"The literal translation of the words 'pray always' is 'come rest.’" - Henri Nouwen
Prior to my sabbatical there was an overwhelming sense of restlessness in my life. Everything felt incomplete and lacking. A constant sense of discontent and dissatisfaction plagued my mind. This led to painful frustration, cynicism and anger. My soul was empty, and I was going to all the wrong places to refill it.
- I preferred worrying to praying.
- I preferred buying things to witnessing the beauty of nature.
- I preferred reading random things on the internet instead of books.
- I preferred searching for new houses to being grateful for the one I have.
- I preferred looking at my iPhone to playing with my kids.
Of course none of this is uncommon in our society. The constant thirst for more money, more success, more experiences, or more followers on social media leads to a chronic state of restlessness.
Turn Restlessness into Rest
- Own your pain and incompleteness. The hard truth about life on this planet is that desire is always stronger than satisfaction. As human beings we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. There is a discontent in all things. What we do with that discontent is our spirituality.
- Give up false messianic expectations. Stop expecting that someone, some place, some circumstance will make you completely happy. Stop demanding that our spouse, families, friends, and jobs give us what only God can give us.
- Go inward. When we are restless, everything in us screams to move outward, to seek some activity that will soothe or numb the ache. However, to find rest we must move inward, away from all activity. Sit still long enough for restlessness to turn to restfulness, impatience to patience, self-absorption to altruism, and heartache to empathy.
“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
Spiritual desire is the drive that God put in us from the beginning, for total satisfaction, for home, for heaven, for divine union. The problem is this desire got displaced onto the wrong things.
Discipleship is about learning to be attentive to, and intentional about what you desire. It is more a matter of hungering and thirsting, than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to realign our desire with his.
Ron Rohlheiser points out that in the sermon on the mount Jesus prescribed four things as essential for restoring a healthy spiritual desire:
- Private prayer and morality
- Social justice
- Mellowness of heart and spirit
I think the most important of these at this point in my life is "mellowness of heart and spirit." Learning to slow down, to stop worrying and beginning to trust. Learning to enjoy every moment, to find rest in contentment. It is only hour-by-hour gratitude that is strong enough to overcome the restlessness in my soul.
"Mellowness" requires more self-awareness but less self-consciousness.
Learning to sit still with Jesus. Finding regular times of silence, solitude and prayer. Allowing the Holy Spirit to regularly make a searching and fearless moral inventory of your life. Redirecting our deepest hopes, desires and fears from the temporal to the eternal. For in order to overcome restlessness it is your soul that needs to change, not your circumstances.
- Pastor Paul