For decades, I was proud of my exhaustion, as it proved that I was running and straining harder than the average bear. However, Sabbath-keeping and a slowly growing preference for wide-ruled margins have completely shifted me to the other side of the spectrum. Now I find myself almost afraid of exhaustion. In an effort to live with margin and boundaries, both of which are necessary, I am realizing I have inadvertently made exhaustion an enemy to be avoided at all costs.
The problem with this line of thinking is that exhaustion can sometimes be a gracious gift to be embraced in all its various forms: mental, physical, emotional, even spiritual.
Walking with God, heck, even just walking as a human on this earth filled with other broken and beautiful beings is a marathon, not a sprint. As such, Sabbath-keeping reminds us that our power and strength and hope do not derive from our own strength or efficiency or ingenuity, but rather from the character and constancy of the God who created us. Boundaries and margins provide speed bumps that ensure we are pacing ourselves to make it all the way through the finish line in the uniquely mapped out races that the Lord has drawn up for each of us. I am all for margins, please hear me.
However, even with healthy Sabbath rhythms and margins in place, life sometimes dictates a pace that is less than sustainable. There circumstances and situations that pull us from comfortable paces for seasons: a newborn baby, a sudden tragedy or chronic sickness, ministry that spills out of the neat containers we try to keep it in and a myriad of others.
Lately, I have found my heart avoiding exhaustion, even if that exhaustion is a gift from God meant to lead me back to dependence upon Him.
My will is a stallion, wild, untamed and seemingly inexhaustible. If it has even a smidgen of energy left within it, it will often use that energy to insist upon its own plans and ways. However, when my wild-stallion soul is utterly fatigued, it submits, bows low and humbly invites the Rider intended to lovingly steer it in the first place.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be like the horse or mule which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Psalm 32:8-9.
I deeply desire to be an obedient steed, but my stubborn will often does not simply listen to the Lord’s loving command to come unto Him, to learn from Him, the gentle and humble Master. Exhaustion often serves as a bit and bridle that leads me back to where I wanted to be all along.
Exhaustion can produce the spirit of Psalm 131 in our souls.
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore. Psalm 131.
Exhaustion, when it comes not through poor soul care or boundaries, but through sovereign circumstances outside of my control, makes me deadweight in my Father’s everlasting arms.
I love that my children are old enough now to walk and run and play independently. It is appropriate that they do so as they grow, as they were not intended to stay on my hip forever in a suspended infantile state. That being said, I also deeply treasure the rare moments of utter exhaustion in which they are dead weight on my shoulder, unable to even help hold themselves up.
In those moments when the man’s responsibility side of the Christian life equation is nought, I imagine the Sovereign Father wearing a proud grin, loving the fleeting moment of complete and utter dependence and need in his usually active child.