Lying in Green Pastures With a Heart that Will Not Sit Down

I write to teach myself, and with the hope that someone else might be able to glean encouragement or exhortation from it as well. Still, usually when I sit down to write a blog, I have a somewhat solid idea of what I want to say. Not this time. I am restless. My heart is heavy. But I need this ritual of thinking and praying through typing so I can learn how to rest.

My heart is heavy because of turmoil in the world, in my country, and in my personal life. I see injustice. I see people being hateful to each other and drawing lines in the sand over politics and beliefs. Many of these people claim Christ. It is disheartening to see people who follow the same Savior become venomous toward each other over differences of opinion. And I’m not saying these opinions or issues are not important. They are vital. And that is what makes them so volatile. Still, the lack of peace and grace is hard. I admit that I participate in this. It is hard for all of us when we think we see something so clearly and others can’t or won’t see it the same way. I know I have the same difficulty seeing things from the other side. But every time I get on Facebook I am overcome with a heaviness of spirit. That is largely because what is going on in our country and the world is truly heavy and in some ways quite frightening. It is right to feel sorrow and grief and a sense of unrest with the ways in which people are being devalued and the truth is being twisted. But at the same time, to live under the oppression of fear cannot be the right thing. We have not been given a spirit of fear.

Even without the relational aspect of the climate of our country and world right now, there is just the unrest of seeing things happen that grieve me and the unrest of feeling like there is no way to even know what is really going on. News outlets seems either biased toward one side or the other, or just plain fake. I feel a new urgency to be informed, while at the same time feeling powerless to even know what’s true.

And then there is the unrest in my personal life. People I’ve known and loved for many years — the people closest to me in the world — who suddenly (or maybe not so suddenly) are not on the same page as I am on the things that are the core of who I am. People I love letting go of their faith at the same time that I’m finding myself grasping it more and more tightly. I am not standing in judgment. In some ways their response makes complete sense. My love is not altered. But there is fear in this, too. There is grief. It’s the loss of something I once had, or hoped I had, as a common foundation.

Recently, my mom told me about a children’s book called My Heart Will Not Sit Down. The title is an African saying meant to express the feeling we have when we are moved with deep compassion for others that demands action. Oh, this describes my heart so perfectly. My heart will not sit down in response to the knowledge that there are people who are living in fear and real persecution as a result of the decisions of world leaders. My heart will not sit down in response to knowing that there are parents and children who are separated by oceans. My heart will not sit down knowing that millions of unborn babies are killed each year. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are parents who feel so hopeless for one reason or another that they feel that abortion is their best option. My heart will not sit down knowing that there are women who give birth while incarcerated who are not given the human dignity to labor without shackles.

This phrase also describes the restlessness I feel. I have a heart that is burdened and without peace. It cannot sit down. It cannot sit still. It is anxious and fearful and sad. But that is not what I am called to. I am called to let peace reign in my heart. But how?

Colossians 3:15 tells us to “Let the peace of Christ reign in [our] hearts.” This is not a passive thing. This is not wishing for peace or hoping for peace. It is putting the peace of Christ on the throne. Letting it reign. If we have the Holy Spirit, we have access to His peace. We have to grab ahold of it and put it in charge. All of this is very vague. I don’t exactly know what it looks like practically, but I know that there are times when I am tempted to fear and I remember to let peace reign — to remember that when all seems hopeless there is a God who is not surprised by it and who is good and holy and who will be glorified in the end. When I fear for those in my life who might be deciding they don’t believe in Him, I remember that Christ loves them more than I do. Which doesn’t make the journey less lonely, but it does bring comfort. Preaching to our own hearts when anxiety and fear loom can help put things into perspective. It doesn’t always take away the immediate pain and difficulty, but it can strengthen us to bear it.

Something I am grateful for in the midst of all this unrest is that it has upset my complacency. For years and years I “knew” that spending time in the Word was important, and something I needed to do consistently. I “knew” that praying and listening to God was vital. But somehow it felt like knowing that was enough. It felt like enough to feel bad about not doing what I knew I should do, without actually doing it. Similarly with working for justice in the world and helping others in practical ways, it had felt like enough to just think the “right” thing or have the “right opinion” — even better if I shared that opinion on Facebook. Now I can see that an intimacy with Christ and really walking in the Spirit is vital. It is not something I can pursue tomorrow. It is something I need right now. Delayed obedience is disobedience — at least that’s what my mom used to tell me. And the people who are terrified — the people who are hungry and displaced and left without the hope of Christ — they cannot wait either. They need me to do the next thing. They need me to do what my conscience has been prodding me to do for years. And this brings a certain peace, as well. Having a heart that will not sit down prompts us to move. Like when you wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep. You might as well get up and get something done.

I also feel the need for discernment in what I take in and entertain more than ever. If my spirit is heavy every time I log on to Facebook, maybe I shouldn’t log on as much. Maybe I should protect myself from the confusion and clamor. This is not to say that we should bury our heads in the sand and disengage. I just said that actively working for and seeking justice is one of the ways to respond to this lack of peace. But for me, and I suspect for many people, social media is something that either leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless or just angry or even feeling like we’ve done something when we’ve really just stated an opinion. Of course, letting people know where you stand and what you see as important is valuable. But we often stop there; at least I do. I think one way to pursue peace and let it reign can be to get away from the constant tumult of social media and seek out reliable sources of news and information, and take action based on that. Even as I type that I think to myself, “But does reliable news exist?” But I do believe there are journalists out there seeking real truth. We just have to do the work of finding them. And then we can talk to people in person and come together and support each other in taking action.

When I first heard the phrase, “My heart will not sit down,” the next thing I thought of was the 23rd Psalm. The psalmist says God makes him lie down in green pastures. He prepares a table for him in the presence of his enemies. David says he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, yet fears not evil. The psalm is a peaceful one, but it is not without turmoil. There are enemies. There is death. But David doesn’t fear because his Shepherd is with him. He is near to the One who sees and cares for him. The way to lie down in green pastures with a heart that will not sit down is in intimacy with and obedience to Christ.

We need to let peace reign in our hearts — acknowledge that the other feelings are there and there for a reason, but put peace in charge. Let peace and faith make the decisions because fear and anxiety and anger are really bad at making good choices. Stay close to the Shepherd. Listen to Him and let Him lead you into the actions He has for you to take. And then you can lie down in green pastures, even with a heart that will not sit down.

  • S Frei

    Thanks for sharing your struggle to make sense of the world and demonstrate to your readers authenticity. -sf