After months of social distancing and refraining from “normal” levels of social interaction and activity, I have grown restless. I have been tempted, more than once, to throw caution to the wind and begin to restart some of the activities that had been common parts of my life before the COVID-19 pandemic. A side effect of this restlessness (and my attempts to avoid giving into temptation) is that my ability to focus, something that usually comes quite naturally, has all but disappeared. A couple of nights ago, for example, I watched several episodes of a Netflix show before realizing that I couldn’t recall a single thing that had happened. Upon further reflection, the show had effectively been nothing more than background noise while my mind raced from thought to thought, covering a wide range of topics simple and complex.
There is a lot going on in the world these days and I can feel the effects in my mind and in my heart. It is as though my soul is in the middle of a long journey, far from where it began and unable to see the end.
Where does that restlessness really come from? What is it about the present situation that has left me (and perhaps you, too) feeling more restless than usual?
At first, I blamed it on the marked decrease in social interaction and other activities that has resulted from COVID-19. But while those things have indeed had a major impact on my life, as whole I am no less busy than I used to be. Ministry is still happening at church, my social calendar is fuller than ever (just all via Zoom), and I’ve actually been able to increase my physical activity. So, no, I don’t think my restlessness is directly attributable to COVID-19.
I then turned to the long list of ills facing our world. From the pandemic to the police brutality and systemic racism that disproportionately affects our black sisters and brothers, it seems as though tensions are higher than ever and a new and divisive issue seems to present itself each and every day. The reality is that COVID-19 and the nationwide protests resulting from the death of George Floyd are just bringing to the surface societal disparities that have really been around for centuries. The fact that I am just now growing this concerned about them is a reflection of my own privilege more than anything else. I am, indeed, lamenting all that is going on in our world, but lament and discontent are different from restlessness.
As I thought about it more, I realized that my restlessness is not coming from any specific situation in the here and now but from my own inability to find a place to rest along the proverbial road. Even though the journey is nothing new – we often talk about our lives as a journey through which we grow in our faith and in relationship with the Triune God. The path of my journey thus far, however, has, more often than not, felt like a freshly paved and level trail, firmly supported by God. Now, with everything else going on, it feels as though I have hit a rocky and damaged patch of road and I have neither the right shoes nor the right tires to effectively navigate it.
The Pastoral Staff is currently reading and discussing the book On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts by James K. A. Smith, which reflects on Saint Augustine’s realization that the only true cure for human restlessness is to place our lives in God’s hands. Smith writes,
Where we rest is a matter of what and how we love. Our restlessness is a reflection of what we try to ‘enjoy’ as an end to itself—what we look to as a place to land. The irony, Augustine points out, is that we experience frustration and disappointment when we try to make the road a home rather than realizing its leading us home. There is delight in the sojourn when we know where home is.
Friends in Christ, we who profess Jesus Christ as Lord know where home is and we know that our lives are firmly planted in the hands on the One who will bring us there. In these tumultuous days, when the road feels uneven and unstable and your heart feels restless, rather than trying to find peace in something of this world, look to Jesus Christ, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As Augustine famously said,
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Rest in our God and, there, find strength for the journey.