Confessions of a Sometimes Restless Insomniac
I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one
But yes, I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains
You carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
-U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Can you relate to this lyric? Can you relate to the cry for release that resides beneath it? Can you feel the tension of the “already” and the “not yet”? Can you identify, perhaps, with being on top of the world in the eyes of many while still feeling insecure about your place in the world? The quest for inner poise and equilibrium, the quest for the security of having been made complete, is a quest for all human beings, whether they believe in God or not.
For leaders and influencers, this inner conflict is especially common. As a leader myself, I am painfully in touch with my own restlessness, especially in the context of my work and goals. Though some would look at my work and chalk it up as some sort of “success,” the truth is that—even in my best and smoothest seasons of leading, 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 two to four 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, 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. 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, lies a feeling of simultaneous momentum and failure. 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 am not alone in this. Not at all.
One of the privileges I’ve enjoyed as a pastor in Nashville is that I have been invited to serve as a chaplain to several musicians and bands. This experience has included many backstage conversations with the artists, several of whom also attend our church. Recently, I caught about ten minutes with a woman whose name and music you would easily recognize. Though the optics of her life and career are the envy of many, her private wrestlings tell a different story.
During our conversation backstage, I asked this artist what it felt like to be her. Specifically, I asked her what it was like to have such a large platform for her music, so many adoring fans, and so much opportunity to impact others.
She paused for a moment and then said, “Do you really want to know what it’s like to be me? Can I answer you honestly? Okay then. Here goes. Night after night, I fill arenas and stadiums. Night after night, I have thousands of adoring fans eating out of the palm of my hand. In just five minutes, I will step out on the historic Ryman stage and relive this experience once again, and again tomorrow in another auditorium in another city, and again the next night and then the night after that. And, from the moment I step foot on the stage until I walk backstage again, I am the loneliest person in the room.”
This famous, fragile image-bearer’s transparent response to me underscored the truth that our hearts are going to be restless until they find their rest in him. No amount of applause or praise or year-end bonuses or “attaboys” or “attagirls” from other people will satisfy the ache and help us to find what we’re looking for. Only the strong, authoritative voice of God can do that.
And he has.
On his way to the the cross, Jesus released his grip on the Father and cried, “Not my will, but yours be done” so that the Father could forever tighten his grip on us.
On the cross, Jesus lost the Father’s blessing and received a curse so that we, who have all our lives lived beneath a curse, could receive the Father’s blessing.
On the cross, Jesus, who is the firstborn of all creation, gave up his birthright so he could pass it on to us, so that we could find what we have been looking for.