Sometimes these ears of mine, they’re clogged. I have little vignettes return to me, from time-to-time, of true friends who tried to be what friends are meant to be and I just couldn’t hear them. Then.
I can’t wait to have tea with that old college housemate who stopped me on my way up the stairs as I passed by her room with this: “You say everything’s fine — all the time. But it can’t be.” I skirted her observation, wrapped my response — your observation is wrong — in christian-ese and went on my way.
But I found out years later that she was right.
And another went like this: we were headed out of town and this mentor, this friend, met me and Nate for breakfast before we scooted. He gently quizzed me on my second year’s work in a new town (which had me exercising new muscles), and read right through my words to my heart. Peppered throughout the analysis of my year was my mention of various people who’d placed varying levels of expectation upon me, or so I thought. I couldn’t bear up and I felt it. Something needed to change, was what I said. But what I meant was that they needed to change — all of them, this collaborative yet unconnected group of people who were forcing me to turn the treadmill up.
Except it was my hand on the controls of that treadmill. And my interpretation of their actions.
They didn’t need to change. I did. I was “headed for burnout,” said this friend, boldly. Something on my insides was off and I wouldn’t be the marathon runner I wanted to be if I kept racing through my long-runs.
I left breakfast in a fog, unsure of what to make of all this. His words resonated, slightly, but they didn’t match my understanding of Christianity. There was so much of His work to do … wasn’t I supposed to maximize my daylight hours for His kingdom? My days are numbered, why would I want to waste them?
And what was burnout, anyways?
That breakfast was portentous, I learned, soon enough.
Months later, my bone-tired heart went belly up. I didn’t heed this friend’s words, I lived them.
There’s no time for planning when you’ve run dry.
I was forced to find rest.
Rest, at twenty-three, was reading books and taking walks and holing myself up in my room for long-hour stretches with just worship music and my Bible. It was re-introducing myself to a God-Man I’d said yes to years before and for whom I had been working my fingers to the bone (or so I thought), but whom I barely knew.
My twenties went from my self-declared decade of impact to years where the only heart I sought to impact was His. It was as if — because I couldn’t get my mind around the notion that He loved me not for what I did but for who I was — He allowed almost all of my external “doing” to wither so that I might find that sparkle in His eye when I was at my most seemingly-unproductive for His kingdom.
It took years for me to begin to see that He loved me in my closet and delighted in me during my most “inefficient” years.
And the glory of a pursuit of Him, lived across seasons, is that here I am again.
My heart has grown, my externals have changed, but there are still layers of understanding His rest to be had in my person.
Now, He is the man sitting across my breakfast table encouraging me to find Him in my unproductivity.
This baby, inside, ripens while he drinks of the energy I once had. My body, producing less-than-ever by my standards, is sustaining a life not yet seen. And my to-do list goes unchecked.
The needs of a once- 1 & 1/2, 3, 5 and 7 year old grow as they grow. They crave back rubs and to sit on my lap over long books and to rest in my arms as their little hearts ponder their big stories. They ripen under my time. And my to-do list goes unchecked.
So, those free hours (because, mamas, when it all boils down we do have free hours) — they allure me. Make more lists, they say. Clean the corners and dust the edges and bake-up more homemade bread. Sometimes they say clear your inbox or meet a need or scan the caverns of internet pages, mindlessly.
And some days I listen to them. A productive day is one where everyone got mommy-time and my lists were all checked, where we loved not just ourselves but the hurting-world around us — and our floors were clean, too. Right?
By this definition, productivity is elusive. Who could ever get there? Yet I subtly believe that I can.
I ask, then, what is His definition of productivity? How do you want me to pattern my days, Lord, when dishes and laundry and hearts-needing-shaping tug at the hem of my life?
There is a rest in Him, available to me, that supersedes seasons and the needs in font of me.
To choose rest — true rest, not the “rest” this age of ours says is rest, when the work is finished but the alerts inform us and feeds scroll before us — is to say, with our lives, that who He is matters more than what we perform or who we know down here.
To choose true rest is to believe that beauty often happens outside of what I create with my own two hands. And if I really believe this, then my most productive days may be the ones that include long walks and unfolding conversations with Him (not just quick asks) and candles lit in the afternoon to remind me there is more of Him to be had, here, right smack-dab at 3pm on Monday.
Practically, for me, it means my cobwebs might not be dusted when you come by and I may not be loading my kids in the car to drop a meal off for a friend down the street. I may take days, rather than hours, to respond to your emails and take-out may be a must over “from scratch” some days. She may go a day too long without a shower and he may wear the same clothes twice in a row, all so that I can carve out pockets of this new productivity.
But something you might see in the house of the one who has found that hard-to-reach place of resting in Him when their hem is tugged, as you step over the bikes in the yard and lift your eyes from the smudges on the glass, is the light of a wild love in their eyes.
Those who look to Him are radiant because they need not wear their accomplishments as their garments.
They just wear the One at whom they’ve been looking.
I have eighty-some years on this earth. There will always be work to do and lives to save. The lists won’t ever stop, always something crying “urgent” at my door.
But when I reach the end of this life (one that has been staged to prepare me for eternity), will I hand Him my personal CV of all I accomplished for Him, or crawl in His lap because He is just that familiar to me? I want to know the scent of His skin. Now.
Weakness is key in His upside-down kingdom and true rest in Him, when there is work to do and lives to save and people to meet, is foolish.
I want to live His kind of foolish rest and let my days, then, be the overflow.
Keeping it real: Friends, I’m tempted to add a dozen caveats that say “care for the orphan”, “don’t forget the hurting”, “your children are not be neglected” while you practice this rest, but something tells me the majority of you, like me, already have that ticker tape running strong across your brain. We are honing in on the outward expression of a life lived for Him, but His precious church — like me — is starved for underground, radical devotion to Him. When the first thing comes first — eyes, up, on Him and body, rested, in who He is — we might just see the world turn upside down, all through the overflow. Because sitting at his feet, like Mary, really is radical devotion these days.
For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 20:7 | Hebrews 3-4 | Psalm 23:1-3 | Song of Solomon 2:14 |Psalm 34:5 | Luke 10:38-42
And (a little bit of a gasp here), I just took the plunge and am on twitter (amazing for a girl who can barely shut down her computer on her own!). You can find me here: https://twitter.com/SaraHagerty. Be gracious with this slow adapter ;).