Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Restless Souls - A Nation of Nervous Wrecks (Part 1)

Silence is God's first language. 
In order to hear that language, we must learn to be still and to rest in God
Thomas Keating

The Wall Street Journal reported the startling fact that something like 18% of Americans today suffer from a form of anxiety for which they will receive medication. There’
s nothing wrong with medication. Believe me, I know. It just points out that we live in an Age of Anxiety. We are a nation of nervous wrecks.

Tim Kreider wrote an article called the “Busy Trap." It tracked the responses that people make to the question: "How are you?" In nearly every case, the default response was some form of, "I'm busy. So busy. Crazy busy." The person conducting the study summed things up, "Is this response a boast disguised as a complaint? Is it a means of convincing ourselves that our lives are not empty and meaningless? Does this response make us feel 'in demand.'"

Good questions, and I'm more than tempted to say Yes to all three.

Although the modern world now handles anxiety differently, restlessness didn't just spring upon us. Augustine of Hippo in the 4th century CE prayed, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

Restlessness isn't a modern phenomenon by any means. Restless souls search and never find. Are interested in everything, but satisfied by nothing. Inwardly they run on all cylinders, all the time. In other words, we live anxious, tense lives, filled with worry and concern. Our minds never sleep and lose their ability to shut down.

It’s like my iPhone. I never shut it off. It goes from charge to charge – all day, all night. Until the rare occasion it simply runs out of battery and, quick as that, I'm no longer connected. I'm dis-connected.

The end result is that we are restless. We feel overwhelmed and tense. Worry and anxiety fill our hearts even though we try to soften it by calling it concern. Our minds are preoccupied with the next things to be done. We have difficulty falling and staying asleep, difficulty staying alert during the day because we’re exhausted. We snap at loved ones over the small stuff.

Thankfully the Bible isn’t unfamiliar with the restless soul. Psalm 62 was written by King David in the later years of his life. He faced conspirators trying to unseat him from the throne by deceit and backstabbing, pretense and underhandedness. David was battle worn. He was betrayed by his family and friends. He made terrible mistakes in his life that impacted not only himself, but an entire nation. He gave everything for this kingdom only to have people try to strip it away from him.

Imagine the weight he felt on his shoulders. David didn’t find peace in his power and position, in his prestige, or prosperity. He didn't find peace in the trusted people in his life. David, we see in this psalm, finds peace only in God.

Psalms are like prayers to God. They’re like poetry where prose fails us. Like songs we write and sing to God. David sings over and over the refrain of his heart: My soul finds rest in God alone. God alone is my rock and my salvation. Find rest, O my soul, in God alone. God is the prescription for our restless soul. Not busyness, or accomplishment. Not experiences, or vacations, or more money –

Just God…

But how do we find rest in God?

Well, simply put, but not so simply done, we find the answer in a line by David in another psalm, Psalm 46. He sings,

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am God. Stop and be present to God. Listen to God. We are so far removed from the practice that we ask ourselves, What does it even mean to listen to God? What does God sound like? We’re suspicious of that language. Unlike our for-bearers in the faith, we rarely take time out to stop and practice the art of listening.

Being still is basically an act of faith. It says that the world is not dependent on me. If I am NOT all things to all people all the time, that’s okay – because I am NOT God.

I imagine it was in one of those still moments that David wrote what is so familiar to us from the end of the 23rd Psalm, when he wrote, “You (O Lord) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Slow down, be still, let go, we will
Be here now, be now
Slow down, be still, breathe on, refill
Be here, be now 
Rise by Robbie Seay

If you are interested in responding to this post by attending a 24 hour silent retreat, check out the opportunity here.