What God May Want to Teach Us through Our Exhaustion

rusting windowLately, I’ve felt exhausted. If it’s not the physical exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night to feed my four month old, it’s the exhaustion that comes with trying so hard to instill character and discipline in my 2, 4, and 5 year olds. But the reminding, the instructing, the modeling, the reinforcing—well, as any parent in the trenches knows, it’s a lot. It is hard work that takes everything you’ve got… and then some.

The other night on my way back from a book group I attend, I was thinking about some of the other mothers I know and how there is this same look of exhaustion and, at times, almost desperation in their eyes. I was thinking about how often we long to spend more time with each other, but we simply don’t have any more of ourselves to give when it comes to the end of our days. And then I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this question:

Do you think there might be a purpose in the near-constant state of exhaustion that we feel as parents of young children?

“A purpose?” I wondered. “Why would there be a purpose to our exhaustion?”

1. “You Need Me.” The words came as a loving reminder. A newborn baby relies on his or her caregivers for everything. From feeding, to changing, to swaddling, or even burping—a baby is an adorable bundle of need, but a bundle of need, nonetheless.

But like that baby, we as mamas are needy, dependent beings too. We face taxing physical demands: night-wakings, carrying little ones, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, undressing, cooking and laundering for them. And beyond the physical, as our children grow, there are the almost moment-by-moment dilemmas we face in questions of discipline and priorities, the trying of our patience, and the doubting of our own wisdom.

Perhaps, God wants us to begin parenthood feeling completely at the end of ourselves because that’s the place where good parenting begins. When we realize that we aren’t enough, when we realize how desperately we need God to show up, perhaps that’s the place where everything that is any good happens.

2. “You Can’t Do It All.”
I tend to burn the candle on both ends. I have a hard time turning in when something I’m working on isn’t finished. I have to remind myself that the Bible says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Part of the discipline of trusting the Lord, is trusting that he has given exactly the number of hours we need to do the tasks he wants us to do. We rest in his grace and not in our power or works, when we go to bed at a reasonable time or even take a nap when we need it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus, himself, moved within the limits of a twenty-four hour day. Certainly, he could have worked later or gotten up earlier…healed one more, taught one more parable, but he trusted in the limits God had put on his physical body. How much more should we trust God with leaving things undone! He is in control. And rest is his gift of grace to us.

3. “You Are Loved, Just Because.” Sometimes when we are exhausted, we just can’t. We can’t take the meal to the family who is in need. We can’t sign up for the ministry that could desperately use an extra hand. We can’t even perfect our talents or gifts because quite frankly, we don’t have the time or the energy.

And you know what, it’s okay. (Gasp!)

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay because God doesn’t love you for what you do for Him. He loves you simply because He is love. It’s okay because the success of God’s great plans doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but on His. It’s okay because life has seasons, and you are in an especially demanding season.

When I was younger, I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, a famous missionary to India who cared for hundreds of orphaned children. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was what she learned at the end of her life. After a lifetime of “doing” for Jesus, she was stuck in bed. While her mind was strong, her body was not. And for the first time, she learned that God did not love her for what she “did” for him—as if God actually needs anything from us—but that he loved her, simply loved her.

While God certainly is pleased when we join Him in serving others, He does not “need” us. He loves us even when all we can do is lie in bed. He loves us for who we are in Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly sure God is trying to teach me something through the exhausting, desperate days of parenthood. What better place to start the journey than at the end of ourselves. What better way to love our kids, than to know that while we are finite we can point them to a God whose strength is infinite. What better way to rest in what we have to give today, than in knowing we are loved, simply loved.

So dear one, if you are exhausted, breathe. Go to bed early tonight and trust in the limitations God has given you as part of His grace to you. Trust that the little you have is enough, if you give it to Him. Trust that He loves you, and rest.

 

Isn’t it good news that God is speaking to us in even the hardest places? I’ve come to live expecting to hear from Him in all kinds of places… places of hope, of desperation, and of joy. He whispers to us in all of these if we listen. Would you join me in expecting God in our everyday lives and struggles? If I could encourage you in this listening…in this living expectantly, it would be my honor to have you sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

Too Busy to Care: Faith is What Happens in the Alley

faithinthealleyThe Princeton seminary students poured over their notes. The professor had asked some of them to prepare a sermon on Luke 10:25-37, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, and others to give a talk on a more neutral subject, jobs which seminary students would be well-equipped to pursue after graduation. They would each be asked to go to another building separated by an alleyway to have their sermons or talks recorded, and ostensibly graded. Approximately every fifteen minutes one of them was tapped on the shoulder and told it was his or her turn to go. Some were told that the assistant was waiting for them and they must hurry, others were told to go right over, while others were told that they could go ahead, but that it would still be some time before they were to present. Little did any of them know that the real test was planned for the alley.

In the backstreet, each seminary student encountered a man slumped over, head down, coughing, and groaning. Was he in pain? Was he drunk or high? Did he need help?

Now think for a moment about what you would do. Would you go over and inquire knowing that you’d likely be late for your examination? Or would you avert your eyes and hurry along to the examination room—justifying in your head along the way that you’d certainly check on him on the way back? And now ask yourself which was the test that really mattered?

It’s ironic that in Jesus’ parable it was a priest and a Levite who passed by the wounded and beaten man—in effect it was the seminarians who clung to the other side of the road and kept their eyes on the destination and not the moment at hand.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us then that of those seminary students, preparing for the ministry, half of whom were actually preparing that morning to preach on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, 60% of them did not stop or inquire if the man in distress was okay. They walked right by. They refused to be Jesus’ hands and feet that day to a man in apparent trouble. They showed up for class having already failed the real test.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this was a research study and oddly enough there was only one thing that made a difference in the seminarian’s likelihood to stop and help. Those who preached on the biblical text were no more likely to help. Those who indicated in surveys a higher degree of commitment and faith were no more likely to help. The only factor that made any difference at all in the likelihood of students to stop and help was whether or not they perceived they were in a hurry. Those who were rushing could not be bothered by a man in pain.

Since reading about the Darley and Batson study several years ago, it has often come to mind. Am I too busy to care? Am I too rushed to be bothered by another person’s pain? Do I have enough margin in my life to see and respond to pain in the perimeter? These are good questions to ask. If there is not enough margin in our lives, perhaps, just perhaps we’ve already been set up to fail life’s real test. (Mt. 25: 42-45)

In the book, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman where I first read about the Darley/Barton study, Goleman goes on to comment: “Of the many factors that are in play in altruism, a critical one seems to be simply taking the time to pay attention: our empathy is strongest when we fully focus on someone….” Goleman goes on to point out various studies which show the degree to which we are able to feel another’s pain or joy is largely determined by the degree to which we are engaged with our eyes. As we see another’s face twist in turmoil, we feel it in our own stomachs. As we see another’s lips dawning with joy, we are more likely to feel it in our own hearts.

And so as I continue to think about what it means to be present with others, two questions linger. Am I too busy to see the opportunities in front of me? And am I spending time with people often enough face-to-face (not face to Facebook or email or phone) to really engage my heart in the joys and pains of others?

Perhaps, life’s real tests are not where we are expecting them. True faith is tested in the alley.

(Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.)

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, Bantam Books, 2005.

 

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