The Disquiet that Calls You Back to the Fire


My grandmother told me she could see their fires at night, dotting the dark rise of the forested bluff as her family’s wagon passed along the dirt road after the summer church revival.

She told me you could hear their music, too, the strings weaving their way down the wooded hill. Music like joy, but different from the hymns at church where the elders thumped the heads of sleeping children with a doorknob stuck to the end of a long pole. 

She told me that when she was a girl growing up in Southern Illinois in the 1920s the gypsies would come through town to trade horses with the men who weren’t afraid of the evil eye or their own Pentecostal wives.

No matter how many times she told me this story over the cluttered after-Sunday-dinner table when I was a child, I never tired of it. The vision of that hill fed my already restless spirit, which longed for something as wild as gypsy fires.

My spirit still wanders from my body stuck like a fence post in the dirt of the Midwest.

I ask my husband—he one who carried Jesus and his young family to India and lived among Hindus and cobras and monsoons for 10 years—why I’m always restless. It’s part rhetorical question, part tossing it out to the universe with a hint of apology to God . . . maybe for missing a call or maybe for not carrying this one as well as I could.

It means your mind is on something that is bigger than you. Something purposeful.

This is one of my favorite answers of the ones he has offered. Maybe it gives me too much credit, but I keep doing what I always do with this nagging disquiet and write.

Maybe “purposeful restlessness” is a prettier term than nagging disquiet; but whatever I call it, it has called me, too, in different ways over the years. In September, I quit my full-time job at a Christian college to freelance write full time. I let go of the “security” of eight-hour days and 401Ks.

The final “Dear Boss” letter was typed after three years of thought, planning and prayer. And as much as that letter was a goodbye to an institution that—despite its fault—had supported me and my family for more than eight years, the words I said on that page were also an answer to an entrepreneurial prodding I had felt as a young girl the day my father pulled into our driveway with his new pick-up truck that read, “Colby & Son Construction,” and I fought the urge to cry because “& Daughter” wasn’t there to testify to my admiration of fresh cut lumber and my father’s calloused hands.

While this disquiet has urged me to let go of what I know and trust in my commitment to building a business and more than ever in God’s daily provision, I have to beware of the disquiet that also serves as a warning sign.

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” (Psalm 43:5)

I have to be careful with this feeling of disquietude, to discern if it’s caused by placing my hope in something that is not from God at all. Sometimes my hope in God slips away like a wandering child’s hand from the grasp of its mother, and off I go to the next rise to start my own gypsy fire instead of feeding the purpose God has already kindled on the dark hill of my heart. 

Even in the times I do hope in Him, I have doubted that this hope really applies to me. That kind of hope is for “other” people, better Christians. I imagine myself in my grandmother’s place on that dark night, sitting on the hard bench of a distant wagon moving in the opposite direction of that fiery hill and gazing longingly at all those invitations to approach and participate.

But today I choose to embrace the other disquiet . . . the hopeful disquiet that admonishes me to draw closer to the light and dance around the flames.

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