I was in my second year out of college and full of zeal and opinion. After all, you only have one life to live on the earth — eighty years at best. Whose story would be linked back to my impact, in eternity?
I’d change the world for God in my twenties.
Except I was tired. I hadn’t factored in how my zeal might translate into longevity.
We were headed out of town for just a few days of respite and this mentor, this friend, met Nate and me for breakfast before we scooted. He gently interviewed me on my second year’s work in a new town and read right through my words to my heart. Peppered throughout my analysis of the 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 really meant was that they needed to change — all of them, this collaborative yet unconnected group of people who were forcing me to turn up the treadmill.
But my hand was controlling that treadmill. I’d pushed the needle a little too far and went from zeal and passion to exhaustion, without noticing it.
These people — the ones with all those expectations — 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 sprinting 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 ever waste them?
Somehow I needed to gear back up, I thought. Get another dose of motivation to expend my life for Him, again.
And what is burnout, anyways?
That breakfast was portentous, I learned soon enough.
Months later, my bone-tired insides slowed to a stop. I didn’t heed this friend’s words, so instead I lived them.
There’s no time for planning when exhaustion overtakes you and you just.can’t.keep.going.
I was forced into 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 awkward. Unfamiliar. It didn’t feel natural to this one who’d been sprinting.
I hadn’t slowed to this pace maybe ever since saying “yes” to God when I was fifteen.
It was re-introducing myself to a God-Man for whom I’d been so hard at work and realizing that I barely knew Him.
My twenties went from my self-declared decade of impact to years when the only heart I sought to impact was His. It was as if — because I couldn’t get my mind around a love that didn’t come as a result of what I produced — 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.
He was so kind to dry up my ministry.
It took years for me to begin to see that He delighted in me during my most “inefficient” years. He loved me in my closet.
He was now the Man sitting across my breakfast table encouraging me to find Him in my unproductivity.
A decade and a half later, He’s still saying the same thing.
The needs of my five children 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 something. Sometimes they say clear your inbox or meet a need or start a foundation.
Go. Run. Work. Make an impact … somewhere.
But there is a rest in Him, available to me and absolutely necessary for a heart that’s made to be in love with God not just work for Him, that supersedes seasons and needs.
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.
To choose true rest is to believe there is only one set of eyes that matter, only one perspective on me that counts, only One heart I need to move in the course of my lifetime.
From this angle, 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.
They are the ones that include unconventional time with God.
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 off a meal for a friend down the street. It may take days or weeks, rather than hours, to respond to your emails and take-out may be necessary 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.
Dear church –
I’m tempted to add a dozen caveats that say “care for the orphan”, “don’t forget the hurting, the ones who don’t yet know Him”, “your children are not to be neglected” while you practice this rest, but something tells me that all of us have that tickertape running strong across our brains. We are zeroing in on the outward expression of a life lived for Him, but we’re starving for an underground, radical devotion to Him. A devotion that happens when no one is looking. A closet devotion.
We’re bone-tired on the inside and turning up the treadmill and wondering why our twitter feed looks more interesting to us than His Word.
When we give our insides permission to fall radically, unconventionally in love with God, the world we’ve been wanting to impact might just turn upside down like we’ve been envisioning, all through the overflow.
Sitting at his feet, like Mary, really is radical devotion these distracted days.
It moves the most important heart. (His).
And the rest follows …
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