Seasons of a Restless Heart: A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition


Praise for The Seasons of a Restless Heart

"Debra Farrington has done a beautiful job of Christian interpretation by building a bridge between the ancient stories of the Exodus and our contemporary experiences of transition. She shares most eloquently what she has learned from others, and more importantly, what she has experienced personally. Her words will both enlighten and inspire."
—John R. Claypool, Episcopal priest and author, The Hopeful Heart

"Debra Farrington has always...

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Praise for The Seasons of a Restless Heart

"Debra Farrington has done a beautiful job of Christian interpretation by building a bridge between the ancient stories of the Exodus and our contemporary experiences of transition. She shares most eloquently what she has learned from others, and more importantly, what she has experienced personally. Her words will both enlighten and inspire."
—John R. Claypool, Episcopal priest and author, The Hopeful Heart

"Debra Farrington has always been a deeply practical, realistic, and honest writer whose work is companionable and full of stories. In The Seasons of a Restless Heart she is all these things and much, much more. In 'the time between ending and beginning,' Farrington finds the poetry as well as the agony of change; she allays our fears and charms our spirits back to faith, hope, and—yes—to charity."
—Phyllis Tickle, compiler, The Divine Hours

"In this daring and hopeful work Debra Farrington illumines how to live into the arduous task of transition so that 'we stand a better chance of being closer to God when we reach the end.' . . . {It is} an extended prayer for the journeys of all in transition. Reminding us that we are God's beloved, she offers footholds to guide us through the murky in-between times. This book is beautiful, hopeful, and caressing."
—Anne E. Kitch, Canon for Christian Formation, Cathedral Church of the Nativity, and author, The Anglican Family Prayer Book

"It's all here. The doubts, the hesitations, the fears, even the excitement that mark the small and large transitions of our lives. Farrington provids a helpful tool for readers as they learn to celebrate what was, live meaningfully through the uncertainties of the present, and move into a healthy and whole future."
—Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director, Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It is no insult to Farrington to say that her unpretentious but frequently insightful and creative guide is a self-help book, in the best sense of that term, for the soul of readers navigating significant life changes. An Episcopal publisher and author of six other books, Farrington uses the Old Testament narrative of the Exodus and the ancient Israelites' "desert years" to thread her essays on the various stages of transition, from encouraging those in transition to "make a space for God on the journey" instead of building idolatrous golden calves, to entering "Canaan," or the new home to which God has brought us. Divided into chapters with comfortably colloquial titles like "Eat, Sleep, Bend and Stretch," the book has an engaging mix of practical advice on self-care and spiritual counsel on making the most of even painful transitions. Farrington's own recent diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and other changes in her life provide the subtext for some of her meditations, reassuring readers that she knows her subject personally and well. Interlaced with suggestions for spiritual practices and prayers, Farrington's work should appeal to Christian readers seeking a context in which to build bridges between their own experiences and those of other believers in a time that can be both exhilarating and scary. (Apr. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787973926
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Debra K. Farrington, popular retreat leader and teacher, is also the publisher for Morehouse Publishing and the author of Hearing with the Heart: A Gentle Guide to Discerning God's Will for Your Life. She has written for a wide variety of publications, including Catholic Digest, Alive Now, The Lutheran, Publishers Weekly, and many others.
You can reach her at

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Read an Excerpt

The Seasons of a Restless Heart

By Debra K. Farrington

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-7392-0

Chapter One

The Restless Season

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

As the sage of Ecclesiastes said, there is, indeed, a time for everything. But chances are that if you've picked up this book, the time you find yourself in is one of transition. Divorce, loss of a job, an empty nest, a move across the country, loss of a loved one, a chronic illness, and any number of other transitions all share something in common: they dump us-sometimes rather unceremoniously-flat into an unsettled time, a restless season.

After dealing with the shock and the overwhelming grief, after friends and family have stopped asking so often how you are, when you find yourself someplace that feels unfamiliar, that's the beginning of a journey in what often feels like desert space-a time when the heart is restless and unsettled, when the empty horizon seems to stretch out endlessly, leading nowhere, and resources seem scarce.

In my own times of transition, I've found that there are lots of resources for dealing with the initial shock or movement or sorrow that begins a transitional time in life. That doesn't make the time any easier, nor do all those resources make living through the time any easier. It doesn't even seem to matter whether the transition is forced on us or we choose it. In all cases, something happens to bring about an ending in our life-one that forces us to reevaluate and probably to grow in some new direction. When those transitions hit, friends and loved ones are often willing to stay with us and help. Colleagues and those around us know that something is wrong, and the world, in general, tends to cut us a little slack. William Bridges, the author of the popular and helpful book, Transitions, calls this first stage "the ending." The final stage of his three-step exploration of transitions is "the new beginning"-the time, way down the road, when we've figured out where we want to head or feel compelled to go.

In between the ending and the beginning is a long stretch of time, often the most difficult piece of the journey. Bridges dubs this "neutral time"; I find it anything but that. The word neutral implies that not a whole lot is happening, and although decisions aren't being made quickly and not much gets resolved from day to day, all kinds of things are happening. To me, transitions are more like the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert-empty, extreme in its emotional temperatures, confusing to navigate, and hard to wait out. They're also unavoidable. There's no such thing as a quick and easy transition from the shock of some change that we seek or that is thrust upon us and whatever new beginning lies ahead. Just as the cold of the winter months creates conditions that help spring flowers bloom gloriously, so the conditions of time spent in the desert work their way into the soul and, if we let them, the time spent there brings forth new life.

The restlessness of transitions, though it feels lousy-even outright crushing-at times, is like the growing pains of adolescence. It's a sign that the heart and mind and soul are alive and kicking, looking for more, asking questions. This time between the first stages of grief or mourning and the discovery of Canaan-the place to which God guides us-is far from neutral. It's more than an endurance contest. Often it's lonely or frustrating, or both. Anthropologists call it "liminal time"-the kind of time between one stage of life and the next. In some cultures, for instance, boys go out into the wilderness by themselves on a vision quest or some other established ritual, and when they come back they are now considered to be men. That time in the wilderness is liminal time-the time between here and there, when we're not really sure anymore who or where we are or where we're going. Desert time is painful, but it's also alive with creative potential.

The story is told of Henry Ford, the founder of the first American automobile-manufacturing company, who hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant and make recommendations about improving operations. The efficiency expert found that the factory worked pretty well and had high praise for Ford, except in one area. There was, apparently, a man who routinely sat with his feet up on his desk, thinking. The efficiency expert thought the man was wasting time, but Ford promptly corrected him. "That man once had an idea that earned us a fortune. At the time, I believe his feet were exactly where they are now." In the middle stage of transition it often looks as if we are doing nothing; sometimes it even feels as if we're doing nothing. But the reality is that creative stuff is happening, and what we have to do during this time is to settle into the nothingness and see what comes of all of it.

Does that mean that God inflicts change on us to force growth? Is this some cosmic version of tough love? I don't think so. I'm willing to acknowledge, along with Job, that I wasn't there when God created everything and that I don't really know how or why things work as they do. There are some mysteries in this life, like the Divine Mystery Itself, which I call God, that I don't expect to understand on this side of the grave, at least not completely. But that said, my sense is that God calls me beloved, and the One who loves me does not wish misery on me. That One who loves me loves you, too, and has no desire to see you suffer either.

But stuff happens in this world. Germs and genes leave people ill, sometimes deathly ill. Human affections shift or change over time and disrupt relationships. Companies transfer workers, or we choose to move to far-flung parts of the country or the world and communities get disrupted. People and nations declare war on one another and find all kinds of other ways to hurt each other. Earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes do their damage.

Good stuff happens, too. Children are born, bringing great changes into their parents' lives. Graduations propel people forward. Two people who love one another get married. Someone gets a promotion. Spring comes again each year, and flowers start bursting out all over. God watches all of this and uses whatever happens as an invitation to us to co-create with him. God has hopes and desires for this world, and for each of us, but they're just that-hopes and desires, not edicts. God watches all that happens and celebrates or weeps with us, as the situation demands, but the Holy One has also given us free will and respects the decisions we feel compelled to make. God helps us find the way forward, whatever happens.

In a marvelous book, The Hopeful Heart, priest and writer John Claypool explores the three ways that God, who loves us deeply, gives us the hope we need to help us move forward. The first is that sometimes God provides a miracle, which isn't as farfetched or unusual as we like to think, says Claypool. The fact that we were born at all, that we continue to walk and breathe on this earth day after day, is a miracle in and of itself. The third way that God works with us is to give us the gift of endurance, the ability to bear whatever we must bear for as long as necessary. But this book focuses on Claypool's second way that God provides us with graceful help. The second is that God collaborates with us. As Claypool says, "God moves alongside us and invites us to join forces with him in bringing about a solution to our difficulties. Our identity as co-creators becomes a reality when this happens. We are offered the opportunity of combining our skills, insights, and energies with those of God to resolve our problems." In the midst of transition, God invites us to listen to our hearts and attend to God's movements-to collaborate as we find our way forward in life.

There are times in the midst of any transition when we're too tired, too weary, or too weak to participate in the collaborative process, or when it's just not time for our active participation. In the early stages of labor, for instance, a woman has to breathe through the contractions and wait until it is time for her to do something more. That's not to say that the breathing and waiting, and resisting doing anything else, isn't hard work. It is! The Israelites in the desert found it most difficult to just wait and breathe and avoid pushing. But this is the time for trusting that God holds us and guides us, and to rest, as much as possible, in that knowledge.

But there comes a time, and in labor it is called "the transition," when it is time to push, to get very involved in moving the process forward. There is a stage in the midst of most journeys when we have the energy, the alertness, the desire, when our hearts are so restless that we're ready to be involved in the conversation and the choices, when there is energy enough to recognize that God wants to collaborate with us and to begin to listen and respond. It is my deepest hope that this book will help you become more aware of those opportunities and find ways to respond instead of experiencing the desert as an endurance contest and nothing more.

"Look well to the growing edge!" counsels twentieth-century priest and writer Howard Thurman in his poem, "The Growing Edge."

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; All around us life is dying and life is being born: The fruit ripens on the tree; The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth Against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, The one more thing to try when all else has failed, The upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, The incentive to carry on when times are out of joint And men have lost their reason; the source of confidence When worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of a child-life's most dramatic answer to death- This is the Growing Edge incarnate, Look well to the growing edge! -Howard Thurman

"Looking to the growing edge" sounds nice, of course, but it is extraordinarily hard work. I don't know about you, but if my world should crash and my dreams whiten into ash, my first inclination would be one of great frustration, fear, and sorrow. I would not be jumping up and down for joy because I thought God was inviting me into something new. It's so important to do the work of grieving, which comes with all transitions, not just the unhappy ones. Even a new and exciting opportunity brings with it loss-loss of freedom, loss of good friends or community, radical changes in the schedule, and demands on one's life. Grieving the losses, even when there's something new to celebrate, but especially when the loss is the predominant theme in your life, is crucial, and it takes time. This isn't a book primarily about that grieving or mourning stage. This book is for the time after you've gotten past the initial shock of change, when you find yourself, as the Israelites did, on a long desert journey to a place you can't yet name. Looking for the growing edge is an activity best engaged in while walking the desert's long stretches of hot, dry sand, rather than in the midst of deep grieving. Like the lichen and shrubs and spruce, everything has to grow in its own time.

The transition process is a little like a story that Catholic priest and collector of stories Anthony De Mello tells about an unnamed man:

He was becoming blind by degrees. He fought it with every means in his power. When medicine no longer served to fight it, he fought it with his emotions. It took courage to say to him, "I suggest you learn to love your blindness."

It was a struggle. He refused to have anything to do with it in the beginning. And when he eventually brought himself to speak to his blindness his words were bitter. But he kept on speaking and the words slowly changed into words of resignation and tolerance and acceptance ... and, one day, very much to his own surprise, they became words of friendliness ... and love. Then came the day when he was able to put his arm around his blindness and say, "I love you." That was the day I saw him smile again.

This book is a guide to the journey that begins when you reach the place where, like the blind man, you are ready to start talking to your transition, even if all you have to offer are bitter words. As De Mello's story highlights, you can bring whatever emotions you're feeling along with you on the journey. It doesn't matter if you're headed into the desert angry, resigned, frightened, or full of other emotions. God understands, accepts, and can work with whatever you're carrying around with you right now. Start from where you are, not from where you're not.

Following Your Heart

One of the Desert Fathers (men who lived devout monastic lives in the desert in the third and fourth centuries after Christ) told the story of a man who wanted to know how he should live.

A brother questioned an old man saying, "What good work should I do so that I may live?" The old man said, "God knows what is good. I have heard it said that one of the Fathers asked Abba Nisterus the Great, the friend of Abba Anthony, and said to him, 'What good work is there that I could do?' He said to him, "Are not all actions equal? Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. David was humble, and God was with him. Elias loved interior peace and God was with him. So, do whatever you see your soul desires according to God and guard your heart."

Though it can be hard to hear what your soul is trying to tell you while you're in transition, especially at its most restless and arid, the work of the desert time is learning to listen to your heart. That's what I hope we can explore together in this book. This is the time to let your heart's desires speak to you-not completely unfettered, of course. I'll talk about some safeguards to employ when you seek to listen to what your heart is saying. But more often than not, people fail to listen to what their hearts most deeply desire. Those messages from the heart get dismissed as fanciful, impractical, or impossible. But it is through the heart that God often speaks to us and invites us on the journey that will eventually bring us to Canaan.

For the ancient Hebrew people, the heart was something more than just a physical organ of the body. The heart was the place from which everything important emanated. Physical health, emotions, spirituality, and intellect all began in the heart. A restless heart, using the ancient Hebrew sense of the word, then, means that all aspects of our being feel restless. We experience that restlessness physically, emotionally, spiritually, and even intellectually in the midst of transition, just as the Israelites did in the ancient stories that fill Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. And like the Israelites, we want the restlessness-the discomforts of the desert-to end, sooner rather than later. The work of transition is about learning to listen patiently to the restlessness in our hearts-our bodies, minds, and souls-and to live with it long enough to get to know its name, and to discover if, through it, God is inviting us to some kind of promised land.


Excerpted from The Seasons of a Restless Heart by Debra K. Farrington Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



I. The Restless Season.

II. Restlessness and Creativity.

III. Help!

IV. Eat, Sleep, Bend, and Stretch.

V. Are We There Yet?

VI. You Put Your Right Foot In, You Put Your Right Foot Out.

VII. Home Again.




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