The long weekend is winding down and I’m feeling grateful. Grateful for the rest of the past few days. And grateful for the release that has come over time as I’ve learned that rest is okay, something to embrace and enjoy. Something designed for my good.
I haven’t always seen it that way. There were years when feelings of fatigue should be ignored and resisted, never indulged. I was caught up in a system where exhaustion was worn like a badge of honor, and those who weren’t exhausted were suspected of slacking in all things good and godly.
During those years I often tossed and turned for hours each night desperately trying to not try so hard to fall asleep. And then waking up was hard, since sleep eluded me for so long at bedtime. By the time I finally kicked the covers off and launched myself out of bed, I already felt like a failure. “Only sluggards hit snooze” was a refrain I’d heard many a time from people who thrived on busyness and managed – at least as far as I know – to function with less sleep than normal people like me.
I knew the verse, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” from Matthew 11, but it was one I thought I’d get around to applying later in life, perhaps right before I died.
When my body started shutting down and my thoughts turned suicidal, the internal pressure increased. Thoughts like these tormented me:
“Good Christians don’t feel this way.”
“If you are truly taking up your cross to follow Christ, then it’s worth sacrificing your peace of mind for His sake.”
“You can’t rest. People will die and go to hell and it will be your fault because you were resting when you should have been working.”
“Hold it together. You’re a Christian leader. Let them know the battle inside your head and all that you’ve worked for will fall apart.”
“This exhaustion is just part of laying down your life for others. You do want to do that, don’t you?”
As I type these thoughts with a few years’ perspective, it’s easier to see how Satan twisted my own desire to serve Christ and used it to drive his thorny lies into my heart. He’s tricky that way. Deadly, even. And He’s been at this a very, very long time.
God stepped into the midst of my mess and did the best thing for me, though I didn’t see it at the time. He took me out, almost completely. An official doctor’s diagnosis gave me the freedom to rest, opened a door to a new reality, and gave me the courage to tell the truth: I really couldn’t do it all. Months on bed rest provided me with time to think, time to pray, time to agonize through some of the same questions others have asked through the centuries, like:
What am I without my work?
Is my value as a person tied to my productivity?
Will God still love me even if I never leave this bed of affliction?
It’s been almost 15 years since the season when I thought I couldn’t live like this anymore. The truth is, I really couldn’t live like that anymore. It was killing me; literally killing me. So, to use a metaphor from an earlier blog post, I was faced with the choice of banging on the door that was closed (the physical ability to keep working at that rate and in that capacity) or walking through the one that was open: to learn how to rest.
“To everything there is a season …” and after a harsh season of relentless work, there came a season of rest. And, learning to balance the two has been my challenge ever since.
Over this past week or two, I’ve noticed some of the old signs: it’s been a little harder to get out of bed in the mornings, little to no creative juices flowing. Little things seem more irritating, and I find myself biting my tongue more often. Shoulders are hunched and tense and there’s that pain in my neck that just won’t ease. And whereas I used to think those things signaled a need to double down and work harder, I’ve learned the hard way that they are symptoms of a greater need: a need for rest.
As I prayed about what God would have me do last Friday, one of those golden days when there was nothing that just “had” to be done, the phrase “Be still” played over and over in my head. (Almost as catchy as “Let it Go” from Frozen, but not quite!) So I rested. I unplugged – mostly – from the outside world, did a little straightening in the home office, had some quiet time, read a book. And chose to not.feel.guilty.
Saturday I felt up to a little more: a long phone conversation with an old friend, coffee with a new friend, down time with Phil; I finished my book.
Sunday we worshipped in the morning. I came home and made brownies for a neighborhood cookout in honor of Memorial Day. We took a nap after the visit with our neighbors, watched a movie, and had another quiet evening.
And then today I’ve begun to experience the fruit of rest, what I used to consider signs of my supposedly stellar faith: renewed energy, some creativity in fits and spurts, a more calm demeanor, the ability to strategize for our oils business, accepting interruptions without having to reign in frustration. These do reflect evidence of a Spirit much stronger than mine at work, but they are also reflections of a refreshed soul.
So, I’m grateful.
Grateful for rest. Grateful to be able to rest without guilt.
Grateful I listened to the voice that beckoned me to come and rest for a while.
Grateful to feel ready to reengage in work tomorrow with a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
Grateful that the lying voices of the past have been hushed by a more appealing truth: My rest is in Him. All I have needed, need today, or will need tomorrow, His hand has already provided. Great is Your faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Image Courtesy of khunaspix/freedigitalphotos.net
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