Restless Heart

Restless Heart


A few months ago, I discovered a lump in my right breast. Suddenly, I found myself, like many others, on an emotional rollercoaster waiting for doctor appointments, scans, biopsies, more biopsies, results, healing. And I didn’t like any of it. Subconsciously, very naively, we believe we have supreme agency over our fate. But the truth is we have no idea what tomorrow holds or its outcome. I was a spinning top on the inside, vulnerable, no peace, what to do?


My first offensive against this dark, menacing cloud hovering over my days and nights was to just muscle my way through it. I ran like Forest Gump. I drank a little Rose. I ate too much chocolate cake. I stacked my schedule with work. Then I spring-cleaned my cabinets and attacked my messy closets. I tried the diversions of social media and Netflix. I even started a new writing project.


I kept trying to go head-to-head with the elephant in the room. The anxiousness finally caught up with me at 3’o ‘clock one morning.


Years ago, in a theology class at Vanderbilt Divinity School, my professor wrote in pink chalk a familiar quote by St. Augustine at the top of his black board. I have since memorized it, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.”


Each one of us will suffer at some point, probably more than we would like, from a restless heart.


I tried everything to cure mine. A simple prayer, borrowed from Jesus, rescued me at 3 am and blessed me with peace in the days forward. Here it is: “Dear God, into thy hands, I commend my spirit to you.”


It became my internal mantra to turn over my scary today, my uncertain tomorrow, everything and everyone that I love—to God.


Every time I feel panicky, my heart in a clutch, I stop and whisper this prayer, “Into thy hands God, I commend my spirit” and I receive peace to press on. In moments of terrific uncertainty, anxiousness and fear—when we painfully feel our vulnerability—the only place to turn is to God. Our hearts are indeed restless until they surrender to the One larger than ourselves and our circumstances.


I had to find my confidence in God, because ultimately that is who holds my life on earth and one day eternally.


This time the results came back benign. But the reality is there will be other times when you and I will struggle with what is happening outside us, to us, testing again God’s peace inside of us.


There are many things that tax our hearts and make us restless: a child’s wellbeing, aging parents, our own health, this scary, violent world, the approach of death and what comes next. Six kids, a husband, my parents, my five sisters, friends, church members, and this whole sacred world constantly squeezes my heart. Because I am so in love and invested in every sacred piece of it. The truth is nothing is secure in this life except our eternal bond with God.


If I believe my spirit (the part of me that is not finite) is protected by God, then surely I can rest… knowing, ultimately, I am going to be okay, whatever happens. Actually, more than okay.


A simple, but grounding question to ask yourself in the whirl of life is: To Whom Do I belong?


Initially, we may look to the world for rescue, and for a while this might be enough. But “3 a.m.” will come for all of us.


Thankfully, God is offering our souls something more, a spiritual, eternal hope that transcends the fragility of our material and finite existence.


I do not believe in a physical locale of hell, but oh how hellish to suffer from a restless heart, desperate, alone—far away from God and hope. We can spend our whole lives searching for this pearl of great price, something that will make us feel whole, healed, safe, loved, and gloriously at peace. The temporal world will offer us useless adult pacifiers to band-aid the ache. It’s all a wild goose chase, with many dead ends.


There is only one true cure for the restless heart and it is as close as your heartbeat and as near as your breath. God is offering you what your heart wants most of all and that is pure and unconditional love, protection and a future. God soothes the restless heart.


Jesus is proof that you can fully participate in this brutal and beautiful world less fragile, more peaceful, if connected to God. In the end, it’s all we have anyway.


There is a longing for God (a gravitational pull of love) in our hearts that never leaves us. God is always drawing us back to Him. In Matthew 11, God says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and lean on me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. In the Gospel of John, God says, “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Let your hearts not be troubled and do not be afraid.” “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and I will give you everything you need.”


When your soul is at peace, you can handle whatever this world hands you.


It is a daily practice of surrender and trust to ease your restless heart. Remember, Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha, Peter, Paul, even Jesus—suffered with restless hearts. It’s part of being human and loving the one precious life we have been given. But God is offering us relief.


A thousand years before Jesus came to earth, King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was the place the curious and faithful our ancestors made pilgrimages to lock into God. The Bible tells us there were three areas of the temple where people could gather.


First, there was a large outer courtyard. For many, this was as far as they ever came which is an apt metaphor for being aware of God, but not fully giving oneself over to God. Others traveled closer into the inner courtyard. I think I abide here the most. I am so close. I give over all my worries to God, but then quickly take them right back. The ultimate destination is at the temple center, called the “Holy of Holies,” where it was believed you came face-to-face with God, a union of hearts. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to travel the 10,000 miles to Jerusalem, or even show up a high priest or a saint. All we have to do is close our eyes and in the quiet, pray the words, “Dear God, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” And God rushes in with love.


I would like to offer three ways to help inch us closer to the threshold of the Holy of Holies to experience God’s peace. Scripture, solitude, and the sacred.


When my son Charlie was sick, we wallpapered our shoebox apartment in New York City with scriptures. We needed to be constantly reminded that we were not alone, that God was with us. Psalm 139, taped on my kitchen wall, was my life preserver. It has since saved me more times than I can count. I experience Psalm 139 as a love letter from God to my soul. It is my go-to when I am unraveling. Rev. James Forbes was a beloved minister at Riverside Church in New York City near our apartment at 100th and Riverside. He said that if you read Psalm 139 every single day for a month, it would change your life. It will. Henri Nouwen said we have to hear again and again God calling us, His beloved. In Psalm 139, God does just that. God says I know you intimately, from the inside out. I call you by name. Even before a word is on your tongue, I know it. I knew and loved you before anyone else. I love you now, and I will love you after. Wherever you go, whatever you must face, I will be with you.


Hallelujah, there is a power greater than myself working creatively, redemptively, lovingly on my behalf. Frederick Buechner proclaimed, “Joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are everlasting arms.” May we trust it to be true.


We cannot control what is happening outside us or to us, but we can trust what God promises us. When our lives come undone, it is God’s unrelenting love that comes to our rescue. God knows you. God loves you. God has you. In the storm of a cancer diagnosis, the rollercoaster of raising kids, in the midst of terrible grief, grappling with aging, as a participant in this broken, unfair, violent world, even on your deathbed, you are not alone. You have God and God has you. Read Psalm 139 every day and remember again to whom you ultimately belong.


#2 is Solitude. Thomas Merton, the beloved monk and author proclaimed, “we work out our salvation in silence and hope.” The psalmist sang, “For God, wait thou in stillness, my soul. From him cometh my salvation and hope.” The author of Lamentations 3:26 said it is good to hope, in stillness for God’s deliverance. You will not gain entrance to the holy of holies in the mad rush, the anxiety spiral, the never-ceasing noise of our earthly existence. The soul needs quiet and stillness.


In Soulfull, I speak about “One Square Inch of Silence,” a real geographic location in the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park named the quietest place in America. Gordon Hempton, the discoverer, is an acoustic ecologist who travels the globe tracking the few remaining quiet places on earth. He has recorded the unique acoustics inside volcanos, the musical scores of rainforests, and documented the soundscapes of sunrises across every continent.


What Kempton has concluded, and what is somewhat alarming for humanity, is how few quiet places remain on our planet untainted by the noise of modern life. He believes that we are living in the age of the extinction of silence.


Jesus instructed, “go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”


We have to create for ourselves our own “Holy of Holies” so we can step away from the whirl and encounter grace. It could be in your room at 3 am like me, or maybe like Jesus, you go climb a mountain, take a boat out on the sea, or escape into a garden to connect with the Great I am.  God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth saw the importance and appointed for Himself a whole day of stillness. “One square inch of silence” was a priority for Jesus.


His first century life was noisy, demanding and full of uncertainty and fear too. Jesus knew he (and we) are ill-equipped to handle it all without God’s regular touchpoints of calm and peace.


Our world tells us to keep going. But our Beloved says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Nature provides the quickest door for me to enter the Holy of Holies. It usually takes two miles alone and quiet in Percy Warner Park before I can deliver my heart over to God, and receive a dose of peace. Every Sunday we are given a little bit of quiet to touch the eternal during the sacrament of communion. Rituals like this help make the longings of our heart for God, more a reality. In the quiet and stillness, we replenish and rebuild our reserves of hope.


Another way to knock on the door of the Holy of Holies is to be open to experience awe and wonder. Your heart is a marvelous jar for a spectrum of emotions. Unfortunately, sometimes fear, anxiety, and the hardness of our life experiences outweigh the good, the sacred, and the hopeful. We experience an imbalance in our hearts. At every turn, God is offering us antidotes of beauty, goodness and joy to restore balance and bolster our hope. But we have to be “Sherlock Holmes” detectives, searching our daily lives for signs of the Divine. Can you remember the last time you experienced that feeling of being captivated by life—awestruck? Maybe you experienced goosebumps, rising hairs all over your body, a lump in your throat. Your present reality received a momentary upgrade. Your heart somehow expanded in your chest. Heaven broke through. You had that sense that all would be well.


We need more of these soulful moments. They are a balm for the restless heart. They give us hope.


It is amazing what seeing an owl at Percy Warner, the eagles at Radnor Lake, listening to the cicada hum and the pair of doves singing outside my kitchen door does for my soul. Every time I go into nature, I feel replenished, rested, more hopeful. The other day, I got to hold a six-week-old foster baby who just smiled and cooed at me. I experienced the most marvelous positive shift of energy inside me. There is a fragrant and perfect peony clipped from my garden in a budvase on my desk. Its simple beauty is a balm for my soul.


Build a Holy of Holies at your heart’s center. Wallpaper it with love letters like Psalm 139 and your growing collection of experiences of awe and wonder. Then welcome the silence so it’s just you and God.


Whisper the prayer, “Dear God, into thy hands, I commend my spirit” and find rest/experience peace /be set free.


My Hope Anthem!!

  • Vicki Phillips

    May 27, 2024 at 6:16 am

    It was a wonderful sermon and service. Psalm 139 read this morning during my quiet time with God.
    Thank you for the uplifting message.

  • Corky Herbert

    May 27, 2024 at 7:40 am

    Always, you offer ways to grow closer to God as our wellspring of life. Thanks that you share willingly and lovingly!

  • Anonymous

    May 27, 2024 at 8:34 am

    prayers for you sweet sister..

  • Tasha Green

    May 27, 2024 at 10:06 am

    Exactly what I needed today. 🤍

  • Sarah Drury

    May 27, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    Farrell, this is beautiful and profound … are you okay? How can we be praying for you?