Augustine memorably opens his fourth-century masterpiece, Confessions, with these now-famous lines: You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” I have thought a lot about these words. I confess, I am often restless. I know the feeling. And I also confess I do not always claim the promise of rest on the other side of restlessness. I badly want this rest, this promise of peace and joy and contentment that comes with rest.

These lines are written by a brilliant young man who lived life to the hilt in the streets of a disintegrating, unstable Roman culture. He has climbed all the ladders and tried all the seductions on offer in the sprawling freedom of Carthage, Rome, and Milan. These lines are addressed, of course, to the God he had denied so long, the God he finally, miraculously, discovers. This is the God who offers complete rest.

These lines are about the human situation in which we all live, as true in the fourth century as it was when we awoke this morning for another day under lockdown. Human beings are always restless. We always want to break out of our limitations, wanting more, never satisfied. When I am most honest, I know I’ve always been restless. And I know, in the end, restlessness is almost always painful.

We live in an exceedingly restless age. The inimitable Mick Jagger sings our theme song:

I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction

‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try

I can’t get no, I can’t get no. . . .

Jagger is Augustinian here, at least part way. Lord knows, Jagger, like Augustine, has tried it all, and in the end nothing satisfies. This is not a happy place to reside. We yearn for rest, don’t we? We yearn for something more than our restlessness. Peace, contentment, joy?

But here’s the key for Augustine: Though the path is sometimes tortured, he finally comes to see that restlessness is not the way God wants him to live. There is a place of rest at the end of this journey. Like the prodigal son, who took the same journey into a far country of complete self-indulgence and ultimate dissipation, Augustine finally discovers there is a father waiting by the roadside with open arms. We don’t have to go it alone. There can be rest. There is a home.

What would that be like to find that rest, to be more patient, to be calmer, more peaceful, more attentive to the things around me, more accepting, more loving of others? What would it be like finally to surrender my striving, to give it up, all those outsized ambitions that I can change the world, or change those around me? What would it be like just to relax, to accept, to rest?

Maybe we need to replace Jagger’s anguished anthem with that old hymn I used to sing as a kid:

There is a place of quiet rest

Near to the heart of God. . . .

A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Just wishful thinking? Naïve? Too idealistic? Mystical? No, what we find in Augustine is a consummate realist. He knows the journey of restlessness is a rough road at times. But, finally, there can be a different end to our restless story. We can find rest near to the heart of God.

In the middle of Augustine’s extraordinary journey, in that little garden outside Milan, deeply anguished, having found no satisfaction on his own, exhausted by the emptiness, he succumbs, surrenders. Even though “a profound self-examination had dredged up a heap of all my misery,” he reports, “at once . . . it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” We call this conversion, transformation. It is an offering of rest.

It can happen every day of our lives. We turn, sometimes suddenly, from relying on our own self-sufficiency to surrendering into the quiet rest of God. We can find rest. This is what I want, don’t you? This is what we all want. Finally, there can be satisfaction.

Painting Of St. Augustine, by Caravaggio