart-ache.

We feel pain most when we yearn for what is gone or steep in the agony of what is not yet. It’s a bitter-sweet pang we can’t stand, yet for some reason, we can’t put down.

We can’t put it down because the pain now is part of the joy then, a past or future joy.

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When something is taken from us, we cling to the pain because in it there’s a remnant, a shadow of the joy that was. Looking at this, feeling this, experiencing this is part of what it means to mourn. Jesus said it very simply: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus understood this. When we mourn, when we look into the darkest caverns of our heart, what we’re really doing is mining the joy that’s hidden there, uncovering it from the hard, jagged rocks of pain.

This is captured beautifully in this clip from Shadowlands, in which C.S. Lewis talks with his wife about her terminal cancer.

And when the pangs of longing for something that is not yet drive us to our knees, it is those same pangs that hold the exhilaration, the euphoria that comes when the not yet becomes the right now. When we look into the heart-ache of unmet desire, we plant seeds. And in the fertile ground of desire fulfilled, those seeds will sprout and bloom, making what’s already beautiful, stunning beyond description.

It’s so important to let these feelings have their place. If we don’t, we lose something of the human experience. When we stuff or ignore these feelings, choosing not to look into the darkness of heart-ache, we exchange a bit of our joy, whether that’s joy that’s been, or joy that will be, for a brief and momentary comfort. Because you and I both know that when ignored, heart-ache will always come back.

Even more importantly, if we ignore it, if we stuff the pain inside for too long, it starts to grow and change, and when it emerges from the cocoon of the soul, it has metamorphosed into bitterness. So we’ve lost our joy from that season AND we’re angry.

My point is this: when we – you and I – when we encounter heart-ache, the absolute best thing we can do is lean into it. Square your shoulders, steady your feet, and let it hit you like breaking wave. Although it hurts like hell, there’s joy in there. I promise. Don’t lose it.


Henry Bartel is a philosopher at heart. While he might be a little obsessed with cerebral pursuits, Henry also finds himself in search of big hugs, long conversations over coffee, and food – cooking and eating it, and enjoying all of it.

He shares his love of food in his recipes posts at his food blog called Life Plus Food.


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