We speak often of our hearts and their desires. We feel warmed by a human interest story in the newspapre. We feel drawn to pursue a certain career or hobby. Isn’t it the heart that falls in love? Isn’t it the heart that chases a dream? However, there is a deeper desire that exists within us. This desire crosses the line from a feeling to a yearning. It’s beyond emotion. This fundamental place of need comes from our souls, not our hearts.

David sang, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

Augustine witnessed to the truth of this when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.”

What Augustine referred to as the heart, we refer to as the soul, as in the spirit of a person. Made in the image of God, man has a place that only the Lord can satisfy. We may feel many emotions over the course of the day. We may experience multiple desires. But the yearning of the soul is constant and unchanging. Whether recognized or not, we operate from this place of  soul-hunger.

How do we distinguish between an emotion of the heart and a yearning of the soul?

Emotions are passing. They reflect our hearts’ responses to relationships and circumstances, which are in a state of flux. Emotions may be hard to define because they happen simultaneously and they change just as our minds have begun to understand them.

Certainly there is overlap between heart and soul, although they are considered separate parts in scripture (Luke 10:27). There is certainly a relationship between emotions, which often feed our soul-yearning or seek to define it, and the soul which is actively seeking contentment.

The other day, after receiving punishment, my daughter wanted to know if I still loved her. No matter how many times I say that I do, or that I always will even when I’m angry, she needs to know again. This is her thirsty soul at work, the searching for the unconditional. She knows I love her, but she needs to hear it to rest in it.

The work of our souls is often hidden, and regardless of our feeling happy or sad, angry or at peace, the soul’s yearning persists. It’s the steady thrumming of discontent that undergirds our actions and motivations. We seek to alleviate this discontentment through any number of worldly options. Anything can become an idol for a worship-needy soul – food, career, children, friendships, intellectualism, materialism. Even when a soul has found its rest in the Lord, it still must be reminded of the living water which has quenched its thirst. The temptation to drink the water of this world can still overcome a restful soul.

Have you paid attention to your soul today (or the soul of a loved one)? Pay attention to the whispers of discontent and ask the Lord to reveal the quest of your soul.