Restless Heart Syndrome

Can These Bones Live Again?

Will Ryan / 3.29.23

Recently, there’s been a chorus of voices in my life worried about “burnout.” Before that, I read in the Times it was “languishing.” I heard someone talk about “arrival fallacy” to describe it. When I was in college and would give into my morning lark sensibilities, succumbing to sleep before the night’s REAL festivities began, I was worried about FOMO. Growing up, it was the nagging rat race to keep up with the popular kids, lest I fall into social oblivion.

It comes in different names, different voices around us, and in different life stages, but whether it’s burnout or FOMO, we use all these designations to name a general dissatisfaction with the way things are going in our lives. There’s a gap between what we imagine or desire and what is reality. And it’s not particularly new, Augustine all the way back in the 400s felt the same way when he reflected on his “restless” heart.

“He asked me, ‘Human one, can these bones live again?'” (Ezek 37:3). While this is a question posed by God to the prophet Ezekiel when he stands within a valley of dry bones, I think this is a question we’ve all asked ourselves.

When our anxiety levels have risen to a fever pitch and the only thing we can hear is the incessant voice continuing to accuse us we aren’t doing enough, when it feels like we are drowning amid the rising waters of demands on our time, when we look around at our lives and see only bones left to be bleached by the sun in the hot Arizona desert we ask the question “can these bones live again?”

It’s an admission of powerlessness similar to the phrase “I don’t know what to do.”

We utter it when we don’t know why the slightest annoyance causes you to yell at your toddler. We utter it when your new and beloved dog is way more than you signed up for. We utter it when you haven’t had a weekend at home in what seems like ages because of work demands and all the extracurriculars you signed your kids up for (to help them achieve their dreams, of course).

It’s a question giving voice to that general dissatisfaction permeating most facets of our lives, one that seems to have saturated our world. Our lives have become untenable and we don’t know where to turn.

You’ve tried all the things: bullet journaling, manifestation, ditching the “dad bod” for “daddy” (the newest target ad for dads with young kids, at least this dad), washing your face, the Kondo method, side hustles for more money, or maybe even a strictly regimented prayer program. None of it’s really helped. Maybe it did for a short while, but it all really just added one more thing to your already full plate. And when you eventually stop, you’re left feeling worse because it seems like it was your fault it didn’t work.

Stressed, busy, disillusioned, frustrated, anxious, discouraged, melancholic, despondent. This is what it feels like to be in a valley full of dry bones. Heck, this is what it feels like to be just a bag of dry bones yourself.

“Our hearts until they find rest in you” is the full quote from Augustine. Will fill up our lives to the brim hoping against hope the next thing will provide the meaning, contentment, and gratitude we long to experience, but they never do. The perfect body, the well-behaved kids, the organized house, the manicured schedule, the cultivated spiritual life, maybe we achieve them, but it still leaves us feeling hollow, dry-boned, restless.

It’s to people and times such as this that God comes.The Lord God proclaims: I’m opening your graves! I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to Israel’s fertile land…I will put my breath in you, and you will live. I will plant you on your fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord. (Ezek 37:12, 14)

Looking back across the centuries, we see the work of Christ in this promise. God tells Ezekiel to speak of the future, but what he describes is done through Christ’s Cross, his death and resurrection.

Through baptism, where we die a death like Jesus and are raised to new life like Christ, the graves of our lives are opened and we are taken into the Kingdom of God. Our roots are planted in the life-giving waters of God’s new age. God breathed new life into us through the power of the Spirit. What God promised through Ezekiel is given in Jesus.

And this isn’t something God is inviting us to do for ourselves. It isn’t a new time management system. It isn’t a way to find some cheap endorphins to improve our mood. It isn’t even a way to fix the life we messed up. It is a promise from God to experience something completely different, completely foreign, completely new.

It’s a promise fulfilled in the gift of Christ to you — a heart, a body, a life at rest. The gap between what you think should be and is collapsed in on itself and you experience life not as a rat race to prove or grasp or suffer, but as a gift to enjoy. 

I’ve spoken, and I will do it. (Ezek 37:14) I don’t need much more than that.

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