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Is Restlessness a Sin?

When I ran out of reasons to move—but still felt the urge to pack—I knew something in my spirit was off.

Michelle Van Loon June 23, 2024

Tossing the battered moving boxes I’d packed and unpacked five times in the last 15 years was my declaration that we were finally done relocating. Plus, those cardboard containers simply wouldn’t stand up to another move.

Illustration by Jeff Ostberg

But after three years living in what my husband and I called our retirement home, I found myself wondering if I’d been a little rash about my boxes. I caught myself dreaming about our next address before I reminded myself that this was supposed to be our final earthly stop. Our previous moves had come out of necessity: work relocations, a landlord selling the property he’d rented to us, a short sale during the housing market downturn. There was no burning reason to move anymore.

As much as I claimed to loathe pulling up stakes every few years, I’d grown used to looking forward to the next new and improved thing in my life, whether it was a new friend or a different zip code. I had long assessed this as a strength—I was usually able to adapt quickly to all the changes that marked my life. 

But my constant scanning of the world had a dark side to it, too. I was coveting the life, success, or stuff I thought someone else was surely enjoying (and I was missing out on). Saint Augustine famously observed, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” The Holy Spirit used those words to speak to me about the envy that contributed to my lack of contentment. 

I began to see that focusing on everything else—looking for a new place to live, getting to know a new community, searching for a church, forming new friendships—let me avoid dealing with the deeper issue as well as the pain of those goodbyes. As a social worker once told me, “It’s hard for grief to hit a moving target.”

My not having a relocation on the horizon meant I had to both face the heartbreak I’d accumulated over so many moves and confront my habit of always looking ahead for my happiness. Over the course of 15 years, my soul had grown used to the rhythms—and pitfalls—of a somewhat unsettled life.

I was reflecting on all of this with a wise friend, when she suggested that maybe some of my restlessness was a gift from God. Hebrews 11:1-40 is sometimes called the Hall of Faith because it lists notable people who acted in hope on God’s not-yet-fulfilled promises. Doing so uprooted some of those named, unsettled others, cost many their comfort—and in some cases, their lives.

Verse 13 summarizes their faith in God like this: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Being strangers required these faithful men and women to experience a restless existence, one that kept them moving toward a future they could barely see. Not being settled somewhere was a byproduct of focusing on their true home—oneness with God.

You could say the same for Jesus. Both Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 capture the way Jesus described His years of journeying with the disciples: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” His years of active ministry were spent wandering from town to town—but with purpose and intention. Still, Jesus must have ached for home.

It is not an accident that people like Noah, Abraham, and Moses earned a place in the Hall of Faith. Their trust in God didn’t allow them to seek a comfy, settled life. A life that appears restless to others isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it might be the result of a heart entirely committed to seeking God.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote of this uniquely human predicament: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” For me, it is very good news indeed that the world of which Lewis speaks does not require me to pack and unpack moving boxes to get there. 

I have been a follower of Jesus for nearly five decades, and though my restless soul has at times harbored discontent, I now recognize the value of my pilgrim nature. (I also feel a kinship with Jesus’ disciples, who, when they answered His call to follow, found their lives well and truly uprooted.) But whether I am physically planted in one place or on the move, His call is what I will always aim to follow.

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