Just in Case

NOTE: Due to a lack of sufficient public interest, the Strength for the Weary blog will be going on indefinite hiatus after this post to make more time for other projects. Please feel free to send related comments or suggestions, including what most influences you to comment on or share a post, to ks@houstonfreelancewriter.com.

Last Thursday afternoon, my home church went on lockdown. No one allowed to enter the premises for the rest of the day, evening events cancelled. The reason: someone made a vaguely threatening phone call to the church. The “rush” e-mail distributed from the pastor’s office read in part, “We have no real reason to think there is any danger, but just in case …”

By the next day, everything was back to normal. The incident wasn’t even mentioned at Sunday worship. And I couldn’t help finding it a bit ironic that the sermon text that day was “Judge not,” complete with personal examples of people who “looked like” hoodlums and weren’t.

Understand, I’m not trying to judge the church on whether its precautionary actions were reasonable. And it’s not as if that particular incident had any direct effect on me or my plans. However, I do get tired of the “just in case” attitude that rules society today. More than a few churches around here have made “you don’t enter the grounds unquestioned” the rule rather than the exception. Schools, even more so. I hardly need mention modern airport security. Or the public and political arguments over gun laws, arms races, and whether this country needs a security fence along its southern border. Not to mention events cancelled because it might rain, or emergency evacuations from cities that weren’t hit by the hurricane after all.

And yes, I personally keep my insurance current, turn down rides and Facebook invitations from strangers, check my credit reports, and keep my outside doors locked even when I’m at home.

Some of it is necessary. Most of it is a bother. And nearly all of it carries the implication, “It’s up to you to make sure nothing bad happens to you.”

Which makes sense up to where we start taking “sure” and “nothing” literally. There comes a point when wise people admit that total security is impossible. And no, it’s not exclusively a modern-day issue. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, the New Testament writers noted:

“When people are saying, ‘Everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

And, “A rich man … said to himself … ‘My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?'” (Luke 12:16, 17, 19-20).

And the classic warning against disregarding God’s right to overrule our plans, James 4:13-15: “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.'”

Locked doors and insurance and careful planning have their place, but they are not our true security. Our true security is in a prayerful, well-nurtured relationship with God.

And that relationship is no “just in case” precaution. It’s an essential constant through good times and bad.

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.

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