At the Root of Restlessness

Ach. It's probably midlife again. You hit that tipping point and you realize that soon, if not already, you're on that downward slide. Mortality is real. You and your friends begin losing parents. Kids leave home. You or those you love have health problems. You look around you: same job, same house, same car. Restlessness. Sometimes regret. It's a new stage of life with new temptations and new challenges--for everyone, including the person of faith. I'm realizing that for me, at least, the diagnosis might be discontent or dissatisfaction. With that awareness, a recent quote hit me while reading. It's from Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith:

"[A]lmost paradoxically, we remain dissatisfied in the midst of experiencing satisfaction. We compare our 'pleasures' to those of others and begin to envy them. The fine new Honda of our modest dreams is a source of dissatisfaction when we see a neighbor's new Mercedes. But even when we win the game of comparisons--when we park in front of our garage the best model of the most expensive car--our victory is hollow, melancholy...marked as we are by what philosophers call self-transcendence, in our imagination we are always already beyond any state we have reached. Whatever we have, we want more and different things, and when we have climbed to the top, a sense of disappointment clouds the triumph. Our striving can therefore find proper rest only when we find joy in something infinite. For Christians, this something is God" (p. 63).

Perhaps, for you, it's not "the fine new Honda." Maybe it's the promotion. Or the new house. Or the kitchen remodel. Or the bike. Or the PR on the favorite race, run, or ride. Or the book that's finally published. Whatever it is, it fails to satisfy, at least deeply. The restlessness, the striving, the gnawing remain.

St. Augustine put it timelessly, as he wrote his prayer to God in his Confessions: Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The Christian can easily say at this point: "But I've received Christ; I've walked with Christ for years. And I'm still restless!" I sympathize with this anguish. My only advice at this point is "onionskin." Keep peeling back the sources of your restlessness: 
  • Is there some standard externally imposed by our culture (or your education or career trajectory) which defines success and nags at you because you haven't reached it? Re-examine this.
  • Are you comparing yourself with your friends and family? Beware this!
  • Are you, perhaps unconsciously, seeking to fulfill expectations someone in authority (a parent, teacher, or Christian leader) has given you? Reflect on this.
  • Do you struggle with insecurity, inferiority, inadequacy and seek to bolster your self-esteem by your accomplishments? Be gentle and honest with this.

I suspect that we need to not only peel back, but to dive deeper: to open ourselves up more fully and honestly to Jesus. Perhaps we need a "spirituality for the struggling." Let's pray our discontent. He knows it already. He won't shame us in it. He'll open his arms and embrace us. John 15:4-5 continues to resonate:

"Abide in [live, dwell, remain, get your life and identity from] me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."

No comments: