Sometimes I feel the longing to move and experience some sort of radical change in my life. I feel restless and find myself desiring more than I have now, whether it be an exciting new adventure or the next best thing. It is in these moments I must ask myself why I am so restless. St. Augustine reminds us that “our hearts are restless until they rest in [Him].” Why do we constantly desire more in order to fill the void, when in truth, the void cannot be filled by the things of this world?
The ache I feel has roots and my roots lead me to my foundation, which has some major cracks and splits in the layers. Those splits are tied to my wounds; the disordered places in which I struggle to sit in or think about, let alone heal from. These areas of my life leave me feeling uncomfortable as I yearn for more and long for total fulfillment.
Well-known theology of the body evangelist, Christopher West, calls this longing “the universal ache.” It is a thirst for something greater than what we now have; a thirst for total fulfillment. To fulfill something means to bring it to its fullest potential; to complete it; to make full. But we seem to not be able to fill these deep and narrow cracks on our own no matter how much we try, as they often go deeper and split off into places we cannot see.
But the Father sees, and He loves us. He assures us: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Ironically, when we lean into self-reliance rather than leaning into the heart of Christ, it can harm us and not help us. How often do we do whatever we can to keep ourselves elsewhere — anywhere but here? We numb ourselves with social media or empty entertainment, attach ourselves to our work, flee to addictions, stimulants, or even pornography for that quick escape from our true reality. Our choices show that we don’t want to be uncomfortable, yet the only way to truly relieve the discomfort is to open ourselves to this ache and allow Love himself to enter in.
We see this in the story of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. After being freed from slavery, they were taken into the desert to go to the Promised Land. Yet, while in the desert they looked back and cried out for that same slavery in which they once lived! The Israelites were well on their way to freedom, yet they were scared in the waiting (the ache) and perhaps even forgot why they were brought into the desert in the first place. The idea of going back to a more predictable place was more comforting than the unknown journey ahead to the so-called Promised Land.
Our own restless deserts
Surely, we too can relate. Many of us experience this same broken life of slavery with our own sins. But Our Father didn’t just stop with the Israelites; He thirsts for souls — for each one of us. He leads us into the desert of restlessness often, not because He doesn’t love us, but because He loves us; because he wants to fill that void and mend our achy hearts. He invites us out of disorder and into order; out of slavery and into freedom… but only through Christ who from His side gushes forth a Fountain of Mercy.
So often we want to run somewhere else, maybe where the desert sand isn’t so hot and we aren’t so thirsty, but if only we would only remain in perseverance and faith, we would welcome in the Divine Physician himself. It is in this restless place that can He quench our thirsts and cool our burning desires for more.
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle” (Pope John Paul II, 15th World Youth Day, August 19, 2000).