Restless and Disoriented with God and Life
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.
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…
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