When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Words for Weariness (March 5, 2009)

I’m tired. Worn out. Weary.

It’s my own fault. I’ve always had a tendency to run through life at top speed – there’s so much I want to accomplish and create and experience that I hate letting even small moments dribble away (although I am a very gifted procrastinator). I suspect I also have a skewed sense of reality – I always think I can cram more activities into a finite amount of time, and that if I push hard enough, they’ll fit. I’m not usually right, but that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to try (and may also explain why I am prone to being late).

The result is that I find myself either living full throttle, or plastered against a wall. Today, the wall won.

The thing about being weary is that when your natural strength ebbs away, the hidden monsters lurking behind your walls of activity feel safe enough to come out – restlessness, fragility, self-doubt. They know I’ve been ignoring them, pretending they don’t exist, but when I hit the wall, I know they’re watching. As I peel my numbed brain, glassy eyes and incoherent lips off the crash site, they start circling.

Restlessness rustles through me, irritating every nerve, igniting impatience and frustration with every conversation. Every glance, every word, every move made by everyone else annoys me. It amazes me that I can be bone-tired, but still throw a temper tantrum in my heart, kicking and beating the empty air inside me, many times without even knowing why. I’m just angry, that’s all.

Self-doubt throws punches, as well. They are usually harder and better aimed than my flailing heart. I question my purpose, my effectiveness, my ability to do anything right. I am blinded by everyone else’s successes and deafened by the roar of my own failures. Pity is Self-Doubt’s snivelly sidekick, leaning into all manner of whispers about what’s fair, and who’s right, and who cares anyway. I don’t.

It’s there, in the dim light of my pity party that the harsh truth of my weariness sinks in – I’m fragile. Breakable. I can’t do it all. I can’t be it all. I’ve built my jello castles with sugar hands, and in those stark moments of self-awareness, the rain comes down.

Where do you go when the rain comes down? Where does your soul settle when restlessness flickers through your veins and self-doubt has wrestled you and won? Is there a safe haven for fragile hearts? Where, where, where can I find rest when I am weary?

It’s late. My filter is off. I’m tired. I’m going to tell you the truth.

I need God like I need oxygen. Go ahead and laugh, but it’s true. He is the only place my soul settles. Heaven isn’t just a future hope for me; the home of my Heavenly Father is where my heart turns now when it can’t go on any further. Believe me, I’ve looked for other landing pads – friends, accomplishments, relationships – nothing compares. He patiently waits through my tantrums, letting me tire myself out with wrestling and flailing, and when I have nothing left, He picks up my bruised, exhausted heart, gently nestling it right next to His. And I wonder why it took me so long to be still.

Today when I hit the wall, when I was moderately numb and irritated with the world, the last thing I wanted to do was go running. It’s March and blustery outside. It had rained earlier, and the sky held no promises that it wouldn’t open up and unleash its cold yield on me again. The kitchen was a disaster, there was laundry to do, and it was getting dark. But, I pulled on my running pants and shoes, jacket and hat (more because of the unknown number of oatmeal raisin cookies consumed earlier than of any lofty spiritual goals, actually), and headed out the door.

It’s funny. God has this way of taking my efforts - I got ready, I went down to the river, I started running – and turning them into gifts from Him. Running there, swept along by the winds of evening – in that moment, there was nowhere else I would have rather been. The sky was still gray and pregnant with rain. I was still exhausted and, barring the arrival of pixie-dust bearing fairies in my absence, the kitchen was still a mess and the laundry undone. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed.

It’s not because I went running. Everything changed because I took steps to spend time with God, even though it was sort of the last thing I felt like doing. I think sometimes God lets me wear myself out so that I’ll stop fighting – it’s only then that I’m weak enough to let Him carry me. There’s a great song by a guy named Rich Mullins and he says:

“I can’t see how You’re leading me, unless You’ve led me here
To where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.
And so, You’ve been here all along, I guess.
It’s just Your way and You are just plain hard to get

Sometimes I need to get lost enough to let myself be led. Sometimes I need to be weak enough to feel His strength, and sometimes I need to be poor enough to see the riches of His goodness. Sometimes it’s ok to be lost and weak and poor.

I admit that this all sounds like some crazy paradoxical up-side down way of living, and I probably would scoff at it too, if it didn’t actually work so well. Lots of people say that they are following God, but they insist on being right and strong and rich, and I think that they have missed the point. They have missed out on one of the great beauties of knowing God. He is good (good enough for the both of us), and He loves me (in spite of all my monsters) and if I know nothing else, I know that, and that’s enough. Sometimes God is “just plain hard to get”, and that’s ok.

There’s a great story in the Bible where Jesus has just given some really hard teaching. So hard, that a lot of people decide He’s nuts and turn away. The crowds that once swelled at just the sound of His name have dwindled to embarrassingly low numbers. I can see Jesus watching them slowly fade off into the clouds of dust kicked up in their hasty retreat, rolling their eyes and shaking their heads, throwing their hands up in disbelief that they had followed such a renegade for so long. He turns to His twelve closest friends who, themselves, I imagine, are shuffling their feet and trying not to meet His eye. I suspect weariness clung even to Him, at this point - you can almost hear it in His voice. “You do not want to leave, too, do you?” He asks.

Good old Peter looks around and says what my heart says every time my monsters try to get the best of me, when I’m tired and weary and God seems “hard to get”. I imagine Peter shrugged.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67-69).

Where else am I going to go? He is the place my heart settles. He is where I find peace in the midst of uncertainties. He is where my restlessness is quenched, my self-doubt vanquished, my fragility tenderly guarded. He leads me when I’m lost and carries me when I’m weak. Why would I go anywhere else?

I need God like I need oxygen, and that’s the truth. I’m too tired to make anything up.

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