On the Edge of Your Seat–For Better or Worse

Last Tuesday evening, I saw a Bible-study speaker stand up and say, “I’m praying that all of you will be on the edge of your seats waiting to see what the Holy Spirit will do next.”

Somehow, I reacted less than joyfully to the prospect. I live most of my days “on the edge of my seat” all right–but the driving motivator is usually fear of not finishing, fear of being interrupted, fear of disappointment or spoiled plans or failure or all of the above. I’ve had far more than my share of rained-out events and last-minute requests over the past several months, and the last thing I feel like doing is making myself not only open to but eager for more of the same.

So here I sit, fuming because the Creator and Master of the Universe won’t let me instruct Him on how to orchestrate things. I don’t care about becoming a spiritual giant, a prayer warrior, or a joyful-in-all-circumstances person. I don’t care about loving my neighbor who may be flooded out of house and home, terminally ill, or surviving by street prostitution. I care about being spared the frustration of unexpected technical glitches and traffic delays.

And I feel that if I take the trouble to make a comprehensive to-do list and say a quick prayer every morning, having everything go according to plan is no more than my due.

At least the Holy Spirit has gotten through to me far enough that I no longer can maintain that attitude without feeling guilty. Stepping onward to the “James 1:2” attitude (“When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy”) is something else again. Fear grips me at the thought–the fear that “joyful” means “I’m okay with this, and I accept that You probably don’t intend to ever change it for the better.” The fear that joy really means resignation and that God considers anything good enough for the likes of me.

On the edge of my seat? More like slumped in the chair with major depression imminent.

When it comes down to it, guilt is a lousy motivator, rooted in fear and knowing little of gratitude. How often do I bother to look on from James 1:2 to the promise in verses 3 and 4? “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Does that sound like I can’t trust God to change the important things for the better?

Letting go of the desire to control is more than a hard thing to do. It’s one of those things I can’t possibly do without accepting God’s help. My “I know best” pride is really fear of the unknown. There are times I can almost taste the joyful life of standing strong and complete, unfazed by anything and brimming with gratitude over all God has done for me. Still, the path between here and there is a wide bayou where I can see only the fast-flowing surface, every step forward whispering the terror of being swept off my feet or plunging into bottomless depths.

With the help of the Spirit, can I trust the One on the other side to show me where the firm footings are?

And the only answer is: I must. For a life lived in caution and anger and obsessive planning is a living death, the epitome of what Jesus warned of in Matthew 16:25: “If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it”–not just “life” as measured from time of conception to time of last breath on earth, but life in the sense of functioning to the maximum, of getting and giving everything I can during my years here.

A couple of millennia ago, a very busy apostle planned a visit to Jerusalem thinking he knew how long he would be there and where he would travel afterward. Instead, he wound up spending several years in jail, first in Palestine and then in Rome–and even his trip from the former to the latter was interrupted by a shipwreck and the need to winter in Malta. All that time, Paul lived with little idea of what would happen next or when it would happen, with no word on whether he would ever be able to pick up his original plans where they left off. He could easily have justified himself in fuming, “God, after all I’ve done for You, this is the thanks I get!” Instead, he wrote to his friends in Philippi:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. … Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8).

Nothing fits that description better than God. Why not lean forward in your seat, eager to see what He’ll do next?

List Fatigue

The dictionary definition of “fatigue” is “extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.” In today’s society, fatigue seems an illness in its own right. And like cancer, it has sufficient notoriety and versatility to rate subdivision into multiple categories: one hears of compassion fatigue, chronic fatigue, career fatigue, e-mail fatigue, adrenal fatigue, customer service fatigue, and others. The word has even found its way into the technical jargon of many industries: engineers worry about metal fatigue causing structural collapse; marketers blame list fatigue when e-mail responses decline.

For me right now, list fatigue has a different meaning:

DEFINITION: an ongoing sense of stress characterized by the feeling that one’s life is controlled by the very lists that were intended to bring one’s life under control.

SYMPTOMS:

  • Having a list for everything: to-do lists, shopping lists, goals lists, reading lists, planning lists, budget lists, priority lists, daily-schedule lists, etc., etc.
  • Negative reactions ranging from fury to despair when a carefully laid plan is disrupted for any reason.
  • Severe discontent with oneself and/or life, completely irrespective of a day’s accomplishments or circumstances, so long as unchecked-off items remain on any list.
  • Trying to fit everything from tooth-brushing to starting the car into a precise and regular time slot.
  • Dreading getting out of bed in the morning because “there’s so much to do and I might not finish.”
  • Starting a new list whenever the sense of “making no progress” becomes troubling.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting or hair-twisting, particularly when rushing or feeling impatient.
  • Various physical symptoms such as insomnia, increased blood pressure, weight gain, or unexplained aches and spasms.
  • Frequent annoyance with people for “interrupting me” or “taking too much time”; trying to rush them through whatever they want.

And the cause of list fatigue? The key component of original sin: the craving to “be like God,” to control what happens when, to decide what’s best for us and have it.

Ever since Eve, grabbing for the privilege of governing one’s own universe has led to trouble. While we recognize it as sitcom material that a rookie weight trainer should run to the heaviest barbell and persist until he faints in his determination to raise it overhead, we hardly see our infinitely more ludicrous attempts to swing the weight of world-running onto our shoulders and hold it out of God’s reach. This is the burden Jesus referred to when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Strange to say, most of us prefer a heavy burden of our own choice to the rest and easy burden He offers.

Even when we genuinely want to come to Jesus and accept His yoke, our fleshly nature lies in wait to tempt us into turning God’s direction into one more list. The legalistic Christian is the one who strives in church work like the workaholic at the office, who keeps a mental “is this true and right?” checklist by which to analyze every activity and interest–and who, whether he ultimately becomes a smug Pharisee or a pool of self-loathing and self-pity, is the antithesis of the joyful, showing-Christ-to-the-world Christian. The living picture of misery.

Misery is both the parent and the byproduct of fatigue–especially when our devotion to the “list” deludes us into thinking “I haven’t time to rest” or “I have to get all this done.” No, you don’t; the common assumption “I had no choice” is rarely true literally. Even if someone were holding a gun on you, you could still choose to be shot rather than comply. Unwise as that would be under most circumstances, more foolish still is to become so enslaved by compulsion to “finish the list” as to see the option of “neglecting” it for a while–even to pray or catch up on sleep–as on the level of arguing with a loaded gun.

Granted, for those of us who are already as one with the list, getting out of the comfort zone of habit can be painful. But not as painful as the physical or mental collapse needed to get some people’s attention.

Regardless of your immediate “list” situation, if you find only one takeaway point in this article, let it be this:

Coming to Christ for rest is not a one-time thing. If you genuinely want to live the remainder of your life under His easy yoke and free from self-inflicted lists and the resulting fatigue, make a point of spending time in His presence daily. And not just run-through-the-prayer-list, read-your-Bible-like-any-other-book, ask-Him-to-bless-your-preconceived-plans time; His yoke can only stay on you when you open your mind to listen, fill your heart with thanksgiving, and stay ready to accept it when (not if) He shows you that some (perhaps most) of your treasured “list items” are not on His list. If you insist that they stay on yours, there’s no way you will be able to keep them from being a stumbling block to your Christian life.

That possibility is the real reason many well-meaning Christians fill their lives with lists until they have “no time for God”; subconsciously, they fear He will “cross off” items they can’t imagine living without. Only by putting aside that fear will we see how God’s list is so much better for us, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

When you have God’s approval, you don’t need to measure your success in checked-off items.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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