A NOTE ON RESTLESSNESS

 

If you land on the homepage of this here blog, you'll be greeted by my favorite author, John Steinbeck, wondering if Americans are more restless than other people in his book, Travels with Charley. He argued that we are the descendants of the restless ones, those from around the globe who left their homes in order to explore the new world; we have inherited their traits, so we must too be restless. I think it's more than that.

While in college, my best friend termed the phrase "itchy feet" as the descriptive indicator that I was on the verge of a spastic, restless life moment. I would plop on her bed, shoot her an email, or send her a dramatic end-of-world text and she would reply, "Sounds like you're getting itchy feet." I think I found comfort in that response, like I knew I was heading into something familiar. It always started the same way: I would grow tired of seeing the same people, going to the same places, and talking about the same things. I would hate the weather, the food, the smell of the air; anything really. I would demand to see new things, to grow, to explore, and to be alone. Sometimes this meant I would travel to a new place for various lengths of time and sometimes this meant I ended up with a tattoo or another piercing. I had to quiet the itchy feet, you know.

I often shared that I was simply a restless girl. It seemed to excuse me from any real responsibility for my actions - selfish or otherwise - and it gave me the slightly interesting quality of being the wanderer type. I was always wanting to be somewhere else and that was so very "Autumn." Then, I met my husband. While he understood and appreciated a good love of travel, he told me I had a contentment problem. I remember sitting in my car, on a rainy day in the parking lot of the Grove City Outlets, crying to him, "I just need to go somewhere else. I can't be here. I need to feel alive!" He squinted his eyes, then raised his eyebrows just slightly and quietly stated, "Autumn, I think you need to stop this." I understood my itchy feet to be a part of my genetic code, or at least a strong part of my personality, and I never had considered that maybe it could be something that should be changed. 

The type of restlessness I'm describing is an issue of the heart, not a love of travel or places. I think it might be odd if I discredited a sincere love of travel considering how often I travel and the point of this time capsule. What I mean to say, and what I seemingly am fighting against perpetually, is beware of discontentment. My itchy feet were based in an unhealthy obsession with new places, different people, and crazy experiences because my life wasn't grand or exciting enough, and sometimes because I wanted to escape. The belief that a new set of circumstances in a new location will solve your deepest problems, boredom, and secret wishes is, more often than not, wrong. 

After a few years of struggling though this issue of being content, I've moved towards the conclusion that, like so many other things, discontentment is a perversion of something good: longing for Heaven. We were made in God's image with the purpose of glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever, and while we are citizens of Heaven, we are - for a time - sojourners in a foreign land. Who doesn't struggle with homesicknesses after a certain period of time away? Imagine how strong that ache must be when you consider that you're away from the place for which you were intended. No matter where I've traveled, there has always been a quiet knowing in my mind that even this new place cannot offer me everything I'm looking for and before too long, I'll want to be somewhere else. (This is a different feeling than preferring one city over another. I like that I can walk everywhere in my current city and all of the food options available to me here. I disliked my food options and the general Civil War-themed nature of our last city. Ergo, Lancaster is better for me.)

We are the descendants of Adam and Eve, the sons and daughters of those who, over the course of history, have wandered this earth in its entirety.  Our human spirits are never satiated, at least not fully. I know people who ache to be on the move constantly and others who feel content to stay in one place, perhaps with their families. I know people who sit somewhere in the middle. But I believe that we'll never be fully content here because we were not created to be here. Our contentment on earth can only come from knowing our Creator and trusting in the "already but not yet" portion of sanctification. His good work started in us will be completed, and we will know peace fully and surely. It won't come from another adventure or anywhere my itchy feet might take me, and I had to learn that in order to be able to enjoy discovering God's world in a healthy way. I still love to travel and experience new cultures, but I also really love Tuesday evenings with my husband and my dog, reading a book and eating leftovers. No matter where I am, God is good and He loves me in a manner so extraordinary, I have yet to scratch the surface in terms of understanding. This Truth keeps me content. Most days.

The irony is that sometimes we buy into the lie that the next adventure or wild experience will be the one that finally offers us that sweet contentment, but we always dream too small. We could conjure up the most perfect scenario and if it could happen, even then, we would find ourselves disappointed and aching for the next place, the right place. Our biggest dreams are too small for our souls. C.S. Lewis said it best: 

"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."