Warning: There's a secret spiritual danger out there. It's stalking our homes, our workplaces, and—especiallyour marriages. It's not sexual temptation or materialism or the latest offering from the Fox Network. It's fatigue.
Not the tiredness you feel after a night of fitful sleep. That can be remedied with a good eight hours' rest. It's the underlying weariness that comes from too many years of too many responsibilities and too much drivenness and too little attention to our need to rest in the Lord. It's the hidden exhaustion that gets papered over by busyness and adrenaline.
You think you're doing all right. You go to church, try to pray and read your Bible, keep up with work and chores and the kids. You might even boast of your many activities. But things start to go wrong, and you realize the joy is missing. You start feeling Iike you're emotionally "skimming," not living with richness and depth and enthusiasm. You're just going through the motions.
This has happened to me, and I'm only now beginning to work my way out of it. A few months ago I quit my job as senior editor of this magazine because I wanted more time to write books, be with my family and live a more balanced life. I felt as if things were out of control and I needed to restore some sanity to my pace.
For a while, I had that sanity. But I guess I'm a slow learner. Partly out of pride (watch Superwoman fly), partly out of an overdeveloped sense of duty, I said yes to 67 different commitments. ("Oh sure, I'm at home now so I can help out at school, help out at church, read your manuscript, do lunch with you, take care of your dogs....") To complicate matters, my husband started a stressful new job. And my computer went on the blink, making it impossible for me to meet a major writing deadline.
One day at lunch with my family I had just about had it. I had been working at Amanda's school that morning, collating newsletters and hating it. We had about 20 minutes to choke down our sandwiches. My daughter said something—quite innocently—that didn't sit well. I burst into tears and ran into the bedroom, flinging myself on the unmade bed. "I can't do it!" I wailed. "It's just too much!"
That wasn't like me. Well, I do burst into tears a lot, but this time it was a defeated, end-ofmy-rope sort of weeping. I was discouraged, disheartened, all the "dis" words that Satan loves to taunt us with. I had been giving out more than I had been taking in, and I felt like I was rattling around like a dry husk.
Constant fatigue and busyness can sap our joy in the Lord. It opens the do. ,r for the Destroyer, he who can only tear down. It imperils everyone, including the respectable citizen who gets so busy and carries so many responsibilities that he or she barely has time to sleep, or to sit and ponder the stars. Life feels flat, marriage seems stale.
We can even wonder if God really cares about the burdens we bear. Well, of course He does, and intellectually we embrace that truth and even cite Scripture to back it up. But one thing I'm learning (the hard way, as usual) is that you cannot simply will yourself out of the fatigue mode. You cannot decide, "Today I'm going to start replenishing myself and resting in the Lord."
Changing your circumstances, as I did a few months ago when I quit my job, helps; but that sort of change brings its own problems and is not an option for most people. (Lesson number one in the Christian life: You never arrive once and for all, and the believer who understands that has taken a quantum leap toward authentic growth in Christ.)
Cloistered monks and ordinary Christians
Growth in Christ. The phrase brings to mind rows of cloistered monks lined up for pre-dawn prayers; or even ordinary Christians rising early for a daily, hour-long "quiet time." But when we're feeling overbusy, stressed-out and fatigued, who has the time or the energy for an hour in the Word every morning?
We may try using that hour for other important activities. But sacrificing time in the Scriptures in order to catch up on other projects is a false economy. Regular immersion in the Word energizes and restores us, enabling us to be more productive, giving us "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."
As with so much else in my spiritual life, I haven't "arrived" yet. But I'm discovering that my tank is most filled when I read a chapter, or half of a long chapter, at a time—but probably not every day, because when I open the Bible and begin reading, I find I don't want to put it down.
Recently I was looking up some Psalms for a book I was working on. I had intended to spend only a few minutes on the task, but found myself reading and underlining for hours. And, as so often happens, the Word not only spoke, but shouted at me!
This time, what struck me with special force was David's longing for deliverance from his constant fatigue. David's long life was never easy; even the mantle of leadership probably felt like a noose some days. Here are his words:
"I am exhausted and crushed; I groaned in despair" (38:8 TLB).
"Save me, O my God. The floods have risen. Deeper and deeper I sink in the mire; the waters rise around me. I have wept until I am exhausted ..." (69:1-2 TLB),
These are the cries of a tired and defeated man searching for his God. Who wouldn't feel exhausted? Yet Psalm 69 continues:
"All who seek for God shall live in joy. For Jehovah hears the cries of his needy ones, and does not look the other way" (32, 33).
This is the great "even though" of the Psalms: Even though I am weary and discouraged, yet I will praise you!
The lesson is not only that David felt discouraged and exhausted. The lesson is a continual turning to God, almost an ongoing private conversation. David spoke to the Lord in terms both personal and reverent, intimate and majestic.
And so can we, through prayer, worship and continuous awareness of Cod's presence. We can pray very specifically: "Give me energy for this task, Lord." Or, to borrow from St. Francis, "Give me the wisdom to accept the things I should take on, courage to say no to the things I shouldn't and the discernment to know the difference."
When fatigue takes over, we open our hands to God, weakly, helplessly, and say, "I can't do it anymore, Lord. I'm turning this one over to you, however you choose to act."
And we wait, and He acts. Not necessarily as we would expect, but He acts.
The surprise of everyday angels
In the midst of my fatigue, I was talking to Karen, a friend at church. I complained about my full plate of book deadlines. Karen is quiet, an open-hearted listener. Finally she said, "I want to start doing some typing at home. I'll do this work for you to help you through this crunch."
"What do you charge?"
"Nothing. You're just starting out, so you don't have any money."
Got that right, I thought. I stared at her. "You'd actually do this for me?"
"Sure," she said.
In that easy "sure," I heard the singing of angels!
I kept pressing her: "Do you know what you're getting into? This project will take forever! What can I do for you? Make a meal? Babysit your kids so you and Jeff can go out together—alone?"
"Wait till you're through your worst deadlines," she said.
God used Karen to help bear my burdens.
On another occasion, I had just dropped Amanda off at school. My hand was throbbing from two bee stings I had received the day before, and I was feeling sorry for myself. I heard someone call to me from across the street. It was Judy, another friend from church. We stood talking for a long time; she shared some of her stresses and I shared mine. She told me what to put on the bee sting. We asked each other for prayer. Judy said, "Let's have coffee sometime, just on the spur of the moment."
Another pair of hands to lift the burden.
A third example. Lunch with Louise, the most organized individual on the planet. I should have postponed the lunch, should have been working, but Louise gave me an invaluable piece of advice about organizing my chaotic days—something I could actually apply to my life.
Sometimes my husband turns out to be the "everyday angel." When I'm running on empty, he helps fill my tank, checks me if I'm taking too much on. And I do the same for him. Perhaps what a mate can do best is provide comfort, a place of welcome and solace when the discouragement piles up. One of us can send the other to bed early and say, "Get some sleep and don't worry about a thing. I'm praying for you."
I'm still too busy. But those God-sent people have helped fill me up so I'm no longer simply running on fumes. They may even have been agents of spiritual protection.
Now I'm trying to learn to look for Cod's provision in all things to keep my sensors out to feel his hand brushing me, and that's something we all can do—before we run out of gas and sit uselessly on the shoulder, waiting to be picked up, vulnerable to danger.
The world tells us that busyness is good, that the most successful people are those who learn to live with tittle sleep and can accomplish 50 things in a day. But God says something else. Are we listening?