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A Man’s Reach: 26 - The Discipline of Wistfulness

Glenn Clark A Mans Reach front cover

The Power of Wistful Love

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Hi, Friends,

A dictionary defines wistful as ”being full of melancholy or yearning, or having a mournful or regretful longing. An example of wistful[ness] is when you look back on your past and wish you had done something differently.”

Here is an example of wistfulness from Glenn Clark's autobiography.1 A business trip had taken him to the city where he grew up. During a late-night walk something guided him to his childhood neighborhood and the small house where he once lived. It was a wistful moment. Standing outside his childhood home, he saw through the window his childhood past, with his mother and father, brothers and sisters inside, waiting for him to be home. He says, “There I stood outside a door I had no right to open—a little boy who wanted to go home, suddenly discovering that his home was no more.”

That doesn’t sound positive or practical, does it? Should we allow regret into our consciousness? Should we be looking back, wishing we had done some things differently? Here is what Glenn Clark says:

if I had the choice between having all the gold of the world or all its wistfulness, I would choose the latter. The asking, seeking, and knocking at the gates of Heaven would bear results long after the wealth was all dissipated.

This single sentence provoked in me a deep desire to know the blessing in wistfulness. Like Clark peeking outside of his childhood home, I often find myself drawn to memories of moments that I wish I could revisit or that I could change. How can it be that Glenn Clark would choose wistfulness over all the gold in the world?

What Glenn Clark is choosing is not really wistfulness, but rather wistful love. He says, “The lever that directs [wistfulness] and releases it both at the transmitting end and the receiving end is Love.” He shares several passages about the wistfulness of Jesus who cried at the tomb of Lazarus and for the state of Jerusalem. Clark concludes that millions have been saved from sickness and sorrow and sin through the wistful love of Jesus Christ.

What Glenn Clark teaches me is that when I place myself in a consciousness of the wistful love of Jesus Christ there is no need to resist my own wistfulness. The blessing in wistfulness is that it can be directed by love. So Love can feel wistful. And wistful love can heal. Because it can heal, wistful love is worth all the gold in the world.

Further, I learned that Love guides the heart in some mystical way to our ultimate destination. It does that through wistfulness. Wistfulness reveals that which I genuinely love. And, once that which I genuinely love is revealed, I not only heal but also find myself heading home. That is the power of wistful love.

Mark Hicks
Sunday, September 18, 2022

  1. Glenn Clark, A Man’s Reach. 1949 Harper & Brothers. Chapter 26, “The Discipline of Wistfulness”

PS: Glenn Clark writes about homesickness and the desire to go home in Fishers of Men. Click Here to learn more about his book. And if you are in the United States, Click Here if you would like a free copy sent to you.



The Discipline of Wistfulness

The way the gymnasium came into being through prayer naturally created in me the desire to use this prayer power to help the college in still larger ways. Edward Neill was its founder, the George Washington of its destiny. James Wallace was its savior, the Lincoln in its time of crisis. In the hard times of the nineties the college had used up its endowment and was deeply in debt, and the trustees announced they were going to close its doors and put it into the hands of a receiver. It was then that James Wallace had offered to shoulder its burdens and take upon himself the responsibility for its survival. With nothing but prayer and courage to build on, his faith was rewarded and the college lived. After the hard times were over he was made head of the Bible department and a younger and more “high-powered” money-raising type of executive was appointed president.

After the gymnasium came I gathered a little group of teachers and students who believed in prayer, to make it our special commission to pray for the college. When our group came together one day the conviction came to me with great force that the way to begin our vision of a perfect college was to see it as a whole, from its early past to its distant future-bringing its seed time and its harvest time together in their logical and irresistible sequence. Then it was that it came to me that just as the seeds of the Christian Church are the blood of its martyrs, so the seeds of Macalcstcr College were the very wistfulness and yearnings and even the frustrations of Doctor Wallace and others like him who loved and believed in the college in its early days. Then I knew that those early prayers of James Wallace were going right on being answered.

I have often proclaimed before audiences that if I had the choice between having all the gold of the world or all its wistfulness, I would choose the latter. The asking, seeking and knocking at the gates of Heaven would bear results long after the wealth was all dissipated. And so as we prayed for Macalester College the figure and faith of old Doctor Wallace became the symbol of our prayer.

To trace the thread of all that happened after that would carry this researcher into realms where he has no right to tread. When I contemplate dear old Doctor Wallace’s wistful hopes for three things that were dear to his heart, his children, his college and his world, I am in the realms of the intangibles and the imponderables. All I know is that all his dreams seemed to come into materialization. Without attempting to trace the steps of his wistfulness, from dream to destiny, I can sum them all up in these three simple words. The Header’s Digest. In the original vision of this magazine in the mind of DeWitt Wallace, youngest son of Doctor Wallace, many of Doctor Jimmy’s dreams came into fruition.

Exaltation is the offspring of success; willfulness is the offspring of failure. In a previous chapter I referred with something like exaltation to the unfolding influence of a lad named Ray. I neglected to mention an earlier incident in his life that awakened in me a great wistfulness. When he had first presented himself as a candidate for my team—an unregenerate young lad who took pride in being called “tough”—my prayer for his regeneration lacked power. He had ridden “the rods” in a drizzling rain one night to Des Moines to watch the Drake Relays. When the meet was over and I had the team around me at the station in another drizzling rain, Ray came to me and asked if I could lend him money to buy a more comfortable passage home. When I found I didn’t have a cent to spare, a great wistfulncss went out from me for this lad who was doomed to ride another night in a chilling rain. In one night that wistfulness changed my sterile prayer into a creative prayer, and the great change that came to him, I have no doubt, was bom that night.

As Stephen crumpled in death beneath the stones of his persecutors, he must have looked with wistful yearning at the young man Saul whom his teachings had utterly failed to reach. Can it not be that the wistiulness of Stephen in his dying moments contained the seed that brought the vast harvest of Pauline Epistles into being? Can it be possible that the wistfulness with which Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, “Let this cup pass from me,” and on Colgotha. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” released the cosmic power that created the great Christendom that followed? At any rate I do know this, that my own failures when coupled with wistfulncss have borne greater fruit than all my successes.

I can illustrate the way this factor of wistfulness operates by an incident that happened on a journey to the Drake Relays which are held annually in Des Moines. On Friday the preliminary races are run and on Saturday the finals. One night after the first day of the races was over I tucked my boys in bed and went for a stroll into the section of the city where my boyhood days were spent. As I passed the Crocker School grounds where I had played tag, one-o’-cat and blackman, wistful memories ran through my mind. I paused before the comer drugstore where I had often gone to buy the ice cream for Sunday dinner, or a bottle of castoria or a box of Smith Brothers cough drops. Old memories came back stronger and stronger, wave upon wave. When I saw the lights of the little cottage which was once my home, I was a boy again, going home to my father and mother, my brothers and sisters. I could see them all waiting for me around the evening lamp. As soon as I entered the cottage the reading would begin, or the game would start. With a beating heart I drew near the house. Through a window I could see the evening lamp upon the table, now burning electricity from the hills. I went up into the yard and peered through the window, and there I could see the old fireplace around which we had so often gathered. There was the old mantel ‘to which we had fastened our stockings on Christmas Eve.

Almost unconsciously I started for the front porch. I wanted to burst in and tell father and mother how glad I was to get back, and then all of a sudden I came out of my dream. There I stood outside a door I had no right to open-a little boy who wanted to go home, suddenly discovering that his home was no more.

Homesickness flooded me, inundated me. I was well-nigh overcome, suffocated with nostalgia. Then I knew that all mankind and womankind suffer and will continue to suffer from homesickness. No matter how old, or how young we are, homesickness is the thing that grips us all. For as someone has said. “We are all born in the valley of the perfect, and we shall be homesick until we find our way back whence we came.”

Since then when people come to me for help, I am not so zealous about probing into their troubles or sins trying to diagnose their symptoms in detail in order to find out the cause. I know their trouble before they start to tell me; I have already diagnosed the ailment and found the cause. It is always the same: homesickness. There is only one thing I need do for them-and that is to take them home. I must give them a vision of the one who makes all things perfect. If through anything I say, do, or am. I can arouse in them an urge, a desire, a supreme wistfulness to get to Him, then they are on their way home.

But how is the power in this wistfulncss directed? How can we know it reaches its mark? The lever that directs it and releases it both at the transmitting end and the receiving end is Love. Antagonism or lack of love can ground it, shut off its power.

But even when its power is deflected from the point toward whieh it was directed, the power of wistfulness is never lost. The more barriers erected against it the higher its current rises until when it is lifted high enough it energizes the whole world.

When Jesus approached Lazarus’ tomb, his wistfulness was so great that it burst forth into sobs, the only time we were told that Jesus wept. The hearts of Lazarus’ sisters were responsive to this wistfulncss and in consequence the door of the tomb gave forth its dead. But when Jesus was possessed with an even greater wistfulncss for an entire city and cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not”—the door was dosed against him and the city was destroyed. But the power generated by this wistfulness was not lost—it overflows even to this day, bringing blessing to cities that are open to receive him. Millions have been saved from sickness and sorrow and sin through what is called the redemptive love of Christ, which is another way of saying through his wistful love. Jesus described that love in his story of the frantic search of the woman for her lost coin, and the great rejoicing of the good shepherd over Ending the one lost sheep. In the Gospels it is epitomized in John 3:16.

Of all my associates, the one who possesses this gift of wistfulncss in greatest degree is Frank Laubach. Next to him I would place Kagawa. When Laubach gave his life to the Moros, Mohammedan head-hunters of Mindanao, in the Philippines, he was not permitted to teach them Christ. All he could do was to live among them and love them while a great wistfulncss flowed out to them. He poured out his longing in personal letters to his father, now collected in The Letters of a Modem Mystic. Finally this wistfulncss. dammed back for years, rose to such heights that it simply overflowed the world. Therein lies the secret of the power that has enabled him to become the apostle of light to all the illiterates of the earth.

But while creating over a hundred new written languages in which he is bringing the story of Jesus to the illiterate, he is also discovering that we so-called literate nations, the center of a so-called Christian civilization, are the most spiritually illiterate people of all! Nine-tenths of the good, conventional church members know little or nothing of the marvelous languages by which we can carry on conversations with our Father in Heaven. I have often seen tears in the eyes of Frank Laubach, and heard his voice tremble as he pleaded with ministers and laymen to pray for world situations with the absolute faith that their prayer would be answered.

I hesitated a long time before writing these chapters that deal with answered prayer. But while I was hesitating, a letter came to I me from Frank Laubach, right out of the heart of Africa where he was at that moment producing a score of new written languages where none had existed before. Here was a man whose phenomenal service to the world was entirely a result of prayer, as revealed in his book, Prayer, the Mightiest Force in the World. The tragedy today, he wrote, was the way Christian people everywhere were turning a deaf ear toward stories that dealt with the power of prayer. He begged me to set an army of researchers to work garnering all the authentic answers to prayer in my own life and the lives of others and spread far and wide the “good news” that God still hears prayer!

Agnes Sanford’s book The Healing Light and Rufus Moseley’s Manifest Victory are all part of the answer to this request of Frank Laubach. Another answer is Recovery by Starr Daily, telling the experiences of Pastor Brown. And finally this book that I am writing right now is my own feeble attempt to give to the world an authentic experience of answered prayer. The only excuse I have for writing the story of my life, the life of an ordinary college professor, is the service that such a story may render people in trouble, who may find in these particular chapters levers that will lift them from the dilemmas into which the world has thrown them.

If the reading of this book will turn people to the Scriptures I shall be glad. If these chapters will serve to validate the promises of the Bible something will be accomplished. But behind the promises of God lie the laws of God. Back of all these answers to prayer lie the disciplines. The reason I am giving these incidents in such detail is in order to make clear the disciplines. So I join my wistfulness to the wistfulness of Laubach and Kagawa for prayer to be accepted by the Christian Church everywhere as the mightiest force in the world. Only when that comes to pass do I see hope for the world in this age of need.

© 1949, Harper and Brothers.