The Ache for Righteousness is Love

I know the ache so well.  It’s come more times than I can count – sometimes poignant, sometimes just with that lingering sigh beneath the movements of my day. Often it rises with the remorse over my tone with my kids – why was I so impatient? It surfaces with the sting of my selfishness — Jesus, help me overcome this self-centeredness. Or it manifests in the disheartenment over the years that didn’t look as fruitful as I’d imagined they would — O Lord, the reaping feels so feeble. Many times I know the ache in the gap I experience between what I’ve beheld and believed in Him, and what I see in the present.

The gaps of my shortcomings, the question marks over seasons of lack, the breach between what I know and what I see, always spur an aching in my soul — birthing that reaching cry:

This isn’t as it should be. I know there is more.

And if I’m honest, these heartaches have been hard to interpret at times. Is it accusation? Self-condemnation? An arrow that needs to be dislodged from my heart? Am I right to ache this way? How quickly some would step in to assert: You need grace! You’re being too hard on yourself. There is no condemnation in Christ! 

And oh how I’ve tossed and turned many a night in the wrestle of it all.

Yet recently Jesus spoke into one of these wrestles of mine in such a way that settled something deep in me — and I don’t think I’ll ever wrestle with these questions in the same way again.

I came to Him with my heavy heart in tow, with all the aching and the lacking, all the voices and opinions like a wadded up burden in my arms. And I laid it there before the Overseer of my soul, my heart pouring out like water along with it, my tears voicing that tender ache of a prayer beneath it all — I just want to love You (1 Pet. 2:25; Lam. 2:19).

And in response to my laid-bare-burden, He took me by the hand and brought me back to those times along the path when I’ve experienced those gaps — those shortcomings that seem to break the stride of my love for Him and leave me weeping.

And as we moved in close to see those stretches of my love imperfect — of my actions rooted in fear and pride and independence — He bent low and cupped in His hands the ache beneath the shortcoming, demonstrating what He sees in these times. There, He drew close to Himself the groaning of my heart that accompanied these moments. Finally, He stood and lifted a banner ­over these places—an emblem inscribed with the declaration: LOVE.

And then I broke again, joy mingled in with the aching.

He calls it love. He takes the ache of my failures and names it affection. My feelings of loss. The hovering question marks over dreams half-lived. The painful disappointments and sadness over those moments when the outward actions are poor displays of the inward affections. He evaluates these not as points of pain to evade but a lovesickness to embrace.

When actions fail, He cups the mourning of my heart in His hands. When pride dominates the day, He bends His ear to the tears wept in the night. And in these places, He lifts a banner to define that part of the story. He declares, “Love. I call it love.

And I argue, “But I wanted to love You with that love so extravagant, so perfect and so unbroken.” And He again holds the ache in His hands and says “Until that Day, this ache, this mourning – fills the spaces. A broken and contrite heart, I will never despise” (Ps. 51:17).

And He turns to every accuser — both within and without — every voice that would bring a charge when shortcomings span the days, and He declares with a sweeping, vindicating pronouncement:

LOVE. I call it love.

When sincere pain over my deficiencies arises, rather than recognizing the hurting as part of love — the part that grieves over the gaps between what I’ve tasted in Him and what my actions convey — I’ve at times interpreted it as condemnation, that age-old weight I’m to put off. Yet Jesus calls it something different; He named it hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). He recognizes it not as a sign of something gone wrong but of love forging ahead into fullness.

And this is what we need to be reminded of when we hurt over our lacks. Aching over our shortcomings is the holy struggle of passion waging its good warfare. And the more we grow in love for Him — the more we see Him in His beauty and taste of His majesty — the more poignant the aching.

When our “gaps” in love are harder than they once were — even increasing with the years — it is not because we’ve left grace behind, but because grace has enabled the tenderizing that refuses to make peace with any disparity in holy passion.

All the places in our lives that do not exonerate the beauty we’ve known in Him cause us heartache, not of condemnation but of adoration. We adore Him and we want our lives to display His loveliness.

Where actions fall short, the ache of hunger for righteousness lifts a banner (Matt. 5:6). It’s an emblem of our love for Him. Shortcomings are many but sincerity wins the story. These gaps are not proof of love gone awry but displays of the ache of love that burns hot in the inconsistencies.

When what I see with my eyes today is so far from what I know and believe — when today seems so distant from the glorious future I know will surely come, the gift in the waiting is the lovesick heart. To pour out a loving ache that says, “Jesus, I long for You, for all that You are and all that You will do.”

And again, He receives the aching as love and stakes a banner in that holy space awaiting fullness.

His banner over me is love (Song. 2:4).