On the Edge of Exhaustion

Last Tuesday was a gorgeous morning in Houston. A flock of cedar waxwings thought so too; for three hours they teemed in the trees outside my door, gorging themselves on berries, whistling in chorus, flashing their ebony masks and lemon bellies in the sun. They made a breathtaking picture of the glories of Creation.

And I battled mixed feelings about their visit.

As a freelance writer I do most of my work on a home computer, in a room within easy view and earshot of the outdoors, in a second-floor apartment that belongs to a complex beautifully landscaped in trees and flowers and much favored by neighborhood birds and other wildlife. I should rejoice in the blessing of being surrounded by God’s natural beauty. But when an especially striking example of His work (such as the waxwing flock) pays an unannounced visit while I’m in the middle of something (such as the addiction-treatment blog post I was struggling with most of Tuesday morning), my typical reaction is less along the lines of “Thank You so much, Lord” and more like “Will you please leave, bird, and quit tempting my attention away from work?”

No idol holds a stronger fortress in my life than the idol called completion. Projects finished, schedules kept, and lists checked off in full are my primary sources of satisfaction; interruptions and delays flood my heart with resentment. Meanwhile, I create articles that advise others to trust God’s grace, accept His peace, and choose rest and prayer as life priorities over active “achieving.” I could be poster child for Paul’s scolding words in Romans 2:21a: “Well, then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself?”

Sad to say, at this stage in life I seem to have cast down most of my fleshly cravings for idleness, only to replace them with equally fleshly cravings for success through achievement. A week into Lent 2016, I haven’t even held consistently to my promise to set aside extra mid-day prayer time for the duration of the season. In fact, for months I have treated prayer and meditation as time-eating luxuries I could ill afford.

No wonder I feel close to exhausted most of the time. No wonder I yearn for the weekend and don’t enjoy it when it arrives. My soul is fatigued from undernourishment.

The need to nourish one’s soul is in fact the subject of my church‘s 2016 Lent Bible study, based on the book Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. Early on, Ortberg introduces the reader to a quote from his mentor Dallas Willard: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg admits that when he first heard that, his impulsive answer was “Okay, got that down, now if you’ve got any other advice tell me quick, because I’ve only got a few minutes!” He remembers Willard, however, as a man who genuinely lived the principle: who inserted regular long pauses in his speech; who ignored ringing phones with genuine indifference when an in-the-room person had his attention; who instinctively understood through and through that the most important things in life were reverence, love, and character.

Could I ever hope to come close to that ideal? I, who haven’t even been able to write this far without chewing the inside of my mouth in nervousness over whether I’ll finish in time to get to my lunch meeting on schedule? I, who continuously (grammar fans, that literally means “without ever pausing”) let hurry run my life, not only in work and transit time, but in supposed leisure time by fretting over how long it will take to finish a book or crossword puzzle–and mentally, too, trying to will computer files to download faster and traffic lights to turn green?

Many’s the time I’ve thought that if I could spend Lent exactly as Jesus did–alone in Creation with no material interruptions or duties to think about–I would finally get over this spiritual-growth hump for good. (I should have known better, after reading of the Temptation that went with that original Lent, than to think that spiritual breakthroughs ever come easy.) In recent months, though, I’ve come to realize that no “time off” (neither an ordinary weekend nor a year’s sabbatical) will change my life unless I allow it to change me. Not change in the form of mastering a new habit or two, planning goals better, or finding the perfect daily-schedule template. Change that goes deep to my core, that stays in constant touch with God, that is naturally inclined to praise, that never feels the need to hurry because it trusts God as primary Manager of my time (interruptions, setbacks, and all).

Change to the point where a typical day is energizing rather than exhausting. To the point where I can be grateful for how far I have come rather than fretting about how far I have to go. To the point where I can find equal joy in serving the world in my unique niche, and in responding wholeheartedly to Christ’s invitation: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, NIV).

Is it possible? I can only trust in the words of Jesus from Matthew 19:26: “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

Laying the full weight of responsibility on myself can only lead to an exhausted soul. Trusting in God to take responsibility will prove the secret of soul rest.

One more thing. Tuesday morning wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the waxwing flock up close. The first time was Monday of the week before, when I was rushing off to a dental checkup and once again tense with worry about running late. As I reached my car, the flock gathered in the tree overhead, colorful and lively, so close I could practically touch them.

I paused in admiration. I heard once again the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:26): “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” And I made my appointment on schedule.

To me, those waxwings will always be God’s messengers, sent as reminders to trust Him for everything, including my time. Soon enough they will fly north for the spring, but I pray that their message will remain rooted in my heart.

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5 Comments

  1. You know I pray for you every day.

    Reply
  2. And you know how much I appreciate it, Jan.

    Reply
  3. Jo Swank

     /  February 20, 2016

    Amen and Amen!! Kathy, this demonstrates your deep level of understanding….you so get it! : ) Now, to living what you know. Isn’t our God amazing? There is no doubt that those waxwings were truly his messengers for you! He used something that you love to get your attention….he is so personal…..knows us through and through. He is honoring your desire to trust him and giving you a visual reminder. I’m praying that more and more each day you (and all of us) will look up and recognize his messages of love and care each day.

    Reply
  1. In God’s Time | Strength for the Weary

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