Friday, October 7, 2011

31 days || seven: celebrating quiet and rest.

 {photo by Colleen of Postcript Love}

“Lord, just wear us out for You.” 

I felt my eyes, squinted shut, blink open with a start. Did I just hear what I thought I heard? 

Wear us out for You. 

It was a small phrase, five words, hidden in a much larger, beautiful prayer. When I asked Jordan if he’d heard those words, if they had stuck out to him like they had to me, he shrugged his shoulders. 

“I don’t know. What about it?” He smiled, because by now he knows when I’m about to pull out the soapbox, when I’m about to get riled up over something that may not, in the long run, matter all that much. 

“This idea, this ‘exhaust yourself for Jesus’ idea… Where did it come from? Because I kind of hate it.” 

“Really?” Jordan looked at me, surprised. “I kind of love it.” 

--- 

Jordan and I agree on most things, theologically speaking. I’m patient with him while he delves into concepts of theology and church history. He listens quietly as I launch into discussions about women’s roles and social justice. We are, I think, a well-suited match. Mostly, our discussions end well, and when they don’t, it’s largely my stubborn fault. 

But this? 

This I couldn’t let go. 

I know what it looks like to wear yourself out for the Lord. At the church we attend now, my mother runs the children’s ministry; my father runs the education program. My uncle coordinates missions; my aunt writes curriculum and works behind the scenes for Bible classes. Another aunt manages the church library. My husband spends almost his entire Sunday heading up small groups and guiding a Spanish-speaking program. And my 93-year-old grandmother? She exhausts herself every day by continuing to sew and stuff bears for children at a local hospital. I believe the count is up to 3,000. 

Me? 

I’m trying to step away from it all. 

This summer, when Jordan and I drove away from a church meeting after agreeing to take on another ministry, I arrived home and promptly began to cry. 

I didn’t want it. Our church ministries kept growing and growing and growing, and our time spent at home or out in the world? Well, it was bound to keep shrinking and shrinking. 

Because, newsflash folks: You can’t do it all. 

Despite what the world and Sarah Jessica Parker tell you, it’s simply not possible. Something will have to go. 

And I wonder why, when push comes to shove, church attendance and activities are often last on that list of things to put off, cancel, reschedule. Why we are filled with this indescribable guilt when exhaustion and fatigue prevent us from church. 

Not the church of Scripture, by the way, but church of the year 2011. Church that follows you wherever you go, church that you don’t just do on Sundays, but also on Wednesdays, and another Bible study or small group or service project during the week. 

It’s absolutely exhausting how much time we spend devoted to church. Not to Christ. To church. 

When did we confine ministry to that one little word, church? 

When did we exhaust all of our goods and all of our gifts at the brick and mortar building? 

When did we stop going out and start focusing in? 

When did we equate busy and over-committed with spiritual? 


We have programs for everything. We have programs for hospitality. Programs for youth (God forbid they be included in the daily life of the church). Programs for young mothers. Programs for spiritual growth. Programs for losing weight, for learning to manage money, for missions, for outreach, for learning to sing. From the time you enter church as a 2 week old infant, baby, there is a program for you. 

What's your issue? Go to this class. What? You still have a problem? Try this other class. 

If you want to grow, just get busy going to church. And if you really want to be spiritual, go to EVERYTHING. 

I've personally experienced church fatigue. I'm sick of it. I have this Bible study on Monday nights, small group on Tuesday night, women's meeting on Thursday, mid-week service on Wednesday, youth event on Fridays, and then 3 services on Sundays. The common complaint of most pastors is that they're too busy. But you know what? So are the rest of us. The entire church is busy and tired. 

Sounds about right. 

I wonder, though, if church fatigue is really only a symptom of a larger problem. A problem that goes back to that little five-word phrase that has been floating around my head for weeks: Wear yourself out for Him. 

--- 

Exhaust yourself. 

In any other aspect of my life, this would be frowned upon. 

Don’t do too much! 

Don’t spend too much time at work: You’ll be a workaholic! 

Don’t spend too much time in leisure: You’ll become lazy! 

Don’t spend too much time at home: You’ll become a recluse! 

But no one has ever told me: Don’t spend too much time at church

I think we earnestly believe we’re going to be rewarded based on how worn out we are at the end of all this. 

When life as we know it comes to an end, when our eyes close for the final time, when the curtain draws on this earth and we are faced with the unknown of eternity, our Savior and Lord will simply look and see how big the bags under our eyes are. He will ask: Are we exhausted enough? Did we die with our names listed as the leaders of dozens of groups and programs and ministries? 

My head, I think, admits that this reward system is “scriptural,” that there is talk of robes and crowns and mansions throughout the New Testament. 

But my heart debates as to whether those rewards come based on how tired we are at the end of our journey. 

Isn’t wearing ourselves out kind of missing the point? 

This concept of exhausting ourselves for Jesus doesn’t feel right to me. It makes me nervous and anxious and causes my eyes to open wide when they’re supposed to be bowed closed. 

--- 

And lest we think I’m getting my panties all in a twist over yet another church issue, let me just say: This is a problem everywhere. This over-committed, “look-how-full-my-planner-is” lifestyle is popular with believers and non-believers alike. 

My complaint is that of all places where we should be free of this mentality, church is at the top of the list. 


--- 

I realize these posts about celebration have thus far not been about dinner parties or birthday gatherings. They haven’t been about pretty place settings or DIY decorations. 

Celebration, to me, is more than those things. (Even though, as we all know: I love those things.) 

And true celebration is just as much about quiet and rest and simplicity as it is about glitter and playlists and dancing in the living room. 

I guess I’m just bothered that quiet, simple living isn’t celebrated more by church culture. I’m not sure how to change that, except to celebrate it myself

My tendency when I’m with friends or family is to lament how busy I am, to join the masses in frustrations over to-do lists and full weekends. 

Why not instead leave some weekends empty? 

Why act ashamed when I say there’s nothing on the calendar? 

Why not sing the praises of simple living? Real simple living, not the kind we see on blogs and lifestyle magazines. 

Simple living that celebrates solitude and quiet. Gratitude and peace. Gentleness and grace. 

I want to live and to celebrate the simple life. One day, I want the church to do that too. 

---

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." 

- Matthew 11:28-30, The Message
 

13 comments:

Leslie said...

really glad you wrote this. i always tend to be a busy-body, but lately i have soooooo been craving simplicity, in a lot of things. i need to listen to those cravings.

Sara said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I really resonate with...well, really everything you just said. My husband and I are constantly (over)filling our schedules and it wears me out. Yet he seems to love it. It's hard to find the balance and I totally agree--there is an unspoken pressure to do more church, show up at more church programs, volunteer for more church activities. I think this is a really great discussion.

Lauren said...

This is such a thought-provoking post - thank you for writing your thoughts about this concept of "Wearing yourself out for Him". I think there's a big difference between wearing ourselves out for the church, doing church activities, and wearing ourselves out for Jesus, Himself. In thinking through my experiences with Young Life ministry, I think we are sometimes to stretch ourselves to points where we don't think we have enough to go, because I think that is when (at least in my experience) I have found God the most. When I am at my last breaking point, I find that if I still hear God's voice say "Go", and I actually do it, I find myself experiencing a whole new level of faith through that obedience.

But I also think that God wants us to rest in Him and have those times of solitude and meditation, times of rest, because how else are we to hear His Voice? I think God's presence in our lives gets pushed out of the way if we don't allow for those times as well.

It's a hard balance to find, for there are so many good things we can do with the time we're given. But I also think we do desperately need time to just be.

jenna said...

A thousand times, amen.

Kristen said...

I love it. It's truth, it's inviting, and it's desperately needed.. I applaud this.

Little wee bit correction (from the peanut gallery), the verse is from Matthew 11:28-30. I love that verse too, it's wonderful. Well put. (:

aPearantly sew said...

So many parts of this post had me saying, "yes! YES! Exactly!". My husband and I are over the nursery and toddler rooms at church, and I am on the missions board and the church council. While I don't mind serving in our church, it can be exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting. I couldn't agree more that we have put too much focus on "the church" and not enough focus on Jesus.

emily0126 said...

Thanks for your post! As a college student at a Christian university, I think a lot of us struggle with finding this balance, too, but more so with the different campus ministries/activities.

On one hand, there are so many worthy causes that I can help with. On the other hand, there are a couple I feel really passionate about and can devote more quality time and energy to. It's just kind of a funny balancing act that I'm not very good at yet. But it's kinda strangely comforting to realize that even people in the "real world" struggle with this, too.

Bethany G said...

This was such a great post. Seriously got me thinking! Well written!

Sabrina said...

A very well expressed and different point of view Annie. I don't know where I stand exactly, but mainly I think this is an individual, case by case issue. If anyone is doing a lot and feeling tired and that emotion is visible and causing unease and unrest, then yeah they need to step back and quickly. For their sake and sanity. But if you are doing a lot and in your doing being renewed, inspired, and finding Godly purpose then I think it's great to keep embracing that until there comes a time when you need rest. When what once was a joy becomes a chore....well then it's time to take a look at that and pray for God to help us to know what his will would be. Knowing the difference between what is offered and what is required at church and beyond...now that is tricky.

TefMarie said...

I like that you were able to vocalize and put into words what I have been feeling for a few years. I've had a hard time feeling like I'm a valued Christian because my role in the church has changed and become less prominent, but my relationship to Jesus has increased. Thanks for these thoughts and for sharing them with us!

Annie said...

I think I can see what Jordan's saying, because on the days where I'm running around and productively conquering my long to-do list, I do like it - or at least, the adrenaline. And if I'm going to expel energy like that on anything, I want to spend it doing tasks that last.

However, I don't think it's only the church that does God's work. And I also think that ministry is inherently present in rest, because God set us the example during the week of creation. So, I, too, am trying not to take on everything, because it's wearing me out, and I don't believe wearing oneself out in the name of Lord is any more holy than just wearing oneself out.

Anonymous said...

Great, thought-provoking post. Church activities can become a chore and we all need a period of "retreat" and rest. I remember a minister (at the church you attend) make a comment that Christians never retreat after I had just made an announcement that the teens were going on a retreat (as I was serving as youth minister at that same church). That made me so sad. There are times we need to retreat, rest, lick our wounds and just rest in Jesus. We need to learn that at a young age. And then we move back out and engage in ministry so other people can rest. I hope you can enjoy a season of rest and renewal. And I hope you can engage in a small group with a group of fellow believers who will refresh your spirit. For me, our life group is not another activity or obligation. It's an oasis of refreshment as other believers encourage and nourish each other. I hope you have that same support!
Blessings,
Lance

Megan Elizabeth said...

Annie, this is one of the best posts you've written!
Its always bothered me how the American church has turned following Christ into a contest on how many days we'll be in a building. I used to be the 5 days on 2 days off Christian...and I got to a point where I simply fogot what I was at church for because I have become so 'busy' with it. It took me having to just attend Sunday morning to loose that mentality...and I'm ok with that. Thanks for sharing this :-)