The Disquiet that Calls You Back to the Fire

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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.

Amanda Cleary Eastep

Amanda Cleary Eastep is a freelancer writer and blogs at Living Between the Lines.

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  • “Stuck like a fencepost in the dirt of the Midwest.”
    Words so beautiful, and I am your sister in restlessness, watching planes bound for the Atlantic and Europe flying over my clothesline as I pin my families clean duds to the line.
    Thankful for the grace of God that keeps us near the warm fire of His love.

    • Hi Michele, thanks for commenting and sharing. Great image of people passing overhead as you hang clothes. I used to do that with my grandmother. I try to discern between discontent and restlessness and whether or not this disquiet is telling me I should be doing something else, that maybe I have stuck myself in a spot and God is forever trying to yank me out of it.

  • Amanda, so many beautiful thoughts for me to ponder! I love the way you highlight the interplay between disquiet that is of God, and disquiet that is not. I was just thinking this morning of the reminder to “strive first for the realm of God,” and how much I need to let that guide my decisions. “Is this a realm-of-God decision or a personal glory decision?” Your post helped me unpack some of my thoughts a little more.

    • Amelia, unpacking is very much what I was doing, too, and I just couldn’t seem to say it exactly the way I was feeling it. I just kept seeing those fires, from the place my grandmother did from far away but also from the perspective of a very wandering people. Thankfully we aren’t figuring all this out apart from a loving and infinite guide, as you say. (I am enjoying meeting you in all these writing spaces!)

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  • This is rich, seeping with searching…and you are right, we are all chasing something bigger than what we know of God in our finite minds. Writers push boundaries, it’s what we do…we can trust God will direct our steps if we set out the wrong way. I, too, am pursuing free-lance writing and speaking…bowing and bending to God’s holy will along the way. What an adventure we are on!

    You’re writing is beautiful, and I, for one, love stories that seem untouchable from another time, but nestle themselves closely to our hearts…until we we end up wearing them like hand-me-downs.

    Trish

    • Best to you, Trish, on your writing journey! Lovely what you said about wearing our stories. They almost seem fanciful to me now, the things my grandmother saw and lived. But I so DO wear her stories, and they keep me. Thank you for reading this one and for sharing you thoughts.

  • Gayl Wright

    Amanda,you have a thrilling way of telling a story! You also touch on things we all feel at times like, “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’m so glad that hope is for ALL of us because it’s dependent on Him not on us. 🙂

    • Hello, friend Gayl! This was a nice chance to retell a snippet of the many stories my grandmother shared with me when I was young. Those stories are woven into my fiber, and that image in particular is truly burned into my mind. It kept showing itself as I contemplated disquietude.

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  • Your writing transports me to another place. 🙂 I know you will continue to bless others with your creativity and faith. Looking forward to following you on your journey!

    • Thank you so much, Barb, for your kind words and encouragement. Feel free to follow away!

  • Linda Winchell

    Very well said!
    Auntie Linda

  • This is such beautiful writing. I also struggle to know when to embrace the disquiet and when to let go. I liked your Bible connection here.

    • Thank you, Tanya, I appreciate that. I realized as I was writing that I experience two kinds of disquiet and have to discern when it is ‘of’ God or ‘away’ from him. Kind of you to read!

  • Wow, Amanda. LOVE what you’ve written here about restlessness. (You said it so much more beautiful than me.) : ) Love the stories passed on to you from your Grandma. It’s good to know we share in this human struggle. And that God is there calling us home.

    • Hi, Maggie, sorry for the late reply! Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad I appreciated those stories my grandmother told me; they stayed with me all my life.