It’s hard to know what to write because it’s been a complicated and overwhelming and yet somehow really beneficial space. Bottom line is that my ongoing attempt to balance as many things as possible and to carry everything reached it's end. Enter a few months of acknowledging the beginning of burn-out and slowly taking steps to combat it.
It’s been clumsy and messy. Moments of reprieve intermingled with hard-fought moments of focus and many other moments of resigning to the bone-tired exhaustion. I’ve felt weak and distracted and anxious. I’ve cried over my research and whilst driving and in grocery store parking lots because the notion of getting groceries felt like too much. [Insert wholehearted praise for the beauty of take-away sushi here.] Insomnia and I again became well acquainted. I almost quit my job. I nearly put school on hold and walked away for a bit.
There’s this really beautiful thing that happens when you realize you get to that place though: you have to make changes. No amount of self-motivated focus or vision or determination can sustain themselves indefinitely. You can’t hide forever behind your well-practiced “I can do this!” resolve. There’s a tipping point when the exhaustion wins out over any go.go.go. and do.do.do. mentalities and you just collapse.
In so many ways and in so many layers, I’m realizing more and more that this weakness is grace and this season is grace. Because God is here and he keeps pulling me close and reminding me of how desperately I need Him (every day and hour and moment) and how clearly and faithfully He’s never failed me.
And, really, that’s what life is, isn’t it? Fumbling and stumbling our way through beauty and struggle and growth and clinging tightly to grace. Life unfolds in the spaces of all the ups and downs and nuances of strength and emotion and beauty and pain and weakness and the whole gamut of those experiences show us that wisdom often isn’t found in trying to fix circumstances, but rather in learning to dance in the rain and celebrate the small things and make room for margin and rest. Wisdom is learning to cherish the weakness and hold tight to the Saviour who sustains us in the midst of it, and the ways He leads us and carries us when we make our homes in hope.
[I didn’t quit school. I cut back my hours at work (thanks to the graciousness of the team at my work) and I gave myself space to rest and to sleep a lot. I started drinking less coffee and more herbal tea and I went for more walks and discovered the beauty that is lavender essential oil. I’ve spent more time in prayer and and clung to worship with complete desperation. I made some other big and small decisions that will help shape both this season and the next few years. I’m surrounded by a core group of people who constantly humble me with their love and support and I’ve leaned hard on them. I feel like I’m limping to the end of the semester, but I’ll get there, one-shaky-step-at-a-time.]
I need to preach the Gospel to myself daily. I need the reality of my complete desperation to sink deep into my bones. And louder and deeper than any other message: I need to know that before I am anything else, I am loved.
I am loved.
Completely. Extravagantly. Without condition and for no reason except that my Father has rescued me and redeemed me and calls me His own. Right now. Right here. In the midst of this space and this hurt and these deep-rooted dreams and this exhaustion and this weakness. He knows my heart. He holds my heart. And He loves me.
Full stop. Drop the mic.
That’s it. I don’t have anything to prove. I don’t have to achieve or accomplish or make a tangible difference. I have the single task of seeking Him and glorying in His salvation and and fixing my eyes on Him and letting that love overflow in the way I go about loving others and doing the work I have before me. It’s like Henri Nouwen wrote, “I am convinced that I will only be able to truly love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”
I’m getting better at that. Clinging to love more and more. Limping and stumbling and crashing into that reality, but falling more and more in love with Jesus with the way He patiently catches me every.single.time. I’m slowly letting it wash over the ridiculous expectations I put on myself to accomplish and to carry things on my own and to contribute.
Because at the root of it, I ache and dream and work hard because I want to be a part of something that makes the world better somehow. To stand in the gap and against injustice. To illuminate beauty. To charge the darkness with light. I want the nations to proclaim His goodness. I want to see this city flood with light and I dream continually of the day it will shine even more with evidence of God’s work in this place. I want people in captivity to be set free. I want just laws to reign. I want relationships restored. I want refugees to be protected and welcomed and to find safe places to make their homes. I want the multi-cultural and multi-generational church to grow and to thrive and to pursue the upside-down Gospel in our post-Christian contexts with creativity and boldness. I want the Kingdom to reign with all of its life-altering beauty and steady power in all spheres and all places.
I want Zion. I want Him to tear open the skies and bring justice at last and restore everything that is broken and bring the perfect lasting peace that is impossible without Him.
And I feel it. The pressure and the burden. The ache and the longing. The tension between the person I am and the person I want to be. The gap between the here and the not yet. I love this city deeply and yet it breaks my heart. I’m pursuing all that I’m pursuing because I really do believe that it matters and can make a meaningful difference, but the work that it takes to get there is hard and difficult and often feels crippling.
At their best (in the proper context of fixing my eyes on Jesus first) these things act as motivation and vision that inspire me and keeps me going and keep me dreaming and leaning hard on Jesus. At their worst (when I try to carry the burden on my own), they cripple me and overwhelm me because I take on the worry and burden that was never mine to carry.
This season has exposed that I need to pick up the tent I’ve pitched in the latter and (re)make my home in the former. I need to realign the rhythms and boundaries of my schedule with Christ and a right theology of His love and redemptive power. I need to make rest a priority. I need to take a step back from my jam-packed schedule and well-intended, but over-committed balancing act and learn to live in the unforced rhythms of grace and the freedom of Christ in that space.
The world is not mine to save. And that’s really really good news. The pressure is off. There’s freedom here. Lives of meaning and impact require hard work and committed effort, yes, but they demand effort that is worked out over years and in sustainable rhythms, not in a unsustainable rotation of crash-and-burn. Perfection has never been something to aspire to nor something we are capable of attaining.
Wisdom would have been to build proactive rhythms of sustainable rest and not letting myself get to the point of burn-out in the first place. But, the thing about burn-out is that you tend to think it’s something that happens to other super-busy and over-committed people, but not you. I knew my schedule wasn’t sustainable, but I rationalized its intensity by saying it wasn’t for forever and I would recover and let myself rest later. Part of me just assumed this crazy rhythm was a necessary part of the student/grad school/mid-twenties experience. That I didn’t have an excuses to not be working as hard as was absolutely possible. That was foolishness. That was pride. That was a misunderstanding of what God calls us to do and to be. [Here’s to learning and growing through everything.]
The bottom line is this: I can do no good things apart from His presence in me. I can only love this city and my neighbourhood if that love comes as an overflow of Christ’s love in me. I can only think and engage in difficult questions well if that insight comes as an overflow of the Holy Spirit in me. I simply cannot run on empty.
There’s a song by Jon Thurlow (off his new “Walking Through the Night” EP) that I’ve been listening to over and over, called Never Dying Love. Part of the lyrics are: “I need something stronger than my resolve, something trials or floods cannot quench.” That’s exactly it. I need something deeper than passion, something stronger than resolve, something so absolutely beyond the limitations of human intellect and the failures of social systems. I need the transcendence that smashes through the hopelessness of the closed imminent frame. The enduring hope that illuminates the struggle and the waiting and the not yet.
I need the fiery seal of His love.
It’s sounds crazy, but this humbling and exhausting season that has continually exposed my weakness is captivating my heart with His love. In so many ways, that’s been the recurring theme over these past few years and in all the cracks and bruises within. It’s been crazy hard. In a steady and lingering pain and a darkness that almost feels like it may never fully lift. But, It’s been beautiful in a way I’ll never be able to convey or articulate. I’ve never been so captivated by my Jesus or by the way He pulls us close and sustains us and I just keep falling more in love with Him.
And that’s the mind-blowing and joy-lined space that makes this season such a gift too. Because in the tension, His strength is made perfect in my weakness. In my failings, He still speaks vision and plants big dreams and asks us to love extravagantly and hope steadily and trust unswervingly. He still asks us to pray with confidence and to boldly approach Him. He still asks us to live and to enter into the mess of humanity, but in such a way that we lean on Him and not our own strength.
He speaks life and sustains. And He writes His love on our hearts.
This fall has been clinging to the crazy and stunning promise of Isaiah 35:
Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flowers. Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom, a symphony of song and colour. God’s resplendent glory, fully on display. God awesome, God majestic. Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!” Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly. They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness, as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.
Singing en route to Home in Zion.
New life in barren places.
Joy and gladness.
Talk about a promise.