Reflections on Restlessness

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

Thomas A. Edison

I have found myself dealing with restlessness the past several months. I’m contemplating change, but I’m not yet convinced change will solve the restlessness I feel. Besides that, I don’t like change (I’m sure I’ve shared that here before). Change in itself is disrupting. It requires a new direction, flexibility, and an ability to adapt.

For so long, I’ve talked about the importance of stretching and growing as a means to really experiencing life. And now, I’m fighting to find the courage to follow my own advice.

Thomas Edison’s quote above provides a reasonable perspective to embrace restlessness. But I also think there is a balance between restlessness and contentment.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians indicates that finding contentment in any and every situation is possible and is a worthwhile pursuit.

So how do we in our human condition experience true contentment? Can we be content and restless at the same time?

For one, I know I must rely on Jesus. God and His Word must be my first priority, my go-to for wisdom, and my sustainer – even when life gets crazy around me. Too often in our restlessness, we fail to seek God first. Our priorities are out of alignment and our sense of contentment suffers as a result. Does God come first in your life? How does that reflect in your schedule? Are you making time to spend with the Creator? Jesus reminds us that “all these things” will be given to us when we seek first the Kingdom of God. This sounds like contentment to me.

I know I must look to wise advisors. Obviously, I lean on my wife when it comes to my restlessness, and I also have other individuals in my corner who do a great job listening and providing wise feedback based on their knowledge and experience. Who is in your corner? Do you have advisors in your life who you can trust? Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 15:22 that “plans fail for lack of counsel,┬ábut with many advisers they succeed.”

I know I must practice daily gratitude. When we fail to recognize the good in our lives, we ultimately drive ourselves deeper into restless and eventually into despair. Why are you thankful today? What happened in your life today that deserves appreciation and gratitude? Who do you need to thank today? A thankful heart is a heart on the path towards contentment.

I know I must keep pursuing my calling, my purpose, and my mission. I believe God made me on purpose for a purpose. I must embrace a certain level of restlessness as I pursue my calling, my purpose, and my mission. As I’m learning, these things can push you in new directions as you navigate the pathway of life. I don’t want to be content if I’m failing to use my God given gifts and talents to serve others and if I’m failing to make a Kingdom difference in this world. Are you pursing your calling, your purpose, and your mission? Do you need someone to help you figure this out? A life on mission is a life heading towards contentment.

As I approach my 50th birthday, I’m growing to understand that restlessness is probably a common condition at this age. While I want to keep working in some capacity for the rest of my life, my most productive remaining years from a career perspective are probably the next 10-15 years. How do I want to spend these years when it comes to work? I’m also realizing my own mortality. Watching my Mom be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 67, seeing my Dad’s hair turn completely white, and saying goodbye to my Grandpa Miller who used to run circles around everyone have provided a poignant reminder that our earthly lives are short. I want to live my earthly life with a confident gusto.

The more I think about it, I think there may be a difference between regular restlessness and holy restlessness. Regular restlessness happens when we chase after the things of this world – possessions, wealth, fame, recognition. But holy restlessness happens when we chase after God and His Kingdom in our lives. Much of my restlessness has been the regular kind. If I’m going to be restless, I want it to be the holy kind of restlessness.

God, give me a holy restlessness and help me find contentment. I want to honor you with my life.

“What does a man acquire from all his labor and from the anxiety that accompanies his toil on earth? For all day long his work produces pain and frustration, and even at night his mind cannot relax. This also is futile! There is nothing better for people than to eat and drink, and to find enjoyment in their work. I also perceived that this ability to find enjoyment comes from God.”

Ecclesiastes 2:22-24 (NET)