Mere Orthodoxy interviewed Ben and Jenna Storey about their new book, “Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment.” While restlessness has always been a part of the human condition, the authors point out it has taken on “a distinctive and particularly troubling character in modern times.”
Augustine said famously, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” His restlessness is contrary to modern restlessness, which the authors say is more like “agitated motion without direction.” Augustine was searching for ultimate meaning and purpose in God. In our day, it is simply assumed that we cannot find fulfillment in God. We are suspicious of that idea…
The modern mind “seeks diversion from itself, rather than attending seriously and persistently to existential questions,” such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Could this be why we are unhappy? The book focuses on “the restlessness of the mind that tries and fails to find happiness in a distinctly modern way. The focus is on self – not on building a relationship with the transcendent God.
The authors coin the term “immanent contentment” to represent a view of “happiness with no center – a pleasantly various kind of happiness.” If we limit life to “the immanent frame” it will fail on this delusion. In contrast, Augustine’s search for happiness was what Jesus called “the one thing needful” (Luke 10:38-42). Happiness is found outside of self.
The authors hold, “If we’re honest with ourselves both about the depth of our miseries and the height of our aspirations, we begin an anguished quest” for answers to the longings of the human soul. Too much attention to the immanent needs in our life distract us from “the fundamental question of why we find ourselves on this planet.”
The authors hope readers of their book will “learn to exchange pointless busyness for a pointed quest.” “We need,” they stress, “to be more ruthless about the question of how we commit our time, separating serious things that deserve our attention from distractions that might be pleasant enough but are not the answers to the question of a life.”
Men, we are restless because we have a longing for God. James Houston reminds us, “The unsatisfied longing for God is what drives human beings above all else.” Augustine noted, “Longing is the heart’s treasury.” He went on to say, “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. What you desire ardently, as yet you do not see…by withholding of the vision, God extends the longing; through longing he extends the soul, by extending it he makes room in it…Let us long because we are to be filled…that is our life, to be exercised by longing.”
Men, I encourage you: taste, feel, experience, and cultivate your longing for God. Don’t be afraid of your deepest desires and passions. That is how we are wired. We have been lied to and tricked by the enemy, to either neglect or disavow our deepest desires. Open your heart to God. Don’t just think about God; express your deepest longings to him. Ask the Lord to help straighten out the tangled mess you may have made of your passions.
Years ago, as I began to befriend my deepest longings, I found much comfort in the Psalms. They express the full range of desire before God. For example, in Psalm 42:1-2 we read, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Remember: He longs as well for relationship with you.