No matter what age we may be, where we live or work, or what our exercise regimen, two of the most common maladies I hear mentioned are stress and the lack of feeling rested and refreshed. I get that! I lived with both for longer than I care to admit. I also sought a variety of healthy remedies. These included hiring a personal trainer and exercising, adjusting my diet, and trying to adjust my sleep schedule. I even learned to say “no” a bit more.
I experienced some improvement but it didn’t last. I read about the impact of cortisol on the body as a result of stress and it all made sense. But knowledge does not always provide a solution. Sometimes the knowledge is incomplete or faulty.
I prayed about it and asked the Lord for more energy and stamina and while I was still working in full-time ministry (emphasis on FULL) regular vacations were scheduled. I would often sleep for 10 hours the first night we would arrive at our destination and still nap the following day. It would be two or three days before I began to feel somewhat normal and in the blink of an eye the vacation was over and whatever I gained would seep out faster than I could imagine. (Yes, I was also taking vitamins and supplements to help.)
When I retired three years ago I discovered how long it took me to begin to feel refreshed and rested. I realized for the first time how weary I was and that sleep, diet, and exercise alone were not enough even if I was putting better boundaries in place about use of my time.
Little by little I began to get hints about the underlying problem I saw in my own life and the lives of so many others decades younger than I. As they came into better focus I also picked up an insightful book by Hannah Anderson, Humble Roots, and her insight and words confirmed what I had begun to discover. I would recommend the book highly, but also want to spend a few posts reflecting on what she confirmed and what most of us might be missing about the relentless tiredness and stress that plagues us.
Jesus has told us we will find rest in Him, so why does it elude us to such a great extent?
Despite our knowledge of all things healthy, we still feel tired, toss and turn many sleepless nights, and wonder what is wrong with us. How do we get to that place of being like the lilies of the field? Women have some of the highest levels of stress as we try desperately to keep all the balls in the air and manage the many roles that never show up on a resume and still manage to consume 24 hours of every day of nearly every week.
More little things start to slip through the cracks and our control and lack of it increases. It becomes frustrating when we slowly must admit that we have control over so little. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and questions about who understands or cares about us. I was a clinical counselor for more than 25 years and I saw and heard it often.
Hannah nails the problem at the outset in the very first chapter of her book.
“When we believe that we are responsible for our own existence, when we trust our ability to care for ourselves, we will have nothing but stress because we are unequal to the task. You know this. Deep inside, you know your limits even as you press forward by sheer determination. But at some point, the world becomes too much, and the largeness of life threatens to overwhelm you.”
I know those words may ring true for some of you. They were true for me for a long time. I recall how grateful I was that my mother lived a short distance away when I was teaching, going to graduate school part-time, and juggling the many roles of mother and wife. I felt guilty that I needed her help and yet so grateful that some days I would arrive home to find a casserole prepared for dinner that night, fresh baked cookies waiting on the kitchen counter, and an empty hamper when she discovered how full it was. Her recognition of my need exposed the pride hiding underneath that somehow I could manage it all.
Some of you may recall that song and commercial that talked about women who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and so on and so on. It can be easy even if we don’t work outside the home. We want to be a success and buy-in to the model no matter what our world and circumstances are like.
Jesus invites us to enter into His rest and tells us His yoke is easy and burden is light. What does He really mean and how do I get to that place?
On top of that how do we handle our serving in ministry and/or church? We want to use our gifts and talents. Leaders ask for us to help and serve and some add guilt to our shoulders when we cannot, do not, or stop. We try to press on so we meet expectations, model service, and ratchet up our performance in whatever way we can so we don’t disappoint anyone and don’t disappoint ourselves. We even fear we will disappoint the Lord if we don’t keep pushing forward.
Hannah’s words point to where our search for rest must begin.
“We must take His yoke. We must learn of Him. And here is the rub. Here is the real source of our anxiety and stress. Here is the root of our unhappiness. The rest that Jesus offers only comes when we humble ourselves and submit to Him.”
Ouch! I thought I had done it all those years, but she exposed something I had missed. Next time I will share a bit more of what I see now.