I remember dancing in ice cold water after a hot shower just for the hard of it, and running over gravel in bare feet just for the challenge. I swept into missions with the idea that if it’s hard, I should do it. My Mother called me a monk, and I don’t think she was too far off; my habits were quite ascetic.
Challenge inspired me, the physical tearing of my muscles invigorated me, and I was constantly gauging what I could do faster and more efficiently, including brushing my teeth. Fast was my habit, hard was my goal, and when God called I said yes full force, walking into fires I thought I was tough enough to withstand.
I always said the hard stories went in one ear and out the other.
I didn’t realize my robotic moves were habitual and though my life may have appeared courageous, deep inside something explosive was festering. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I had to prove that I wasn’t going to be useless for God. This drive, fueled by a genuine empathy had me listening to stories for hours, saying yes to everything, and at the end of the day crying bitterly into my pillow in absolute exhaustion.
I thought it was heroic to burn out for Jesus.
Some years later, I began having intense migraine headaches. One night as I was trying to walk up my apartment steps I was too dizzy to walk alone. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably when someone was kind to me, and I started admitting something was wrong. More importantly, I started valuing the opinions of others and really listening to their advice, and learning that fear of selfishness should not be the single driving force for sacrifice.
I watched, read and heard a lot of tips… and I didn’t see a lot of peaceful or restful women. I heard a lot of talk… “Just take the time to watch a slow romance when you’re exhausted.” I saw a lot of book covers; Eat the Cookie! Buy the Shoes! and I adopted some of the habits I saw emulated.
I started taking a weekly sabbath. I realized then that physical rest was only a small percentage of my problem. I realized I was forcing myself to physically rest when my brain was rushing, racing with issues and questions that Jesus wanted to put to rest.
I found that fear and worry were at the very root tips of my schedule. I had filled my mind with the things that were wrong in the world, and wrong with me. Subconsciously, my neurons were firing failure. My pressing need to accomplish was the outworking of a deep inner unrest. I was addicted to bad stories and news and people.
I said I knew who God was, but I hadn’t invited him to overtake my mind. And this, sisters, is what I believe to be the crux of our weary struggle. It is exhausting to be addicted to rage and toxicity. It takes up so much of our mental space, we are left with so little energy we lack the resilience to do hard things.
And let me tell you there are plenty of hard things waiting for us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. There are plenty of broken people around us are waiting for us to take up our cross and love them. Each one of our lives requires a certain level of resilience, but we cannot be enduring women if we don’t throw off the weights of fear that so easily beset us.
Fear of burnout should never be our reason to say no to a challenge. Fear of Selfishness should never be our reason to say yes. If we are operating out of fear of burn out, we will face something hard and retreat, instead of entering in and fighting through. If we are operating out of fear of selfishness we will say yes to every opportunity, and join the throngs of weary women.
Instead, love for Jesus should compel us to kneel and invite him in.
He will direct us to difficult circumstances and people, but never alone and always with power. We often pull back because we fear burn out or press in because we fear selfishness, and Jesus is just saying, “Come to me, learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Self care is not a free ticket to selfishness, but a healthy awareness of our own weaknesses. The reality of our whole person encapsulates body (physical), soul (emotions), and spirit (spiritual). Retreating physically does not ensure emotional and spiritual rest of our whole person. No dessert or pedicure can do what extended time on knees can— phone off, screens silent, bible open, heart upturned, ears tuned in.
Wise women recognize that in order to stop being ineffective balls of frenzied activity, we must daily care for our spiritual nature on our knees. This effects everything about who we are and how we react, and has considerable impact on our surroundings.
Fact is, there are a lot of battles ahead of us that need to be entered in and fought through, not retreated from. There are many individuals around us that need to be fought for, not retreated from. When I look around me, I see that we need a lot more hands reaching out to the needy (prov. 31) and a lot less arms holding at arm’s length. If the Church is always too tired to love recklessly and too burnt to practice hospitality who will really represent the unconditional love of Jesus? How will we ever advance the kingdom of God in our homes and churches and communities if we become so flimsy in our theology we can’t take the homeless poor into our homes?
We’re living days of tribulation. I see it in the faces of the people passing by me. I catch it in the eyes of refugee children. I scan it on my news feed. I feel it in my inner soul. If we’re constantly focused on how hard it is and not how good He is, we’ll only advance peanuts for the kingdom. If however, we enter into the fray and have tempest on all sides, and find Him in the midst, we will see change both internally and externally.
Mapping out our own strategy in our planners, must come after finding His strategy on our knees. When we find Him, we can, according to Paul, be shipwrecked and beaten and imprisoned and stay gloriously alive. Somedays God says go and somedays stay, and the Holy Spirit is much more capable and effective than our emotions.
When we’re self-consumed our self care works against kingdom advancement. We don’t need more selfish women on their screens, but more praying women on their knees. When we’re Jesus-consumed our self care becomes the means by which we draw near to Him.
The devil wants us to think we can handle either nothing or everything. That’s why we have an onslaught of weary women. Women may be the best at articulating what self-care is and have no idea who God is. No book or podcast can give you the correct balance. No professional will guide you to the proper medium, because if we trust in the temporal to guide us in the eternal, we wind up spinning crazily on a hamster wheel, wasting lots of coffee money and movie hours and buying way too many shoes while the lost keep falling, falling into eternal damnation in front of our distracted eyeballs. And we remain anxious and ineffective.
If there’s anything we don’t have time for, it’s that.
I intend to keep taking my naps and buying my vitamins. I intend to keep learning the delicate dance between saying yes and no. But God forbid I close the door to my home when I am weary on days Jesus simply wants to renew my strength. Let us make sure that our retreating is Spirit led and Spirit-filled, as Jesus was when He retreated and communed with His Father. If more of us would do that we would see a revival of renewed women that the gates of hell could not prevail against.
We would see more women of faithfulness, resilience, and endurance who fear nothing and nobody, but just do the next thing God directs.
That’s what this world is crying out for.
“As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights, hunger.” (11 Cor 6:4)
“Commending ourselves” is a basic tenant of our faith, simply placing ourselves under the care of God. When we commend ourselves to him we won’t be burned out ourselves, but on fire with Him.
All hell is afraid of women like that.
So don’t always caution me against burnout, friends. Be a real sister and ask me how much I’m on my knees. Don’t always warn me to cut people out of my life, ask me How much of Jesus I’m willing to show to them. Don’t always tell me to take time for myself, ask me somedays how much cross I’m willing to take up.
Because I know in this season of change I am apt to be lonely and somedays irritable because I think I have rights to things God directs me to sacrifice. Retreating into self pity is my natural reaction when I’m tired of change. Some days I know I need to tell my whining to shut up and salute Jesus. You can help me out by throwing some truth at me once in a while. I think I might be tough enough to take it.
“My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, He is strong.” (11 Cor 12:9)
Want the power of God to rest on you? Invite Him into your weakest moments and most difficult struggles, and watch His power weave the miraculous through the tangles of the impossible. Give your time and emotions, not because you fear selfishness or sacrifice, but because you are compelled by love.