The first time I saw Thor: The Dark World and heard Loki utter that line, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched in the gut.
It might have been meant as just a snarky one-off remark, but it resonated with me. You see, I frequently struggle with restlessness, with wanderlust, with dissatisfaction, with unfulfilled desires. I may even have spoken, if not those exact words, ones very similar. All my life, moments of contentment and peace have been rare, and short-lived. Although I have a habit of looking down on people who are content, who are fine with the status quo, who do not actively seek change, I also can’t help but envy them a little.
Part of this, I am sure, is due to my personality type: INTJs tend to be hyper-critical and quick to catch flaws and inefficiencies. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course. If everyone were always content with things just as they are, where would we all be?
But for a Christian woman, taught over the years to trust in God, to be at peace, to not be anxious, to cultivate a quiet nature, to set the minds on things above, to be patient … such restlessness is enough to make one wonder about the state of one’s soul and one’s relationship with God. If I’m really a Christian, why do I not feel fully satisfied? If I have Christ, and if Christ is really all that I need, why aren’t I completely content?
One reason is because I remain a fallen creature—a fallen creature in the process of becoming more like Christ, true, but a creature still “prone to wander,” as the old hymn goes.
Part of this dissatisfaction, however, is built-in by God, and is the subject of C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory. This address, originally given in 1941 at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, is part of a collection of Lewis’ essays and talks published under the same title. Although I’ve read excerpts and references to WoG before, I just completed my first full read-through. And, like every other Lewis work, it moved me to tears and left me thinking.
One idea discussed in WoG is that every human has a secret longing that he or she cannot quite define or fulfill, but occasionally experiences “reminders” of, such as a feeling stirred up by a great work of art, or a majestic sight in nature, or a really good book. This “secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both,” Lewis writes, is because “we are made for heaven” and have a “desire for our proper place.” But we are not in heaven yet, cannot get there under our own steam, and cannot make heaven out of anything found on earth. It is up to God to bring us into His glory, when we reach “our own far-off country” beyond this world. Until then, we cannot be fully satisfied, and can only hear the faintest whispers of what is to come.
After reading WoG and praying over the whole thing a bit, I’ve realized that, while my inexorably restless spirit may be exasperating, it can be a very good thing to have. Of course, the danger in these longings is that they may drive one to seek satisfaction anywhere but in God. That is the ongoing struggle (or, if you prefer, “the unspoken truth”) of humanity, the constant conflict between man and God.
But as a Christian, I already know—and in some ways have experienced firsthand—that only God can satisfy every desire of my soul. Wherever else I look, whatever else I do, I will be driven back to God. This does not excuse sinful behavior—I’m not saying I’m going to pursue something like alcoholism or promiscuity because of my restlessness, even if it would be forgiven. But acting on my restlessness in other ways is not necessarily wrong.
I mean things like pursuing further knowledge, moving to a new city, trying to improve myself and the world around me, and not being afraid to be critical (within reason) at times. This is how I operate. This is how I am motivated to do things, to take leaps of faith and live the life that God has given me. If God had meant for me to be a more settled, contented person, I think He would have made me so. I still would have been made for another world, and still would experience that longing for heaven that Lewis talks about, but it might not drive my actions so much.
But as I am, I will not be wholly satisfied. If I move out and seek adventure elsewhere, I will not really settle—not in my heart, anyway, wherever my body is. I will not be fully committed to the new location. Heck, what I like most about my job is that it allows me to move about and live more freely, and if I didn’t have that, I probably would have gotten a new one by now. Learning new things is satisfying in itself, but not for long; I will always pursue something new. And as much as I complain about being single, a relationship would not put to rest my discontent. Not that I would be unfaithful to my husband if I got bored, for example, but I would look for ways to avoid getting too bored for long. And that could be good for us both.
All that is not only fine, but it can be a wonderful thing. Generally, it’s good to grow and develop and challenge oneself and try new things. And being aware of this part of me, and recognizing God’s hand in it, helps to keep me a little detached from a world that I will eventually leave (and outlive). This same nature keeps me from being satisfied by the things of this world, and drives me to seek a deeper relationship with God.
As long as I recognize that God is behind my restlessness, that God provides for it, and that only God can fulfill it–and not necessarily in this life–I can enjoy it, and work with it, and not be ashamed of this part of me.
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