Restless and Disoriented with God and Life

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I am painfully in touch with my own restlessness, especially in relation to my work.

Though some would look at my work and label it as some sort of “success,” the truth is that even in my best and smoothest seasons, when momentum is there and goals are being reached and a mission is being accomplished, the disequilibrium is still there.

My most common prayer request these days is that God would give me consistent, uninterrupted sleep, because in the middle of almost every night, I lay awake for several hours wrestling. I wrestle with preoccupation, with self-doubt, with the dissatisfaction of unmet expectations and unrealized goals and dreams, with pressure that I put on myself or that I fear others will put on me, with the burdens of the day behind me and the day ahead of me, and with the sense that my work is never going to be satisfactory or complete. In other words, I wrestle over the unique calling of leadership—which is both an unspeakable privilege and a burden that must be carried, often alone.

Because the world is quiet in the middle of the night without the usual distractions of checklists, schedules, deadlines, meetings, interruptions and screens and iThings, I also find myself wrestling with an inner dis-equilibrium in relation to God.

For me, the presence of God is most palpable when the world is quiet. But the presence of God is not always comforting to me. Sometimes being in the presence of God, or just thinking about God in the middle of the night, is disorienting and disruptive. There are few things like the presence of God that remind me that I am not yet what I am meant to be; that I fall short of the mark; that I am more small than I am significant; that, one hundred years from now, my name will be forgotten by the weary world in which I now live.

I will die, and the world will move on.

Even in my own church, a hundred years from now, its members will have never heard of me. It is quite possible that not even my own great-great-grandchildren will know my name or care what I accomplished.

Yes, my heart makes noise. My inner life is a paradox of comfort and accusation, inner rest and inner restlessness, enjoyment of God’s grace and despair at my own lack of grace, awareness of my completion in Christ and knowledge of feeling incomplete. Added to this, and related to my calling to lead, you’ll find a feeling of momentum on the one hand and failure on the other. In the middle of the night especially, God is my refuge on one hand, and the darkness is my companion on the other. In the presence of God and in the quiet, most of my anxieties and worries and self-loathing and guilt rise to the surface. And, if I’m being honest, in the middle of the night, the words of Jesus often fail me. Or, more accurately said, my heart fails the words of Jesus:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28–30)

For me, the yoke sometimes feels hard, and the burden sometimes feels heavy. And the single thing that comes between my heart and the easy yoke and the light burden … is me. I relate to these words from Brennan Manning, the deceased Roman Catholic who, in many ways, still teaches me so much about grace:

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

It is for such honest and raw statements that I have always been fond of Brennan Manning. Like Manning, I too am a bundle of paradoxes. His words give me hope about my restless thoughts that come in the middle of the night. Not only this, they remind me of something that the German theologian Rudolph Otto said about people in the Bible when they came into the presence of God—namely, that the experience of God’s presence can be disturbing, perilous, traumatic, and dangerous.

Or, as Lewis wrote about Narnia’s Aslan, he is good—but he is not safe.

Do you feel similar things? Are you sometimes disoriented with life and with God?

I trust that sometimes, or maybe even a lot of the time, you do. And if you do, I assure you that you are not alone.

For this, Jesus continues to put forth the life-giving words above—words that promise rest and an easy yoke and a lightened burdened. Thankfully, these resources of his are there for us in times when we are aware of them, as well as in times when we are not.

The answer to our restlessness and disequilibrium is, now and always…

…Jesus.

 


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18 responses to “Restless and Disoriented with God and Life”

  1. Rick DeVries says:

    Thank you. I thought I was the only one with these struggles in the middle of the night. Grace and Peace to you.

  2. James Williams says:

    Thank you for writing this. I can identify with this so well. This very promise is the one I’ve been wrestling with, meditating on and embracing for the past few months. Sometimes I feel ‘I got it’ and other times ‘not so much’. It is strangely comforting to know that I am not the only one.
    Sincerely,
    Encouraged

  3. Heidi says:

    “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night, my heart instructs me.” Ps. 16:7.

  4. Bo White says:

    Scott–I wrote a book related to this…it just came out this summer

    https://www.amazon.com/Time-Question-Everything-Embracing-Good/dp/1532651163

    i am glad for the truth of Psalm 121

  5. Stan Vos says:

    I do not struggle with much during the night, I sleep for which I am thankful, my only struggle during the night is my trip to the bathroom?? And my wife says I should be thankful for that. I do not fret about leaving a legacy my greatest accomplishment has been helping my great wife raise our 3 sons who are now raising there own families. Other wise I was a trucker for many years and was privileged to see a lot of Gods creation for which I feel blessed. So I am very thankful I did not aspire to any great position in life and have to maintain a status beyond my abilities. God has been very good to us in all our years.

    Thank you Jesus

  6. c. courtney trotter says:

    Today’s blog hit an especially true note for me. My life is truly a paradox, but I know that I love Jesus and find refuge and safety in Him during the night.

  7. Pam says:

    The quote from Ragamuffin Gospel is hands-down my favorite from Manning. I wonder what church (and The Church) would be like if we all admitted this now-and-not-yet aspect of the faith. That we all still struggle at times with base desires and internal (and external) contradictions. And that all of us–at one time or another–lose sleep at night.

  8. Gayle Wilson says:

    Thank you for reading my mind. Not that I have a leadership position now, but I still struggle with the paradox that I call my life – I love God; God, are you there? I know He is always there, but my fickled mind is like a tennis ball being lobbed back and forth across the net. Paul summed it up well in Romans 7: 24-25. And yes, if he felt wretched, then no wonder I feel disoriented.

  9. Trudy Gerbis says:

    It helps me to know that my pastor struggles with the same issues that I do. Thank you for being so humble and transparent Scott. I have a tendency to think that you are pretty perfect.
    Trudy

  10. Bernadette says:

    Thank -You Scott for your honesty and transparency.. I too have struggled
    With sleep for 10 years now…a thorn in my flesh that is still there.. I will say it gets easier and Gods grace carries me thru the day….He is faithful
    Even when we are not…

  11. Patrick McClarty says:

    A very good word at the right time. I appreciate your blogs so much.

  12. Stacy Averette says:

    Thank you. I thought I was the only one.

  13. Eric Britt says:

    Hey Scott,

    Thanks for the transparency and honesty. My dad called them night terrors…I must confess that I have had more than a few occasions for them. They are difficult but I think necessary in the life of a disciple.

    Grace and peace!

    https://gericbritt.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/treasures-of-darkness/#more-367

  14. Penny Phares says:

    Now approaching my seventh decade I begin to realize that my great great grandchildren may not know my name, that all of my accomplishments will turn to dust or be buried on some flash drive and if I have a gravestone,it too may disappear. Such a comfort to know that my purpose on this earth is not to be remembered, but to remember. To remind myself of a future in the presence of our Lord Jesus. Forever.

  15. Brent says:

    Are we twins separated at birth? This makes me feel less alone. Thanks for that…as I type at 1am

  16. Robert says:

    Scott,
    Thanks for sharing transparently. I find great encouragement in your honest writings. I have had numerous big struggles over the years in loss of work, relationships in and out of the church, but always the Lord has kept me focused and leaning in to Him. On Aug 16th, this year, I had a “heart event” which as far as I am aware, I am the first in my family line of men to have survived. However, for some reason, I do not seem as joyful or close to the Lord as I would have thought I’d be, coming away from the event. Even as I have been able to pursue Him previously.
    Thanks for the encouragement to press on.

  17. Shay Lide says:

    Boy Oh Boy Did this hit home with me. One of my favorite prayers of Thomas Merton always brings peace especially when my mind is feeling this paradox of spirit.
    My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
    I do not see the road ahead of me.
    I cannot know for certain where it will end.
    Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
    But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
    And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing about it.
    Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
    – Thomas Merton

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