Our Restless Hearts

Rev. Dr. Peter Keith

(4/1/2010) There is an old Hindu story of the young man who visited a Holy Man while he sat under a tree meditating. The young man said to him, "I want to see God. Show me how I may experience God."

The old Holy Man said nothing and continued with his meditation. The young man returned the next day with the same request, and the next and the next, yet still he received no reply.

On the day of what was going to be his last attempt, the young man found the Holy Man standing. He said, "You seem to be a genuine seeker after God. This afternoon I will go down to the river for my bath. Meet me there."

When the two of them were in the water, the Holy Man grabbed the young man's head firmly, pushed it under the water and held it. The young man struggled greatly to come to the surface. As the seconds passed the young man continued to thrash about. When he was finally released, he stood gasping for air. The Holy Man waited and then calmly said, "Come tomorrow and meet me by the tree."

The next day it was the Holy Man who spoke first. "Tell me, why did you struggle so while I held your head below the water?"

"Because," said the man. "I was unable to breathe! Without air I would have died."

The Holy Man smiled and said, "The day you desire God as desperately as you desired air, you will surely find him."


The point of this tale isn't too hard to understand. There is a certain amount of pain in true spiritual desire. The interesting thought, though, raised by the story is not the question of how much one has to desire God, or truth, or spiritual enlightenment, or whatever else you want to name it in order to find it. It is the question of what has happened to our own simple longing, our own deep-seated wish to find some meaning amidst all the meaninglessness of life?

It's the basic human question where we ask the reason for our living. What has happened to our desire to meet this most human of needs: to know the answer in the face of this great mystery? What's happened to it? Where has it gone? St. Augustine told us of the great restlessness of the human heart. It's the kind of restlessness that will drive young men to seek truth and wisdom. In other words, why aren't we walking down to visit the old meditating man?

The Jesuit priest Anthony DeMello wrote that if we do not experience this pain of longing, then it is because we kill the pain with a host of other desires and pleasures. We even let problems occupy our minds to suppress the pain and "restlessness" of not yet knowing God.

So for many people, the problem is not how much they desire God (or truth or enlightenment, or whatever else you want to call it), but whether or not they desire at all. Where has it gone? Has it been hidden? Most all know this certain restlessness of the heart. But the longing has been smothered with other longings, goals, priorities, and distractions. We do anything we can to quiet that nagging of the soul that desires something more, something greater, something eternal, something just better than the ways things are. Yes. That's it. You have felt it. You feel it now. It is your own desire for God.


There's a great story about the British writer Oscar Wilde. When he was once told by a friend that someone disliked him immensely, he said, "I don't know why the man dislikes me so, because I've never done anything for him." It was a brilliant insight. We are sometimes most prone to resent the very person who has acted toward us in goodness; the person who has done something for us.

It defines our fundamental problem with being on the receiving end of another's benevolence. If we don't like being on the receiving end of a gift, it may not be that we are particularly humble, but that we don't want to be beholding to the one doing something for us. Wilde's reaction rings true.

We most often dislike, or turn away from the ones who give without asking. Why? Because the person who receives may be reminded of how unable they are to reciprocate. We don't want the gift because we don't want the obligation that goes along with it. So we close ourselves, and turn from the receiving of anything. Especially if it's something we can't repay.

Could our own desire for God be covered over by this reluctance to receive? Has the desire been blown out, extinguished for the feeling that to actually accept the grace of God in our own lives may obligate us in such a way that we simply do not want to be? I believe it is.

We also truly fear to know God because we suspect that in doing so we may be asked to change. And that is not something most of us are eager to do - change. What if in trusting that movement in our spirit, in answering that restlessness we felt a call to do something we didn't want to do?

What if in more frequent and honest openness to that inner prompting we were to discover a gentle word calling us to face up to a problem, or relinquish some damaging pleasure, or to love what we think we cannot love? Along with DeMello's observation that we try to bury the restlessness with all manner of things, we also simply turn from it because we fear a call to change. Our restless hearts.


I wonder if you have ever had the experience of someone you love not believing that you love him or her. It's worse than an unrequited love. This kind when what you want most is not what the person can give you, or do for you, but that they simply believe and know that you love them. They just won't accept it.

Perhaps the Spirit quickening your heart to answer knows that same feeling. You are someone who is loved with a deep abiding care and you wonder and may even occasionally ask, "do you love me?"

It's so hard for us to believe that God would not ask us to repay, but only to accept. It's so difficult for us to accept that God would be waiting to bring a "peace beyond understanding" to our restless hearts. No obligation. No strings attached.

When did you last go like the young man to find an answer? When did you last let speak that voice deep in your soul reminding you that there is depth, and beauty, and holiness to this great and wonderful mystery called life? You see, your desire for God, your restlessness of heart, is nothing less than grace reaching for you.

So clear are the words of Christ, that there is no obligation to meet, no gift to repay. You need only ask. You need only search. You need only knock. And when you do, you will begin to breathe again.

Read other articles by Pastor Keith