I pretty much can’t even handle how late this entry is, Reader, but I also can’t handle that I keep feeling like I have to apologize for that, like I have to make sure that this too is on schedule and perfect. It isn’t. Most of my life isn’t right now. Part of that is the nature of doing grad school and serving a church at the same time; part of that is that things happen that are unexpected—cars break, parents visit, jobs are lost, friends fall ill, housing situations change. Life is a constantly unexpected shift and I have an unfortunate habit of filling it to the brim such that the unexpected things don’t have any room to happen without consequence.
I have the feeling I’m not the only one who does this. Culturally speaking, we Americans are fantastic at stuffing our lives with all of the things we need to do, all of the work we need to accomplish, all of the relationships we feel we need to maintain. We stretch ourselves to be and do everything; I just sat through a presentation last night from a guy who has founded an entire organization built to to support and re-train ministers so we don’t burn out from all that we try/are asked to do. It’s a problem. We become weary.
Here’s the thing about weariness: it’s not being tired. I am currently tired because I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while. I know why that is—my sleep schedule sucks at the moment. Also anxiety is a thing and wakes you up more effectively than any alarm clock. But that’s a matter of physical exhaustion, of the material systems not being given what they need to rejuvenate. Much as I dislike it, we are physical beings with bodies that require certain things. (Which, in a semi-related note, is interestingly explored in this New Yorker article on autoimmune diseases, a thing I’m always trying to learn more about since my best friend has one.) Being tired is pretty much centered around bodily care.
Being weary is less easily fixed. Weariness is a mental thing, an emotional thing, a spiritual thing; weariness is being worn smooth by people and expectations and your own internal drive, the edges of who you are rubbed off. Weariness is when the brain and the heart and the soul check out because no nap can help what they need. Weariness climbs into your bones and squeezes.
We’re in the tail end of Lent, drawing ever nearer to Jerusalem and the Holy Week of the Passion and Resurrection. Forty days is wearisome, really; the wilderness is wide, its vast emptiness stretching toward the unforgiving horizon. So how are we to replenish in that space, in this space? How are we to give ourselves both physical and emotional/spiritual/mental rest when life doesn’t stop? That’s the real trick; I may indeed be weary, but I have this paper—I have this service—I have this shift at work—I have this letter—I have this reading—I have this commitment—I have this promise I made. I’ll rest after…or after…or after…
I can’t be the only one who swallowed the line that I’ll rest when I’m dead.
Jesus calls those who are weary to Him, promising rest. He doesn’t say how, which is actually rather brilliant. Let’s be honest, if I were given even the slightest hint of a formula then I would do it myself. I’m like that. Jesus doesn’t give a formula. He gives a promise. Come to me, and I will give you rest. The end. But Jesuuuuuuuus, it isn’t working. I have come to You. I am still weary. The equation is wrong. To which I hear only the repetition: I will give you rest.
I love semantically focusing on Scripture so as to notice the words used and how they affect the sense. To be sure, do that kind of devotion carefully because the Bible isn’t word-for-word written by God’s own hand and the words themselves are not sacred. You’re also working with any one of a million different translations from various manuscripts that are all historically removed from Jesus Himself, so there are ideological choices going on in each chosen nuance. But I don’t think the human overlay at all destroys the God underneath Who lives and loves and speaks in an often frustrated tone: I will give you rest. I have plenty of gifts people have given me, many of which I don’t do anything with, some of which I’ve re-gifted. When God gives me rest, as when God gives me anything at all, I am perfectly free to refuse it or to misplace it or to put it on top of the never-shrinking stack of Things I’ll Deal With Later.
God’s rest, like God’s grace and God’s forgiveness and God’s love, is a gift given freely. I am in no way obligated to do anything at all with it, even when I have come right up to Jesus and asked for it. This is not to say that if I am constantly weary it’s always my fault and that I’m not allowed to push back on God’s promise—it’s not and I am. I believe wholeheartedly that I not only can but must hold God accountable to the premises of God’s Self in relationship with me, not because I know God’s Self better than God does but because this is a two-way thing as all relationships are. God doesn’t get to hang out in Heaven tossing platitudes down; nor, I think, does God want to.
But it is to say that I can’t ask for rest and then add another job. I can’t come to Jesus and speak of my weariness while taking on another school office or saying yes to an outing with fellow students when I know beyond doubt that my introvert meter is completely tapped.
The hardest part for me is that I’ve said I will do X and I do not go back on my word. But I am weary and heavy-laden. Perhaps I have to allow Jesus’ promise to be stronger than my own.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, KJV)