Driving me to the airport this summer, my youngest brother told me a story: One Friday afternoon, he and some co-workers were talking about what they would be doing that evening, the beginning of the weekend. Several co-workers shared how they had plans to meet various friends and hit some of the more trendy night-spots in the city. My brother, happily married for twenty years, rather timidly shared that he and his wife planned simply to order in some pizza and watch movie together.
“That must sound rather boring to you!” He volunteered. “Not at all,” said one of the single women in his office. “We are doing all the things we do (restaurants, nightclubs, and a certain social scene) only that sometime, and God-willing, sooner rather than later, we can be where you are now, content to be at home of a Friday night, with pizza and a movie and someone to make a home with!”
Perhaps that isn’t true for everyone but it is, I venture to say, true for most of us. What we want at the end of the day, not to mention the end of the week, is home, ease, quiet, rest, someone to be comfortable with, some place to be comfortable in, a home. We want a place where we can be ourselves and where we don’t have to feel the restlessness of thinking that our lives are empty because we are home on a Friday night.
That’s not always easy to find. Fault nature and God: We are born into a home and we get to stay there, without having to hit night-spots on a Friday night, until puberty. Puberty is designed by nature and God to drive us out of our homes. And it does. It hits with certain violence and, even though we get to live at home for another 5-8 years, we are no longer at ease there. Every kind of energy inflames and we become too restless to find easy ease in the things that once satisfied us. We are pushed out, beyond the security and comfort of home, to search for someone and something with which to build a home for ourselves.
And so we enter our more restless years, those years exactly where we can’t sit at home comfortably on a Friday night with pizza and movie. We’re driven out, literally, to search for what can take us back home. So we hit the phone and the night-spots, searching, available, seeing, being seen. For some people, the point behind it all is clear: We are searching for a soul-mate, like the heart-sick lover in the Song of Songs and my brother’s co-worker. For others, it’s more diffusive, inchoate: We’re just restless, looking for action, for the right place to be, the right crowd to be with.
Initially there is no sense of desperation, we are young and the years still stretch endlessly ahead. But eventually a certain panic and desperation set in.. Restlessness can be punishing, a merciless bully, robbing us of the simple capacity to rest.
And we feel it most cruelly on weekends, Friday nights, when it seems everyone in the whole world is doing something exciting except us, and then around holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays) when the season itself seems to demand that we not be alone.
Some years ago, teaching a class at a state-run University, I assigned as reading material Christopher de Vinck’s book, Only the Heart Knows How to Find Them: Precious Memories for a Faithless Time. The book is a series of wonderful, quite idealistic, essays on marriage and family life. The essays articulate precisely the richness of being comfortably at home with a spouse and family on any night, perhaps especially on a Friday night. A young woman, about thirty years of age, walked my office one day with de Vinck’s book in hand and tears in her eyes. She told me: “Father, I’ve lived a hot-blooded youth and have slept my way through a couple of states, always thinking that’s where life is. But, what I really want is what this man has! A home, a spouse, a place of that kind of comfort!”
A place of comfort! God-willing, may we all eventually find exactly that. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who have already found it, in a soul-mate who has taken you home. But it can also be found in vocation, in a service, in a faith, in an ideal, in friends, inside of ourselves in a deeper confidence that lets us feel complete and worthwhile even when we are home alone on a Friday night, and especially in a God, who is our ultimate soul-mate and with whom, with or without trendy night-spots or pizza and a movie, we are always at home.
Henri Nouwen used to say: “We are not restful persons who occasionally get restless; but rather restless persons who occasionally find rest.” That’s true for all of us, this side of eternity, perhaps especially on a Friday night.