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Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Praying about longing

Lynne Baab • Tuesday November 21 2023

Friendship, loneliness, and prayer: Praying about longing

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up humming a song. These words kept coming to mind:

But I’ve wandered much further today than I should
And I can't seem to find my way back to the wood
So help me if you can, I’ve got to get
Back to the house at Pooh corner by one
You'd be surprised there’s so much to be done
Count all the bees in the hive
Chase all the clouds from the sky
Back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh

I looked the song up online. I listened to it and learned it was written by Kenny Loggins and recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970, titled “The House at Pooh Corner.” Kenny Loggins wrote an additional verse and recorded the longer song in 1994 as a duet with Amy Grant, titled “Return to Pooh Corner.” You can listen to that duet here.  The lyrics are here.

In the longer version, the new verse speaks from the perspective of the boy who has grown up and become a father. His son sleeps with the father's old stuffed bear. As the father bends to tuck his son into bed, he hears the bear say, “Welcome home.”

I’ve been humming the lilting song for two weeks now, and I so appreciate the sense of longing the song evokes. I long for a place so peaceful that I have time and energy to engage in playful activities like counting bees and chasing clouds. I long for a faithful companion like Pooh, who can count bees and chase clouds with me and who says “Welcome home” when I most need to hear it.

C. S. Lewis argues that we all have that double longing for a place of joy and people with whom to experience it. Several of Lewis’s books include reflections on longing. In The Weight of Glory, he argues that we often use the word “beauty” to describe our longing, but “beauty” masks the depth of the emotion, the inconsolable sorrow, that often accompanies longing. Because we were made for heaven, Lewis argues, the desire for our true home, our proper place, is already inside us. Beauty on earth evokes that desire. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he uses “joy” to try to capture something he often experienced: what he longed for was just on the edge of his vision. He caught fleeting glimpses of it but couldn’t quite get there or grab it.

In Lewis’s most complex novel, Till We Have Faces, Psyche, the sister of the main character, describes the mountain she could see in the distance:

“Because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! . . . The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” [1]

The idea of going back is also present in the song “Return to Pooh Corner.” Going back to something we remember, perhaps faintly, something we glimpse out of the corner of our eye, that pulls us with its beauty.

When we feel loneliness, part of that emptiness is our longing for the place of peace and joy that we were created for. I don’t want to minimize the pain of loneliness, but I want to affirm that feelings of loneliness are a part of the longing placed in us at creation for our true home and our true companions. Hebrews 11 mentions numerous people who died in faith. Then the chapter continues, “They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (verse 16). God hasn’t prepared a beautiful but isolated mountain cabin for us. Cities have people in them, neighbors and companions. In God’s city, all will be right, and we will have faithful companions to enjoy life with us. 

We can begin to pray for this longing in ourselves and others by asking for the Holy Spirit to help us see exactly what we long for. This world is so broken, and we’ve had so much evidence of that brokenness in recent weeks. That brokenness extends to our emotions, which we often misunderstand or can’t perceive accurately. In addition, many of us were raised with “shoulds” related to emotions: Don’t feel sad! You’re not angry! Your mom died a year ago. You should be done with mourning! We may wish for a friend who will help us forget the painful emotions we feel, while in reality, we need to sit in Jesus’s presence with the sadness or anger long enough to feel it before we try to release it into God's presence and love. The Holy Spirit can help us grow in living with and coping with challenging emotions. The Holy Spirit can guide us and those we love who experience loneliness, and we can ask for that help and guidance.

We can also pray that Jesus would teach us to pray when we experience the longing we often identify as loneliness. What is the best way to pray about it? Jesus knows and can teach us.

Jesus, you are the still point in the turning world. In the midst of challenging times, we long for the beauty of your stillness, our true home. We long for deep connections with people we love. We long for your Spirit to bring your fruit to us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Loving God, you planted these longings in us. Please meet us there.

(Next week: The most important listening skill. Illustration by Dave Baab: Southern Alps of New Zealand, from the road between Tuatapere and Manapouri. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

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[1] C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 74-76.

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