I just completed a 3-month pastoral sabbatical, and probably the most common question I’ve been asked is “Are you rested now?” In one sense I don’t feel at all rested in the present, because I just completed a week of final exams and projects at Talbot, which resulted in a lot of late nights. But in another sense, I feel somewhat rested because I’ve had the opportunity to sit and learn in seminary classes, which I find very refreshing and enjoyable. And in still another sense, I feel like I have never been rested since we brought our adopted daughter home from China 3 years ago, because the care she requires never lets up.
Behind those questions about rest seems to lie an assumption that being rested is a good thing, and not being rested is a bad thing, perhaps even sinful. And while I would agree wholeheartedly that rest is a good and needed thing, I also wonder whether we are right to expect rest rather than some level of weariness. Kevin DeYoung, in his insightful little book called Crazy Busy, has the usual diagnoses of what contributes to our busyness. But his last diagnosis gives me pause to ponder–“You suffer more because you don’t expect to suffer at all.”
We simply don’t think of our busyness as even a possible part of our cross to bear. But what if mothering small children isn’t supposed to be easy? What if pastoring a congregation is supposed to be challenging? What if being a friend, or just being a Christian, is supposed to mean a lot of time-consuming, burden-bearing, gloriously busy, and wildly inefficient work? [pg 103]
I know that I can easily fall prey to the exhaustion that comes from my prideful striving for perfection or my sinful bent toward people-pleasing. I know I can lose sight of my calling and get caught up in things that are not priorities. But I also know that relationships require much time, and that God calls me to pour myself out for others, just as Jesus poured Himself out for me. Therefore, while on the one hand I need to live within my limitations as a human being, on the other hand I don’t want to live as if the world revolves around me and owes me a certain measure of rest and ease. I need to expect that weariness is simply a part of life in this broken world.
DeYoung references an article by Ajith Fernando, called “To Serve Is to Suffer.” In it, Fernando rejects the assumption that weariness from overwork is always disobedience to God–it can be wrong if it’s coming out of a drivenness or insecurity, but “we may have to endure tiredness when we, like Paul, are servants of people.” I wish that every time I put serving my wife or engaging with my children as a higher priority than my work, that my work would somehow magically disappear. But that is not how it works–instead, when I spend significant time with my family, it usually means a late night finishing my work. And in that case, the weariness that comes with a late night is not a sinful thing to avoid but something I should expect as part of learning how to love like Christ loves.
DeYoung again: Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships are messy. If we love others, how can we not be busy and burdened at least some of the time? [pg 105]
So if you ask me how my sabbatical was, and whether I’m rested now, I may tell you that I got rest in some ways but not in others, and that I’m learning to expect weariness at the same time that I’m learning to live within my limits.