Notes on the seasons of a restless heart

Ideas from
A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition
by Debra K. Farrington

Creation has always taken way too long, while destruction – losses, changes, transitions – seem to happen too often and too unexpectedly.

Like it or not, in the midst of transition, the work is going to be about creation, about
cooperating with God in re-creating ourselves, about becoming more fully what God calls us to be. Transitions happen in their own time and in their own way, and trying to rush through them can sabotage the whole effort. Most of us want to push the process and control the outcome. Transitions come and go and finding ways to befriend them, to actually embrace the process, makes the journey easier and we stand a better chance of being closer to God when we reach the end.

Transitions all share something in common: they dump us flat into an unsettled time, a restless season. Transitions are more like what the Israelites experienced wandering in the desert – empty, extreme in its emotional temperatures, confusing to navigate, and hard to wait out. They are also unavoidable. Desert time is painful but also alive with creative potential.

Even a new and exciting opportunity brings with it loss – loss of freedom, loss of good friends or community, radical changes in the schedule, and demands on one’s life. Grieving the losses, even when there’s something new to celebrate, but especially when the loss is the predominant theme in your life, is crucial, and it takes time. God understands, accepts, and can work with whatever we’re carrying around with us at the moment. We need to start from where we are, not from where we’re not.

The work of transition is about learning to listen patiently to the restlessness in our hearts – our bodies, minds, and souls – and to live with it long enough to get to know its name and to discover if, through it, God is inviting us to some kind of promised land. In this way, we become more and more of what God hopes and desires for us as we learn to listen more deeply, and as we become more willing to be open to God’s transforming love.

Journeys through the desert or transition require that we move from being wherever we are today to a place of even deeper connection with God. We have the sense that we are lost many times, but God hasn’t lost track of us. God has hopes and desires for us and knows where we are at any point in time. The hard part for us is trusting that eventually we’ll get a sense of God’s guidance so that we no longer feel quite so lost.

One of the most challenging parts of transition is learning to live without answers for a time, with not knowing what or where Canaan might be and how far away it is right now. It’s not that the Israelites’ demands and fears weren’t legitimate. But it was their childish resistance to “growing shabby and uncomfortable” – to doing some of the creating themselves – that often angered God. God does not inflict difficulty and suffering on us in order to make us strong. God doesn’t make the mess. The transition does. But, just as the velveteen rabbit had to endure the process of becoming Real, so must we live into the hopes and desires of God.

One of our tasks in transition is to keep noticing signs of God’s presence along the way, to trust that God comes along with us, even when we don’t understand or sense it. We must also find ways to look for, ask for, and gratefully accept the help, support, and encouragement of others in the midst of traveling through the desert lands of our lives.

Most transitions could benefit from a “spirituality of the uneventful.” Life in the desert so often lacks definition or focus. Bewilderment, the process of being undone, of restlessness, of not being able to live the way we used to live but being without a vision – or even a clue – of how to live now, turns out to be a gift in the desert. Not knowing where we are, when we will get “there” or what the new land will look like are invitations to practice a spirituality of the uneventful. Sue Monk Kidd writes, “I felt inward pressure to change, yet I also felt pressure to remain the same. I got anxious over the way my old identity was losing its contours. A part of me wanted to shore it up as a child would pat a crumbling creation in a sandbox. Another part of me wanted to shed the old identity too quickly.”

It is important to develop a practice of silent listening, to stop long enough in the desert to hear what god may be calling out of you. Doing nothing in the desert is about connecting with God, about listening, paying attention, and watching for what’s trying to be born.

What remains hidden – unapproachable – is always more frightening before it is exposed to the light. Canaan, even with its riches, overwhelms us, and we’re afraid to go in. It’s so easy to see only the giants, the difficulty ahead, and ignore the ripe fruits, the flowing milk and honey, as most of the Israelite spies did on their first approach to Canaan. Feelings of fear and anxiety, as well as boredom and frustration, lead most of us to want a golden calf – a new visible god that will defeat whatever negatives exist in our lives at the moment. It’s natural to want that, but it doesn’t work.

What the Israelites needed to do in their time of restlessness, boredom, and fear was to help each other remember what God had done for them, to trust that God loved them and wasn’t oblivious to their pain. Instead they sat around remembering the “good life” they had in Egypt, whipping each other into a frenzy of anxiety rather than trusting that God might be guiding them to something new and glorious. The down time in all transitions is the time we need for giving up what was and working with God to co-create what will be. It’s all about becoming more of the self God wishes into being.

To believe that the desert journey, with its conflicting emotions, promises, and threats, is not the space we’ll live in forever, to believe that there is something – a land of promise – ahead and that God is calling us there requires courage. The first time the Israelites got to the land of Canaan, they were too afraid to trust that something wonderful awaited them. They were willing to focus on the “what-if’s” rather than the “might-be’s.”

The ending of one phase and the beginning of another can be hard to distinguish; the truth is that we spend much more of our lives in transition than out of it. There comes a time in transitions, usually after we have come to a new place that feels like home to us, that we need to put down the load we’ve been carrying. Once we’ve arrived, it’s time to say goodbye to whatever is now in the past in a way that may not have been possible before.

“For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” Isaiah 51:3