“You just need to take something off of your plate.”
Man, I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been told this over the last few years. It used to make me feel relieved to hear this, as if I was finally getting permission to relax on a few fronts. But, the more wonderful and busy and messy and full life has become, the more often I have found myself in seasons where there really isn’t anything I can just “take off the plate.” My dad refers to it as “juggling glass balls”; there’s not one thing I can simply drop, because everything I’m juggling is too precious.
Have you ever felt that way? You’re exhausted and stretched, and yet you can’t really see a way to lighten your load? How do you just subtract the number of mouths to feed in your house? How do you not wash clothes when everyone is already at that “I’m cleaning things out in the bathtub” stage? How do you take a few weeks off of a job that pays the bills just to recoup? How do you not minister at church in areas where there’s nobody else there to step in? It’s all so much, but— — well, who else can do what you do?
First, we need to stop feeling guilty for being overwhelmed and even burned out. At countless women’s meetings and book studies, I hear those things taught as signs that you’re taking on too much or not focusing your priorities well. It’s that whole, “Stop being a Martha and get a Mary spirit” thing. That may be the case, and indeed that very passage has served as a litmus test for many women in ministry. But to be honest, in just talking with wives and mommies around me who are in the thick of life, it seems that more often sheer exhaustion is simply a symptom of doing exactly what you’re being asked to do.
There’s nothing at all wrong with giving your all to the life and work and ministry that God has called you to. At the end of this school year, after the kids had all left and it was just us teachers wrapping things up before the summer, our administrator told us, “If today does not feel any different than yesterday, then you were doing it wrong.” In other words, you should be giving your all to what God has placed before you, and there is no way around the fact that doing so will mean you get TIRED. I mean, bone-deep tired. So tired, you can’t think about stopping to rest because even getting to that point is too much effort. That’s what we do does to us!
There is nothing inherently wrong with being busy, or even with feeling overwhelmed. Odds are, it means you care a whole lot and are doing what you can to get it all right!
The problem with being busy and exhausted is that it often leaves us emotionally and spiritually vulnerable. When your energies are being so thoroughly spent in so many other places, you’re left susceptible to things like discouragement, frustration, despair(read: Bible word for depression), impatience, and self-centeredness. Let’s be honest: it’s not a very long jump from tired to angry for most of us. And that exasperation with things as they are can leave us forgetting to put our guards up; or rather, forgetting Who is there ready to guard us when we are too spent to fight it ourselves.
We forget that while service and love were never meant to be easy, they were also never meant to be about us. Jesus told us specifically that He was leaving here “a comforter,” a minister in the form of Himself, the Holy Spirit, to aid us in our toil this side of Eternity. This is not something we should overlook, because it tells us that even before He left this earth physically, Jesus knew we would be facing very human obstacles along the way. This journey was not meant to be taken alone.
Trusting in Him and in His plan for our lives and labors is something we have to decide to do. Sometimes, it’s something we have to do afresh on a daily — or hourly! — basis. When we stop trusting that all of this chaos buzzing around us has a greater purpose and an eternal end, we find ourselves scrambling to make things work and to scrape together enough energy and wisdom to get things done on our own. That’s a slippery slope, because God told us that even He “remembers our frame,” and that He “knows we are dust.” He doesn’t expect us to have the power or the answers or the will to keep going when we’re so beaten down. That’s why He didn’t leave us alone to do it. But, we forget the promises like those in Psalm 71:
In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust:
let me never be put to confusion.
Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape:
incline thine ear unto me, and save me.
Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort:
thou hast given commandment to save me;
for thou art my rock and my fortress.
He is not just our Savior. He is our Guide, our Truth, our Wisdom, our Strength, our Help, our Fortress, our Safe Place. As wives and mommies and (fill in the never-ending blanks!), we often see ourselves as having to meet all of the needs around us, all the while forgetting that our needs are just as great and our longings just as deep. We must be ministered to, we must be strengthened by Him Who made us and knows us — with all of our faults and failures, all of our abilities and gifts — better than we know ourselves.
Refocusing on our Source of life, hope, and peace means different things to each of us. For some of us, it means we need to deliberately seek out a friend or a mentor and get good Biblical counseling on something that we just cannot seem to beat. For some of us, it means we’ve got to start doing what we can each day to find that quiet time away from the noise to be refreshed and strengthened in prayer and mediation on the Word. For some of us, it means we do need to take a step back and reevaluate why and how we are taking on certain things, and maybe need to pluck up the nerve to tell someone “No. It is not for me right now.” If we spend even a little time asking that Helper what we need, He will every so kindly and ever so gently show us. He’s good like that. 🙂
It is so easy to be overwhelmed with the things of this world and of the next. Often, our intentions are good, but our attentions are scattered. It is not always a matter of taking a vacation, or of relying on a mani/pedi to cure what ails us (although there is nothing wrong with either of those solutions when we can get them 😉 ). More often, it is a matter of simply putting our trust back where it belongs, and allowing ourselves to be cared for and loved on by Love Himself.
Our good, good Father is more than willing to carry us through the flurry of life here until we can rest with Him one day. We just have to let Him.