It has been about a year since I told my students that I would not be returning as their Religion teacher. I decided that I was moving back to Los Angeles at the end of the school year. I wanted to be back with my family especially my mom and two young nieces. I was burned out from teaching. And perhaps most importantly-I wanted to travel and explore the world. I wanted to do and achieve great and glorious things. At 25 years old, I was incredibly restless with my life.
At the beginning of his Confessions, St. Augustine writes his most famous and oft-quoted line: “For You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Throughout the first ever spiritual autobiography, Augustine bares his soul for God and for generations of people to read and understand. As a young man and even probably as an old Bishop, Augustine was a restless man searching and struggling for salvation. He was lonely and frustrated. He sought material goods and earthly pleasures. Yet it was not until he accepted God-rested in God-that he found peace.
As I began to plan my travels, I remained open to any opportunity that would come before me. All I knew was that I wanted to see as many diverse places as possible and I wanted to do as many exciting things as possible. Thus, I hiked the 42 km Inca trail over four days to see Machu Picchu. I prayed at the Western Wall and knelt at the site of the Crucifixion. I saw my beloved Notre Dame get demolished in the National Championship game. I toured the White House and became breathless at the site of the Oval Office. I went on a medical mission in India and volunteered in various villages. I fulfilled “bucket list” places to see such as the Taj Mahal, Petra, and the Pyramids. It was an incredible blessing to be able to see and experience all these places, meet interesting people, and create such lasting stories and memories.
However, I did not find the peace that I was searching for in my journeys. I sought it, prayed for it, and longed for it. And yet, it was not there. Despite all the miles I flew and the cool photos I took with Instagram, my heart was not at rest. Or at least not the rest I was hoping for.
Nevertheless, when I look back on this year off, I notice the times that I felt at most peace were the days I spent with my nieces, Stella and Lauren. Stella is 3 and is incredibly precocious; she speaks both Korean and English, lectures us on how to listen better, and sings beautifully. Lauren is 1 and there is nothing in the world like her smile and her laugh. It has given me such immense joy to be with them, hold them, play with them-a joy that surprised me and builds upon itself. Seeing these two girls grow up and being present to them in very ordinary ways has given me peace that all the extraordinary sights in the world could not.
When she read Confessions, my mom commented that St. Augustine and I shared some traits in common. We both love public speaking. We both have strong mothers who worry about them. And we both have a “healthy” amount of “confidence”-to put it lightly. All I can hope is that I find the rest in God that he pursued and ultimately found.
Tae Kang has his MA in Theology from The University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Program and has worked both as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in a Parish and as a High School Religion Teacher.