I am part of the Restless Generation. That’s not a label I got from anywhere, but it’s one of the things I see.
I think that this generation starts with people like me, the stranded few who aren’t really Gen X or Gen Y, who speak both languages but don’t find a home in either place. It extends, then, until I see it playing out in ways I don’t even entirely understand in the lives of the ones called Millenials.
We like to move. We want to travel, and we change jobs and even careers with a frequency that would once have been alarming. We aren’t sure about anything that requires putting down roots, and we generally enter into even the deepest relationships with the thought that things could always change. We like adventure, especially if it’s for a greater cause, and the mundane makes us nervous. In fact, we often become exceedingly uneasy when our lives look the same for any number of days.
We are restless. We don’t rest well. We are happiest when we have just moved on, are in the process of moving on, or are looking forward to future moves.
These moves don’t have to be huge, though sometimes they are. This restlessness can manifest itself in changing churches, changing jobs, or changing countries.
I do realize that this restlessness probably doesn’t start with us, but I do suspect that we are one of the first generations where both prosperity and cultural expectations (or lack thereof) permit us to act on these desires, rather than overcome them. We don’t have the family or community obligations to keep us at home, and often our finances permit at least some stretching for more adventure when life gets mundane.
It’s not that these desires are of necessity bad, but they do allow us to escape in ways that seem to mean that we never develop certain aspects of character that would improve our lives, not to mention make us more like Jesus. Our restless offers us a way out of some of the discomfort that comes when you stay in one place, rooted in a community and a family and a way of life.
A few weeks back A few months back Nearly a year ago now, I read an article about how much courage it takes to live an everyday life – one without an explicit overarching purpose, usually involving the raising of kids, the cultivating of a marriage, and the management of a household. The author says that these things are especially hard for the current generation, for those who want to move on and do big things, and who find that normal life tends to feel aimless and tedious.
I read this, and I wondered why: why is it so hard for us to stay put, to endure through the hard times and rejoice, at home, in the good ones? Why do we sometimes have the urge to leave marriage and family, job and home and friends, even acknowledging the hardships that would bring? Why does it take more courage to stay, when that seems counterintuitive at best?
I think that at least part of the answer lies in the things we have to see about ourselves when we stay.
When we travel the world for Jesus or justice or just because it’s there for the seeing, when we change jobs and even careers, when we never stay long enough in a place or at a church to develop deep community, we learn certain skills and we see certain things about ourselves. But there are a whole slew of things that we miss, too, and even some that we might come to think we are good at when we actually aren’t.
Take remaining present in spite of hard circumstances, for example. When you are constantly on the move, constantly craving change and planning your next move, you don’t have to make a conscious, moment-by-moment choice to remain present in difficult situations. Instead, you move on. While doing so often alleviates the difficulty, it creates more problems, which you also don’t have to deal with (like hurting the people who you leave behind).
But, more than that, it allows you to move on without seeing the fault in yourself. You don’t see the fault in the moving on itself, in escaping rather than doing the hard work to see if things can be improved, but you also don’t see the fault in yourself that contributed to the problem in the first place. Staying, and committing to doing your best to work things out, would mean facing these things, acknowledging them to yourself and to others involved in the situation, asking forgiveness where necessary, and working to change the self.
Because real life is a mirror. “Who are you?” it asks. When the excitement is gone, when you’re not running on adrenaline, when your brain isn’t producing larger quantities of the endorphins that make you feel good, who are you? When the virtues necessary to get through your day with some modicum of grace are things like kindness, gentleness, and faithfulness, rather than ones like courage, bravery, and audaciousness, who are you? When you love someone or several someones enough to stay when you’d really like to go, who are you?
This mirror makes us uncomfortable because it is often true that being good at one way of life (like that produced by restlessness) does not mean that we are good at another (like stability). And it is always easier to do what we are good at, rather than to remain somewhere that stretches us, that calls us to use skills that are, at best, underdeveloped, and that we may not have at all.
But the mirror also tells us the truth. It gives us the good and the bad, without commentary. It tells us who we are, and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the why and the how. And it shows us how we change, how time shifts us in good ways and bad.
Since stability and gentleness, steadfastness and faithfulness, reflect Jesus as much as courage and confrontation, justice and assertiveness, it seems like there might be good reason for us to stop and reflect in this mirror. When we let everyday life show us who we are, and when we then let it form us into people with a more rounded out set of virtues, we will be closer to being the people God made us to be.
And that, after all, should be the goal of our time on this earth.