Understanding Our Restlessness

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As the past two years of growth have unfolded for me, it’s taught me the radical lesson that life is hard.

When life felt controllable, manageable, and consistent, I was able to convince myself that life wasn’t hard.  But, in hindsight I can see that I wasn’t truly engaged with my life, never really present with my family and friends, not connected to the pains and struggles of life.

As a lifelong Christian, God has always been present and active in my life.  However, my conscious need for Christ has grown exponentially over the past two years.  Rather than the, “Thanks God, I’ve got it from here!” attitude that dominated my life, I’m now embracing my complete and constant dependence on Christ.

untitledDepending on Christ, it turns out, doesn’t remedy the restlessness of life on earth.  Though we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and in communion with Christ, the human experience remains one of yearning and incompleteness.  As Pascal described, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”  But, as sinful man, we do try to fill that God shaped hole with worldly pursuits and things.

In Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears, priest Ronald Rolheiser says,

“In our western world we live in a culture that stresses the importance and significance of the individual, while at the same time downplaying the importance of God. These two emphases, the significance of the individual life and the absence of God, cannot go together without creating an intolerable restlessness inside each of us.  A fundamental dis-ease results when the truths that are revealed by God are taught in a world that postures independence of God.”  (pg. 19)

Amen.

Striving and seeking to make life worthwhile, to feel that you are special and to distinguish yourself and your life amongst the billions of other individuals striving to do the same, is a recipe for unhappiness and frustration.  The secular world sells people on the idea that maintaining high self-esteem and the pursuit of your personal “happiness” is the ultimate good.

In contrast, a life in Christ teaches us that we are unique, special, and loved because we’re created by God.  There’s nothing we need to do to earn God’s love or distinguish ourselves in His eyes.  Rolheiser explains, “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache.” (pg. 20)

These words have provided me with a peace and inner calm because they helped me understand what I was calling the “wildness” or “rawness” of life.  Restlessness is part of our human condition because we’re not yet fully united with God. Feeling restless doesn’t mean there’s anything I need to strive to understand or fix.  Instead, I can rest in prayer, rest in God, and trust Christ to fulfill what nothing in this world can satisfy.

Seeking God’s Ways

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The other day I had an interesting experience. I had arrived early to Sienna’s school for an assembly.  She was being awarded for demonstrating “Fairness” at one of her school’s “Character Counts” assemblies!  Wanting to be sure to get a parking spot, I’d planned to get there early.  When I arrived, there was an old Patti Loveless song playing (I’ve been pulling old CDs out lately and enjoying the little trips down memory lane).  I simply turned off the ignition, gazed out at the beautiful day and the wind blowing through the trees, and listened.  My mind was quiet.  I was still.

A few minutes later, a father of one of Sienna’s classmates got into the car beside me.  I suddenly felt self-conscious for just sitting in my car, staring at the window, not doing anything.  I had the urge to pick up my cell phone so I would appear busy, engaged in a more socially acceptable behavior.  It’s something you see parents doing all the time.  Gazing out the window, on the other hand, is less common.  Folks are typically too frantic, running from place to place, activity to activity.

Lately my prayers and thoughts have focused on the differences between God’s ways and worldly ways, on what God values versus what the world values.  I often pray that this verse from Isaiah would reign in my heart: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts, (Isaiah 55:8-9).

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The world values individualism, productivity, and positive thinking, among other things.  Humanistic, secular ideas permeate our world.  Look at the messages that films send – in the end, the protagonist always achieves personal success by their own power.  They overcome obstacles through their wisdom, courage, or personal greatness.  As Ronald Rolheiser says in Forgotten Amongst the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears – “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (p. 20).  The world tells us to boost our self-esteem, be confident and bold, and seek the accumulation of material goods and the admiration of our neighbors, in short to make it on our own.  Rolheiser states, “Why the need for masks, for pretense, for hype, for all kinds of lies that let us project certain images about ourselves? Because we are trying to give ourselves something that only God can give us, ultimate uniqueness, significance, and immortality,” (p. 23).

Godly ways, in contrast, value love, sacrifice, meekness, hope, and above all the light of Christ shining in the world.  The main distinction between God’s ways and the world’s ways is to whom the agency is attributed – who is achieving the good deeds.  As St. Paul says, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me, (Galatians 2:20).  On a more basic level, the world believes that mankind is innately good and one is capable of doing good deeds.  However, God teaches that humanity is fallen, sinful, and in need of a Savior.  In Romans, St. Paul says that “…no one does good, not even one,” (Romans 3:12).  I’ve found a great freedom in embracing that Christ does good things through me.  His strength, goodness, and love are perfect, whereas alone, I am weak and deficient.

There’s nothing I can or could do to be more special or unique than being loved and created by God.  Achieving what the secular world tells me is important will pull me away from the peace, joy, hope, and love that only Christ can give.

So, I didn’t pick up my cell phone and pretend to be engaged in some terribly important task.  Instead, I gazed out the window and said a prayer of thanksgiving that Christ has redeemed me and taught me that His ways are so much higher than my ways.

Stopping the Flow of Words…

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This time of resting in prayer has been completely rejuvenating and peace inducing.  Much of my inspiration for the idea of “resting in prayer” came from this article: At a Loss for Words: Finding Prayer Through Liturgy, Silence, and Embodiment.  Particularly this quote from the book Sacred Rhythms struck me:

Eventually, when we stop the flow of our own words, another gift comes to us, quietly and imperceptibly at first: we find ourselves resting in prayer. . . . We rest our overactive, hardworking mind from the need to put everything into words. We rest from clinging, grasping and trying to figure everything out. The soul returns to its most natural state in God. In returning and rest you will be saved. (p. 69)

imagesWRHK3SOAWhenever I’ve experienced that anxiety of being excessively in my head, it felt like I was trying to “figure everything out”.  If you look back this phrase pops up repeatedly in old blog posts.  When I read this article and specifically this quote, I just started to cry.  It felt like an answer to a prayer as my anxiety and struggle finally ceased.

I’m currently reading an amazing book: Forgotten Amongst the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears by Ronald Rolheiser.  My best friend recommended it and I’m loving it!  In the first section, I highlighted nearly the entire 25 pages!  It addresses a similar theme of human restlessness and the need for God’s love to redeem and fulfill us.

Rather than trying to analyze and write anything yet, I’m just absorbing the wisdom and praying for continued growth of my faith. But, I’m excited to share my thoughts… once I can formulate them.

Resting in Prayer

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I’ll confess: this is the third blog post I’ve started in the last three days.  The prior two have been trashed because they simply didn’t take life.

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I had many thoughts – seeking, analytical, probing thoughts – that were obviously not inspired by God because they fell flat and eventually died.

After several deep, emotional writings a couple weeks back, I’ve felt a certain pressure to keep the content coming.  But, you can’t manufacture that type of depth or intensity.

Art, writing, creative mediums of all types are inspired by emotions rather than rational or logical ideas.  Trying to create something moving from my analytical thoughts is to labor in vain.

So, instead, I pray.

I ask God to inspire my words and make this little space on the internet something that honors Him and blesses the author and readers.

And then I wait.

I rest in stillness and listen.

Sienna’s “Poem”

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untitledEarlier this week, Sienna told me she wanted to write a blog post! She sat down with a library book she’s been enjoying and typed out the text. The “poem” she typed is called I Love my Mommy, by Sebastien Braun.  It’s a sweet book about animals loving their mommies.  I was touched that she choose this book.

She was very focused and determined as she copied from the book, typing away at my computer. When she was done we had a good talk about what plagiarism is and she admitted that she was borrowing someone else’s thoughts.

However, she wants to start sharing some of her poems on Be Still and Know.  I love the idea!  For now, here’s what she copied:

I love my mommy.

My mommy watches me while I play.

My mommy takes me swimming.

My mommy helps me to climb.

My mommy stays by my side.

My mommy cleans me up.

My mommy feeds me.

My mommy plays games with me.

My mommy works really hard.

My mommy carries me when I am tired.

My mommy cuddles me.

My mommy is always there for me.

I love my girl.

Family Play!

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017As a mom, I’ve loved reconnecting with the fun of childhood play!  When we go to a playground, I can often be found running around, climbing, swinging, and otherwise playing with Sienna and Mateo.  They come up with imaginative games, where we’re chasing each other – for some reason or another.  Last summer we were often the characters from Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  This year I expect there will be superhero roles for each of us.

040I think most adults will agree that one of the things that happens as you mature (and accumulate more responsibilities) is you end up making less time for pure fun.  We’re always thinking about what we need to do, making lists, or attending to tasks and responsibilities.  Since it doesn’t have a sense of urgency and no one is relying on you to accomplish it, playing and having fun tend to drop to the bottom of the to do list.

026This past week, my best friend and college roommate Michelle was visiting.  She’s the epitome of fun for me!  We giggle a ton when we’re together.  With the spirit of playful fun already heightened by her presence, the five of us headed off to play on Saturday.  San Diego has a cool, relatively new, park at the Harbor, that Sienna has been begging to return to after a visit with her friend’s family.

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This park is really amazing!  There’s a huge water feature for kids to splash around in, lots of unique play equipment – including a large hill that has built in slides. The area around the slides is all that rubbery fall surface.  Running down the hill made you feel like you were going to fall – but in that energizing, silly way. Racing back up was a fun challenge and an interesting sensation.

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Dennis, the kids, and I rode a big seesaw together – boys on one side, girls on the other.  Wow, it was fun!  I haven’t laughed that hard or felt that exhilarated in a long time.  It was that scary, silly energy of being on ride.  Teo’s slightly terrified expressions at hearing my screams and hysterical laughter was pretty priceless.  Just pure playful fun.

What kind of purely fun things do you like to do?