Restlessness and Worry

Elisabeth Elliot Restlessness and Worry

The book of Ecclesiastes was written by a very restless man. He was fed up with his life and everything had become meaningless to him. He wrote, “I hated life.... All of it is meaning-less, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18).

Do you find yourself in the same boat? Is there some work that seems so pointless to you that you find yourself doing it distractedly because you are fed up with doing it and you wish you were somewhere else?

We quote St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” But do we live it out? Do we not tend instead to live, like the godless world around us, as if our perpetual restlessness is more or less normal, assuming that our lives are supposed to be a series of struggles to achieve “closure”? Subconsciously, we rephrase the quote: “My heart is restless until it rests at the end of this current effort. Until then, naturally I will be agitated.”

Think back over yesterday. Did somebody upset you? (Your spouse or your children or the driver in front of you on the highway, perhaps?) Did you become frustrated about your own failure to accomplish some work? Were you disgusted with your boss? Were you worried about a medical problem?

What were you worried about last Wednesday? Did the worrying do you any good? You know it didn’t. Worrying is forbidden (read Matthew 6:25, Philippians 4:6, Psalm 37). It is useless, a colossal waste of time. Still, we carry on as if it’s unavoidable.

Rest is a divine gift. But entering into rest is a lesson that all of us must learn. Can you accept this moment, just this one, trusting Him and becoming still before Him? Can you do it when you are in a traffic jam, becoming tardier by the minute for an appointment? It is God’s appointment for you—sitting there breathing exhaust fumes, learning to calm your soul by acknowledging that He is in charge of every detail of your life and that everything that happens to you has come through the hedge of His love.

There is always time enough to do the will of God. The great thing is to make our planning subject to God’s perfect plan, laying our agendas at His feet and asking Him to help us choose wisely. All of us have duties. How gratefully and calmly we carry them out will indicate how we have obeyed Him.

Someone I love was going through a divorce. When she heard that her husband had gone to court, it was next to impossible for her to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for the outcome. Over and over, she realized that she was fretting anew, losing her peace. With God’s grace she was able, moment by moment, to lay her burden at His feet. Step by step, asking for God’s help, putting her trust in Him over and over, she proved that He Himself is the road to peace and the gateway to joy.

“I have put my trust in You” (Psalm 143:8). Put is an active verb and trust is a purposeful, not passive, choice. I may have to combine active trusting with taking myself by the scruff of the neck to undertake an unpleasant task. I may have to decide to terminate a pleasant activity to which I resorted in my agitation. (“I just need a break.”) I may have to re-do a project that I ruined in my restless haste. I may have to apologize for words spoken out of anxiety.

Eventually, the restless Teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes discovered how to be happy. “It is good and proper for a man to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life. . . . God enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).