Restless Heart Syndrome

Another sleepless night, my jaw clenched so hard that my temples are pulsing. The heavy feeling in my stomach grows ever weightier. I will myself not to cry, to be strong. I tell myself that strength is shown in the masking and hiding of any emotion. Worry. More worry.

Morning dawns and the circles around my eyes are darker than ever. I temporarily forget my troubles as I rush to shower, dress, shove some food in my bag and run out the door. I’ll pray on my way into work, I tell myself.

I am distracted by my favorite morning radio show, although if I am honest I am looking for distraction. Somewhere in the back of my mind I know prayer is the only thing that will help me- some soul-balancing time with my Creator. I can’t bring myself to power down the radio though. Maybe if I just listen to some catchy tunes my mind will wander far enough away from the anxiety to forget it.

Work brings welcome distraction and business, though somehow my mind and hands are not as productive as I would wish them to be. I’m distracted in meetings. I’m tense, short, and impatient.

The drive home brings bumper to bumper traffic. I settle in for a good long commute home and in doing so, finally acknowledge I can’t do this on my own. I begin talking out loud to the Lord- “Father, my heart is restless- teeming with anxiety, hardened by worry, I am a fool for thinking I can solve these issues on my own.” There is an immediate calm and I can sense my heavenly Father’s relief.

I quiet myself and begin to reflect on the sources of my anxiety. There is nothing going horribly wrong in my life, I am not dealing with something incredibly difficult. I have a blessed life- a steady family, a good job, a supportive set of peers. I am wrestling though- wrestling with control, wrestling with change, wrestling with the unknown. I am wrestling and I am restless.

To my restless heart, I hear my Father’s words, “Relax, do not get tense, have no fear. All is for the best. How can you be fearful when your life is hid with Me, God, who changeth not – I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

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I wish I could say that the story above happened once, some time ago, and that I learned my lesson. I wish I was that malleable to the Father’s words and that my spirit was that quick to learn. I’ve struggled off and on with restlessness for many years, and over those years I have come to realize just how true the words of St. Augustine are:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Though I never experienced a struck-by-lightning transformation in the area of restlessness, I have experienced slow year by year growth. I have seen myself over time realize more and more the truth of how our spirits were made to rest in Christ and that separating ourselves from the Lord only yields more intense unrest, anxiety and worry. More dark circles under my eyes.

Part of the growth process for me involved learning how to reflect on the sources of my unrest. I often realize that at the heart of my unrest is a lack of trust in the Lord and in the goodness of his plans and provision for me. Accompanying my lack of trust there is often a desire to control my own life, especially my future. My instincts are to hold tightly to all things in my life I see as important- viewing them as MY things rather than things the Lord had given me and was asking me to hold loosely to, to be a good steward of. These areas- lack of trust and desire to control- are huge areas of temptation for me. I frequently fall down into temptation, then come crawling back to my Creator, only to fall back down again. St. Paul describes this cycle well:

When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Rom. 7:21–24)1

Growth in dealing with restlessness has helped me to, in times of temptation or when I’ve given into it, run back to my Lord. My soul is trained to return to its Creator, to praise the one who willed it into being. Just as evil is right there with me, so is my Defender.

Over time I have begun to see the freedom the Lord had and still has for me in this area. The Lord has not made me immune to times of unrest, but he has shown me how to find peace in the midst of restlessness. I am learning how to have joy- by faithful and trusting acceptance of my Creator’s will for me. I can have joy even when circumstances are not joyous- when I am grappling with the unknown or when the Lord takes something away from me.

Here are a set of reminders (many of which have come from the devotional God Calling[1]) I have for myself that keep me from restlessness, anxiety and worry:

  • Be calm, no matter what comes. Do not be overwhelmed, how can I be overwhelmed when I know and believe that Christ is by my side?
  • Do not feel the strain of life. The strain comes only when we are enslaved to other Masters- the world, the opinion of others, etc.
  • Practice learning poise and soul-balance in a constantly changing world.
  • Remember the Lord’s promise: I can see the future. I can read men’s hearts. I know better than you what you need. Trust me absolutely. You are not at the mercy of fate, or buffeted about by others. You are being led in a very definite way, and others, who do not serve your purpose, are being moved out of your path by Me.
  • Surrender all to God- for me this means my desire to control and my fear of change and of the unknown.

Father, in times of restlessness and anxiety, may we know your peace. Help us to trust you above all and to know that you know our needs better than we know them. Be our guard, our Defender, and our teacher. May we always strive to know you more, to be closer to your heart and to be holier sons and daughters.

[1] By Two Listeners, Edited by A.J. Russell. God Calling. New York: Jove Books, 1978.

This post was re-posted with the author's permission. Do check out her women's ministry at: http://www.thelovelycommission.org/