A new rest in restlessness

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
– St. Augustine of Hippo

I am often restless. It used to be that I was restless without being aware that I was restless. I was too busy trying to distract myself with activity, entertainment, or company to know that I was restless. My restlessness stemmed from a fear of being alone for I was greatly afraid of what I might find out in my solitude. My greatest fear was that I am unloved.

Then came one lonely afternoon when I was still living abroad. I was alone at home and sat half-crumpled at the foot of my dresser which doubled as an altar. I had spent the last hour in tears and desperate prayer, praying for healing of a broken heart which had been caused by a ruptured friendship. I was out of tears, and out of words. All of a sudden, I remember, I felt a change in the silence of my room. I felt that the silence was a loving silence. For the first time in my life I felt God’s presence in silence.

It would be a long journey still from that moment until I came to trust in God’s presence in the silence. There was still too much inner restlessness. Falling in love with Christ didn’t take away that restlessness straight away. No, instead I buried myself in service for God and Church. I was almost constantly surrounded by people and involved with one project after another. Without my knowing, I was still running away from the deep silence that God was calling me to.

It took another painful trial that brought me to my knees, that broke me more than I care to admit, that carved out a place in my heart for silence and solitude. For I realised that without silence, and without solitude, I cannot come to know my true self. Without silence, I cannot know the deep inner wounds that are crying out for healing; without solitude, I continue to assess my value by what I can achieve and the approval of others.  But it wasn’t a realisation of the mind that changed me. It was an excruciating encounter with my finitude and helplessness that suddenly opened up the doorway to my inner self as well as the holy silence and solitude within.

These days I still get restless. On good days I start my days with quiet and prayer and am able to maintain a sense of inner equilibrium throughout most of the day. But on most days I sleep later than I intended to, find my mind racing to some interesting project or the other the moment I wake up, and find myself opening the internet browser more often than makes me happy. On most days, there is more inner noise that bubbles up in me than I would like, and I easily cave to temptations to just while time away instead of being fully present to God’s presence in each moment.

But there is a difference between now and the way it was so many years ago. It’s hard to describe. For now even when I am restless, there is less nervous energy in me. And it doesn’t bug me as much anymore when I have a bad day. Somehow, there is a new restfulness even in the midst of my restlessness. While in the past I subconsciously imagined that God was looking at my less than ideal behaviour with disapproval, now I know that even though He may roll his eyes in the “there she goes again” way, there is affection and tenderness in his gaze. It is not wishful thinking. It is because I have personally experienced that it is not God’s censure or the fear of his punishment that transforms me into a more loving person. It is always a personal encounter with his unimaginable mercy and love that makes me more like him.

And so as I come to the close of another day – a day in which I felt more restless than most – I gladly let go of the day with gratitude. For I was loved well today. I may not be constant, but God is. :)

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