Recently, I found myself watching The Godfather Part III (over the course of a few nights because who has time for full movies when there’s sleep to be had).
The story of the Corleone family is nothing new in history. Even if you haven’t seen the movies (I’d actually recommend the first one!), you can fill in the blanks: #Italianmobboss #organizedcrime #familybusiness #leavetheguntakethecannolis. It’s an incessant cycle of violence and betrayal. For Vito and, later, Michael Corleone, there’s always something more: more money, more wealth, more power.
The thing about the Corleone family is that (without actually spoiling the story arch) the head of the family at the time of the trilogy’s conclusion dies empty and alone.
Sure, we’re not mob bosses chasing exorbitant wealth and power. But we do have something in common with the Corleone family: this emptiness and search for more is something that is hard-wired within us.
Bono knew this when he wrote, “But I still haven’t found / What I’m looking for.”
Akon had a clue when he wrote, “I got everything in this world a man could ever want / If you search deeper inside me all I really need is love from you.”
Beyoncé knew that the “you” from which we’re all searching for fulfillment isn’t our partner: “Here’s a man that makes me then takes me / And delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond.”
Guys. What we’re searching for is that “infinity.” Whether we’re attentive to it or not, at the depths of our being is an incessant search for something more, a seemingly insatiable emptiness and longing.
But guess what — what we’re looking for? It’s not here. It’s God.
This perpetual longing? Turns out there’s a word for that.
C.S. Lewis called it sehnsucht. This German word can be loosely translated as “longing,” “pining,” or “yearning.” It has something to do with the possibility of “more” or “better.”
To illustrate, think of what you ate for dinner last night. For me, this was a grilled sandwich on rye bread with tomato soup. It wasn’t bad. But could it have been better? Definitely. No matter what food we eat, there is always the possibility of tasting something better.
Or, perhaps, think of the most beautiful and peaceful scenery you’ve ever seen. For me, in recent years, this would probably be an early morning sunrise over the Rocky Mountains before embarking on that day’s hike. It was breathtaking. But could there be a more breathtaking sunrise? I sure hope so!
Why can we always imagine something better? It’s because there is something better out there.
Not only that, but sometimes it is in these happy moments that this longing within us is the strongest: watching that Lake Michigan sunset, reaching a mountain peak in a hailstorm, holding a newborn, sharing your life with a close friend over coffee.
This is exactly what C.S. Lewis describes in one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books, Til We Have Faces: “It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills… with the wind and the sunshine.… And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it.”
The thing about sehnsucht is it’s insatiable on this earth. And it’s in our hard-wiring to search for it.
In short, it’s our longing for God.
We all have our journey of emptiness and longing.
For me, an incessant emptiness and dryness has defined the depths of my spiritual life for my entire remembered life. As a nineteen-year-old, I decided it was time to put mind over matter. If Christ truly is present in the Blessed Sacrament, that changes everything.
So I found myself, sometimes for hours, in front of the tabernacle, trying to act as I should given the supposed presence of Christ. Riddled with questions and longing for wholehearted faith in God, I felt I was falling short of any semblance of genuine faith that previously prevailed. My mind was caught in questions of the logical solidity of my faith rather than allowing me to become wrapped in God’s presence.
Amid this forced attempt at “fake it ‘til you make it” faith, I felt required to defend my faith, offering a witness of a religion to which I was not entirely sure why I was committed.
I know I’m not the only one who has been there: we’re all on this journey of faith together, seeking to grasp our faith both in our practice of the faith and in how we question and challenge our faith.
Sometimes, I imagine my soul as a cup, longing to be filled with the Lord. Yet, I realized, once this cup was filled, what would I have to thirst for?
My mind told me I might as well continue to assume that God exists, yet my heart was dry and distant. Yet, it was precisely this emptiness — this thirsting — that kept me returning weekly to His presence. Over time, I began to understand this emptiness as nothing but the voice of God speaking directly to my heart, wrapping his loving arms around me and whispering, “I am here.” I am not satisfied with this finite world, and that disastification is a gift drawing me toward God.
You see, people don’t feel hunger without the existence of food. We don’t feel tired without the existence of sleep. Sure, my little niece may have a desire to be BB-8 or Yoda when she grows up, but that’s not an innate human desire: it’s conditioned by the world around her.
Every single innate human desire has the possibility of fulfillment. This is actually one of the many arguments for the existence of God: the argument from desire. Sure, it’s logically possible that this innate human desire for something more may be the exception. But, if it is an exception, then what a cruel world we live in to fool us so! Of course, it’s also possible for one to deny this eternal emptiness.
We are not mere mortals wishfully dreading our finite end: our souls are made for eternity. Our souls are made for God.
There is a God-shaped hole in the depths of each of our beings.
In our emptiness, in our longing, and in our search for something more, God is present. Every time we find ourselves saying, “somewhere else there must be more of it,” it’s because somewhere else, there is.
It’s not money. It’s not power. It’s not human relationships. It’s not even found in the way early morning mist perfectly places itself on towering silver maples on a mild summer dawn. Searching in these places will only leave us empty. While we can taste heaven on earth, our cups won’t be full until we enter into the eternal embrace of God.