Are you restless?
- June 16, 2016
- Ned Erickson
The most famous story Jesus ever told is called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” In the story, there is a father who has two sons. The older is responsible. The younger is prodigal, which if you don’t know means “extravagantly wasteful.” This prodigal son shows his prodigal-ness in that he asks his father for his entire inheritance (before his father is dead!) then goes to a foreign country with the money and spends it all on what Jesus describes as “wild living.” That is wasteful if you ask me.
What would make a person do such a thing? You would think that maybe his decision had something to do with his relationship with his father. Did the two no get along? What’s strange is that the word the son uses when asking for his inheritance is actually a term of endearment, something along the lines of “Daddy.” When you think about it, the son would not have requested such an outlandish thing if he didn’t believe his father would give it to him. All signs point to a loving father. So what was it that made the prodigal leave? It’s hard to say, except I totally understand. Like the prodigal, I have a loving father in God. And yet, it is so tempting to do what I want to do instead of what he wants me to do. I know being close to him is right and good; nevertheless I volunteer to runaway. I can’t exactly explain why I do it. It just seems better at the time. Wild living looks so fun. And I have this unquenchable fear of missing out. I feel restless at home. And so, like the prodigal, I take all the stuff God has given me (life, talent, opportunity, etc.) and run.
And just like what happens to the prodigal, eventually the fun runs out. “After he spent everything…he began to be in need…So he hired himself out…to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach…but no one gave him anything.” Abandoned, hungry, penniless, and lost – the prodigal has finally hit rock bottom. All he has to his name is that…his name. Turns out that’s a lot. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘I will set out and go back to my father.’” Notice the prodigal son doesn’t say “go back home.” Instead, he says, “go back to my father.” Instinctively, he knows that even though he told his father that he wished him dead, be believes that the father still loves him.
Maybe you have that instinct, too, about God. Maybe you don’t. Maybe like the prodigal your restlessness has led you to places you are ashamed to have found yourself in. But what if your restlessness is actually your father’s voice calling you home? Seventeen hundred years ago, St. Augustine said as much. “Our hearts,” he said, “are restless until they find rest in God.”[i] In other words, restlessness is a gift. It’s a dangerous gift because it can lead us to foreign lands and wild living, but it’s also the voice that can lead us back home.
I went on vacation a few weeks ago, and I was restless for three days. Three days of sitting on the beach, reading books, sipping fruity drinks and I was restless. Why? Well, I wasn’t resting. Three days in a finally remembered Jesus. He is my rest. I started spending time with him, and vacation got a lot more relaxing.
[i] Augustine of Hippo, St. Augustine’s Confessions (Jay P. Green Sr. 2001) p. 1