In the past, I’ve been honest about a particular personal hang-up. For whatever reason, I struggle with restlessness.
What that means is that every 6 months – sometimes every 6 weeks – I feel a strong impulse to change things.
Read something different.
Do an eating plan.
Download a new app.
Change my hairstyle.
These are somewhat cosmetic, of course. However there have been times when the desire to make a job change came along with the season of restlessness. I went to the job sites, looking for what was out there. The thought came that perhaps I should go back to school – get a different degree.
My wife looks at me quizzically. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” she says.
And she’s right. I don’t want education, I just want different.
I’ve since made some peace with my restlessness. Largely because I realize my restlessness comes from several different sources.
Some of my restlessness is hereditary. I come from a wistful people, filled with the belief that we are meant to move from accomplishment to accomplishment.
Restlessness also comes because, paradoxically, I am a routine-oriented person. There is something about a routine that is beautiful. It gives light and life to decisions and helps me to say “yes” and “no” when decisions need to be made.
As a restless person who knows the value of ritual and routine, I love to “break” the things I “make.” The helpful and beautiful routines sustain and energize, until they don’t.
I say all of the above to say that one of the significant challenges I – and I believe others – face is the restlessness that leads us away from that which is generative. In other words, even though restlessness can be helpful or hurtful the determining factor is if our restlessness somehow gives us life.
So how does restlessness give us life?
Well, I’m not completely sure.
However, I know that there is a specific gift we need in our times of restlessness. I know this because the one consistent thing about seasons of restlessness in my own life is that I seek one particular thing.
In times of restlessness, we begin to look for space.
By space, I mean a place where we can do something with our restlessness. We often find the best insights into what’s going on in our hearts and souls when we have the space to think, wrestle, and meditate/pray.
When we are unsettled by an argument with a friend or spouse, typically walking away and getting some air can be helpful.
Challenged by our child, we take some time to think about what they said and how we reacted. Then, we often come to a different conclusion.
We leave the office ready to pack a small box and turn in that resignation letter we wrote weeks ago (you know you do this too). Then the drive home, some food, and a little time reminds us that individual days are not the best barometer of reality.
Of course, this also applies to healthy restlessness. We see a need, an injustice, and our impulse is to jump in and help. To be honest, our first impulse to help end an injustice is often to “retweet” or “share.” While this can be helpful, the restlessness we feel in that case is best served by some time to ponder.
What’s really going on?
Who is really acting here, and what are they actually doing?
What is the most helpful thing in this situation?
The work of spiritual formation that leads to the wisdom of Jesus includes this kind of thoughtful space.
It includes space for disciplines and practices, sure. There is plenty of space to think. A space for wisely pondering reality from all angles before we “fire-ready-aim” on social media is a holy piece of soul work.There is a very specific reason that space is the context for encountering our restlessness. It is because space gives us the room to discern first what we need from God. Second, seeking space in our restlessness helps us discern our action and responsibility to God, self, and others.
For example, when I deal with couples who are considering divorce I make mention the option of separation. What I’ve witnessed is that often two people are so intertwined in each other’s hair that they cannot see reality. A time of separation – of space –can provide necessary clarity to the situation. Not always, but sometimes.
As I read the Gospel stories, I see Jesus making this kind of space. When we read the Gospels we see Jesus talking about “the Kingdom of God.”
More often than not, Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom are spatial.
The Kingdom is something we enter into.
It is a place where influence is exerted.
He indicates that the Kingdom is something that comes and specifically to those who have come to terms with reality.
Many of us need to move on from the belief that the Kingdom (or heaven) is a destination to be entered upon the advent of our death. Instead, the Kingdom Jesus talked about is something that is both present and on its way.
The choice then is to enter it.
The Kingdom then is space. It is divine space. God inhabits the Kingdom and the wisdom of Jesus gives contour and depth to that Kingdom. The Spirit enlivens and energizes those who agree to float on the Divine current that is life with God.
Is there a better place to take our restlessness?
In our moments of being unquestionably stirred to change, is there a deeper well to drink from than the one that gives us as much Divinity as we can possibly handle?
The passage described as the Lord’s Prayer is where I see this Kingdom laid out clearly. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, the point isn’t to create liturgy. He isn’t prescribing as much as He is describing a reality.
As I often ask people when I teach the Lord’s Prayer, what would it look like for this prayer to be answered? In our restlessness, answering this prayer means we find the space to live and move and have our being.
Restless souls everywhere are given a ticket into this reality, a place where there is a Kingdom that is unshakeable and never in trouble. When we find ourselves restless and drawn to throw everything out the window, we desperately need a place that is firm even when it is mysterious.
We take our restlessness into the care of the Divine, provided for daily and given energy to repair relationships and avoid destruction.
Restlessness calls us into, around, and out of these very challenges. The Divine gives us space to do the wrestling.
Today, I’m not in a restless place. I’m engaging in the life-giving, generative habits. Yet I know that restlessness will come again at some point.
In that moment, I’ll return to the space where the wisdom of Jesus invites all of us to go. Restless people belong in the space created by “Let your Kingdom come, and let your will be done.”