One morning, about a month ago, I wanted to shop. There wasn’t anything in particular I actually needed or wanted. I just felt an itch. I am a HUGE bargain hunter, and there’s something about the process of browsing, looking for a good find, finding it, and getting a good deal that is so satisfying. I love the feeling of, “I closed a deal!” It’s a cycle that calls my name and I know its voice. It’s fun. A hobby. A way to pass the time and save money (while spending money).
But recently, with some very helpful observations from my husband, Jesús, I started to see that sometimes—not always, but sometimes—this itch is not about shopping for deals. Jesús suggested I give the itch some reflective attention. When I did, it was easy to see the itch is sometimes a signal for something else. Restlessness. Discontent. Sadness. Anxiety. Unrest within my soul. Unrest that I may not even be aware of. Or unrest that I’m trying to ignore because it is uncomfortable and possibly painful.
Image credit: Caden Crawford
So, when the itch was calling my name that day, I put my phone and computer aside to avoid online shops and I decided not to go to the store. I grabbed my journal and made myself sit in quiet. That quiet space was SO uncomfortable. My whole body just wanted to jump up and do something. Like the dishes. Or laundry. Or mop. Or shop. I just wanted to keep moving and do my best to get rid of the restlessness inside.
And then I heard the soft voice of Jesus call to me, in the midst of my restlessness and discomfort. I heard him say, “Stay here and tell me what’s on your mind.”
And as I sat and wrote, it became abundantly clear that I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I was going to have three difficult conversations with people close to me—a friend, a student, and my husband. (Why did I plan three in one day?!? Note to self: one hard conversation a day is enough.) All three conversations required me to be open, honest, and vulnerable. This was scary because I was going to share my feelings. Risky because I had no idea how they would respond. Necessary because I care about these relationships.
Sigh. I stayed in uncomfortable restlessness until I spilled out onto my journal pages what I was feeling, what I wanted to share with these three, what I was worried about. I even practiced how I would share and what words to use to communicate my thoughts, feelings, and questions. After an hour, I was tired and definitely still nervous but I also experienced a peace that I know came from God. This peace grounded me through all three conversations. I was able to express myself fully and listen well to the other person because journaling had clarified my thoughts and feelings and calmed my unrest. Instead of feeling dread, I felt hopeful and I was able to be present.
It is hard work to tend to my soul in this way. It is way easier and faster to scratch the itch of retail therapy and be satisfied with a few cute bargain buys. But bringing my unrest to God, despite the discomfort, is so much better for my soul (and my wallet) and for my relationships with others. Sometimes, sitting in the restlessness shows me nothing more than my extensive, unfinished to-do list, so I get up and start going through my tasks. Other times, the unrest shows me something deeper that I need to work through—grief over a broken relationship, hurt inflicted by a close friend, regret of the way I treated someone, desire for something unfulfilled.
Though it is NOT fun or pleasurable to engage with the unrest within, I’ve realized that it is important to do so because it certainly affects different parts of and relationships in my life. I may be able to ignore the unrest for some time, but it is definitely not going away (no matter how much I want it to) and will show up somewhere, usually in a meltdown or explosion of emotions. Though I don’t do it perfectly, I am committed to bringing this itch before God and making space to become more aware of how my soul is doing. And I am grateful to have help from others, like my husband, along the way.
Can you relate to Mary's desire to find escapes from restlessness in your soul? When you have chosen to engage with the unrest, how has God met you?
Mary was born a friendly, fiery extrovert with a flair for drama. Growing up has brought a healthy dose of wisdom; she's learned to appreciate being still and quiet.
Mary attended Santa Clara University, where she cultivated great friendships, studied accounting, and fell in LOVE with Jesus (Christ, not her husband--that Jesús came later).
Mary has a passion for people and loves developing friendships, empowering leaders, and walking with others as they explore faith. She's wife to Jesús, mom to two adorable sons, Jesse and Ángel, part-time InterVarsity campus minister at San Jose State University, and assistant coach for a high school girls basketball team. Though her big Chinese family drives her up the wall sometimes, she loves them to pieces and knows she wouldn't be who she is without them.