the shape of leadership

Wrestling With Restlessness

Four keys for getting your heart back into ‘alignment’

Kristi Northup on October 14, 2019

Growing up as a missionary kid, there was a pattern of constant change. A new home. A new language. A new school. Get more comfortable. Say goodbye. New home. New school. New church. Make a few friends. Start to get comfortable. Say goodbye. Repeat.

This often creates a scenario where throughout their lives, MKs move frequently, even though they crave permanency. Watching this pattern in my friends and family has helped me also observe it in many other people as well. I recognize it as a restless spirit. Most of us are affected by it from time to time. Some of us are affected by it all the time.

For those who struggle with restlessness on a regular basis, it can be like a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment us.

What is restlessness? The dictionary defines it this way: “Never at rest. Perpetually agitated or in motion.” This can be physical and mental, but it can also be a deep spiritual condition characterized not only by constant motion, but also a nagging discontent.

For some, there’s a feeling that things would be better somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else. It’s the suspicion that others just have it easier for reasons that seem to be elusive. Maybe a bigger house, or more money, or easier co-workers would make things better. For many people, it is a constant state that is never remedied.

People go to great lengths to free themselves from restlessness, often to the detriment of those they love the most. Too many times I’ve seen ministry families make cross-country moves, only to do it again 18 months later, because it was a bad idea to begin with.

What is the source? There can be many sources, from patterns within one’s family of origin to discouragement from a lack of results, or even a chemical imbalance. But ultimately, restlessness is a sign that something in our spirit is out of alignment.

Restlessness can propel us to new things, but it can also lead us to destructive actions.

The frequent flooding of the streets in New Orleans tears up the pavement. This causes us constant tire problems and knocks our vehicles out of alignment. It’s especially aggravating when we drive on long trips, because the car continually pulls us off course to the right. We have to counter that by pulling it a little to the left, which makes the tires wear unevenly.

This is what restlessness does. It’s a constant pulling away from the course that requires huge amounts of energy to stay on track. It distracts us from our focus and wears us down.

How do we get our spirit back in alignment? How do we get back on track with God’s heart for us and vision for our lives? Here are four suggestions:

Don’t make any sudden moves. I’ve often heard it said that pastors resign on Mondays. Don’t do it! A little more reflection and pause can help things look a little better after a few days. It may save a lot of heartache.

Quiet the waters. Often, we’re in such a tizzy that we can’t even begin to figure out where to go from here. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take a few days off. Getting away can help us clear our hearts and minds. When we can’t tell the difference between our spirit and our emotions, we can depend on the Word of God. He can cut through the noise and give direction.

Break the cycle. I went through a season where I changed positions five times in two years. While it stemmed from a painful situation, I couldn’t get back on track. The initial bad decision led me to several others. I had to own the fact that no job was going to be perfect, but every time I started over it was that much harder to get established. I couldn’t change what had happened, but it was my discontent that led me to the bad decision in the first place. Coming to terms with that helped me to stop blaming others and start getting my heart and mind back on track.

Seek wise counsel. On many occasions, spiritual fathers and mothers (including our families) have helped us discern whether it’s just our own discouragement or the grace lifting because God was doing a new thing. Sometimes seeing a Christian counselor helps me examine my heart and redirect my emotions, getting me back in alignment with the things that matter to God.

Restlessness can propel us to new things, but it can also lead us to destructive actions. Ultimately, we each have to live in our own skin, and restlessness can be a thorn we learn to overcome. God’s grace is sufficient, and His power works best through our weakness.

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