Review of Restless: Because You Were Made for More by Jennie Allen
Ever feel like something’s missing? Like maybe, just maybe you were made for more? If so, you’re not alone. Jennie Allen knows how you feel, and she wrote Restless to address those feelings. In the first section, Allen extols the merits of following your dreams (though she is quick to point out that first and foremost our dream should be to bring glory to God’s name, and that only when we are ‘all in’ with Him can we dream properly). From there, she offers counsel on how to figure out what those dreams are by prayerfully considering our circumstances, such as: the suffering in our lives that God uses to shape and grow us; the gifts (spiritual or otherwise) with which he has equipped us; the places where we live; the people around us; and the passions that drive us. By examining these aspects of our circumstances, praying about them, and discussing them with wise and godly folks we know, Allen believes we can discern our ministerial ‘calling’ (for lack of a better word)—that is, how we can best serve the church. This will enable us to figure out what we can do to glorify God here and now, thereby also fulfilling our inner desire for ‘more.’ In the final section, she exhorts her readers to overcome the inner and outer obstacles that hinder their pursuit of their dreams.
On one level, this is Basic Christianity 101: we are missing something—either as non-Christians missing a reconciled relationship with the God who made us, or as Christians missing the perfect consummation of that reconciliation in heaven. And we are made for more: we are made for eternity, for perfect holiness, to bring glory to the name of our Savior, and to worship and enjoy Him forever.
Here’s the thing: Nothing Allen says is wrong. Her theology seems solid, her focus is on God’s glory and the supremacy of Scripture, and she repeatedly shares the gospel with her readers. In that sense, this book is loads better than 95% of the ‘self-fulfillment’, ‘follow your dreams’ guides on the market today—even the ostensibly Christian or Evangelical ones. She’s a competent writer (which works out well, since teaching and writing are her ‘something more’). She culls from reliable sources like John Piper and Tim Keller and Kevin DeYoung (though I would quibble with her understanding of the takeaway point of his Just Do Something). By and large this is a fine book, and I’ve no doubt it will be terribly encouraging to a lot of folks who feel trapped in the mundane day-to-day of life. I confess that I have little experience with the sort of restlessness Allen describes, but it may be that her words will become much more meaningful to me in years to come.
But, as with A Confident Heart a few months ago, I find myself ill-at-ease with the problem identified by the author. While it is certainly true from Scripture that God is sovereign and that He has ordained all the days of your life (and therefore a certain amount of the ‘God has a plan for your life’ business is necessarily true), I’m not sure how much we’re supposed to focus on finding and following our dreams, identifying our super special individual purpose, or angsting over our calling. The focus seems to be more on daily faithfulness. Even Joseph, the biblical character Allen uses as an example, wasn’t really ‘following a dream’ as far as we can tell. (Gen. 37, 39-46) Life happened to him; he wasn’t in a position to make a lot of choices. And when his ‘dream’ literally came true, it wasn’t because of any conscious choice he made to pursue it; it was God’s doing. His ‘choice’ was daily faithfulness wherever God placed him. That was his calling.
In fact, inner restlessness and lack of purpose don’t seem to crop up much in Scripture; it’s a fairly modern invention. A recent article from Cracked.com* (of all places) highlighted the relatively recent nature of this conundrum:
God’s plan for you as laid out in that book [the Bible] is for you to not act like a s***head. Nowhere does it say that every man and woman has a soul mate they’re destined to find, or a career they are destined to be successful in, or a city they are destined to live in.
It would make no sense for it to say that, because back then if you were the child of a sheep herder, you were ‘meant’ to be a freaking sheep herder. Your ‘calling’ in life was to keep the sheep alive, and to get enough food to last the winter, and for your father to arrange a marriage with a nearby person you could make kids with. This whole concept of reaching your 20s and having to suddenly ‘find your calling’ is a brand new idea in society. It’s a modern, First World problem.
In the same vein, I can’t help but wonder if this whole search for ‘something more’ is a bit misguided. The revealed will of God contains more than enough instruction to keep us busy for a very, very long time. Are you a mom? An employee? Single? Widowed? God’s will is for you to glorify Him. Love Him and love others. Believe the gospel. Fight your sin. All your sin—not just the bits that are socially unacceptable. Seek to imitate Christ. Develop the positive traits commanded by Scripture (in his excellent book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges identifies twenty-seven such traits—that’s enough to keep anybody busy for a dozen lifetimes).
Allen is right to encourage us to look for ways to serve and bless the church—local and universal—and minister to others. That is a necessary part of our sanctification. And for those longing to get involved with ministry, Allen’s paradigm is an excellent place to start, particularly if you’re not prone to self-examination and thus lack the self-awareness to know your abilities and desires, or are hesitant to jump in and go after opportunities that line up with those abilities and desires. Allen’s approach may give you the clarity and confidence to step into ministry and start serving.
But the reason for our ministry shouldn’t be our own restlessness or lack of fulfillment. We serve because God commands it and because it honors Him and reflects His character. We serve because people made in His image need our help. Some of us may get to serve in very ‘fulfilling’ ways—starting our own nonprofits or church ministries, writing books, giving talks, etc. But somebody’s got to clean the church toilets and fold the bulletin, whether they find it fulfilling or not. And we all are likely to have seasons of ministry that, while deeply valuable, don’t feel all that fulfilling, whether it’s caring for an ailing relative, juggling the constant demands of young children, working a horrible thankless job, or other mundane, day-in-day-out life stuff. That’s the cost of doing business in a fallen world. And praise the Lord, that’s also an opportunity to glorify God in the daily faithfulnesses, whether we feel fulfilled or not.
So if you have the time and energy and opportunity to serve, do it. And if your abilities, passions, and desires line up with a present need, serve that need. But don’t do it because you’re restless. Don’t ask ministry to fulfill you. That’s the opposite of service.
We are a restless people, nomads far from our eternal home. We live in a fallen world, and we walk around in sin-ridden bodies. We see pain and suffering and heartache every day. No wonder we’re restless.
And really, God never promised us we wouldn’t be. We are promised rest, sure, but it’s rest in Christ. It is first and foremost the rest of knowing that our sins are forgiven, that they’ve been fully paid for on the cross, and now we rest in the care of a sovereign God who loves us as precious children. We aren’t promised the rest of some super-special individual purpose. We are promised strength to face the restlessness of life … and an eternity with the One who is our perfect Rest, the only One who can ever really fulfill us. He is our Something More.
*This article contains profanity
Alexis Neal regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.