Expecting Weariness

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.

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Thorns that Choke

Last week I had the opportunity to spend extended time alone with God up in the mountains near Idyllwild. On the final morning before heading home, I was reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the soils, and in particular the soil that produced thorns which choked the plant and made it unfruitful. When Jesus explained the parable to His disciples (Matt 13:18-23, Mk 4:14-20, Lk 8:11-15), He said that the thorns represent the “cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.”

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I have seen blackberry bushes or other types of fast-growing, thorny plants that grow wild in that region. Though as kids we loved picking and eating the blackberries, my father hated it when they started growing in our backyard, because they were very invasive. No doubt it is thorny bushes like that which Jesus is referring to in this parable–bushes that gradually crowd out other plants by taking up the soil and sun and water that is needed for the other plants to grow and reproduce.

This soil that produced thorns is something I recognize in my own heart, and that I see most often in the comfortable church culture in which I serve. It represents the sincere believer who intends to follow Christ and serve wholeheartedly, but gets sidetracked because life is so busy and full. But what makes this so hard to address or even recognize as a problem is that the activities filling their life are good things: education and family and ministry and friendships. The problem is not that they are engaged in a bunch of sinful or meaningless activities, nor even that they are doing the wrong things, but rather that there simply are too many things. And thus the result is that all of those good things crowd out the nourishment that is needed in their souls in order to be truly fruitful.

That reality is the very reason why an extended time of solitude is so necessary and profitable. Solitude clears away all the thorns and creates space for sun and water and nutrients from the soil to be soaked up by the plant–solitude sets aside the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things in order to be deeply nourished by God. But as wonderful as solitude can be, it is not meant to be an end in itself, but rather a means toward a greater end–that of entering back into the busyness and fullness of life and relationships and work and ministry, with the thorns cleared away so that the seed of God’s word can go deep and bear much fruit.

In subsequent posts, I will be exploring each of the particular types of thorns that Jesus mentioned in this parable: cares of the world, deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.

A Day with Jesus

Spiritual disciplines are simply exercises that we can engage in which help to open our hearts to God’s work of transformation and change. Disciplines do not earn us favor before God–nor are they magic formulas which force God to bless us. Rather, they are training exercises whiFountainch put us in a place of dependence and receptivity to God’s sanctifying work in our hearts.

Solitude and silence are what I consider “primary disciplines”. They are not primary in the sense of having greater importance or significance than other disciplines. But they are primary in the sense that they lay the groundwork for other disciplines.

We live in a time and culture in which there is constant noise and constant activity, and we easily succumb to the lie that the level of activity in our life defines our level of worth. Then in church culture there is an added layer of self-righteousness attached to that, because surely if we are constantly busy in the work of God’s Kingdom, that must make us better Christians. So it is only when we intentionally break away from that constant busyness and clamor that we are able to engage more deeply with God in other disciplines like the study of Scripture and the practice of prayer and the cultivation of thankfulness.

That is why I believe solitude and silence can be so transformative in the life of a Christian. And this is not just something that I believe theoretically, but something which I have experienced in my own life and seen in the lives of many others.

With a little planning and forethought, it is not too difficult on your own to set aside a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon and find a quiet park or cafe to be alone with Jesus for a few hours. But I have also found that withdrawing in solitude with a small community can help enhance that time even more. Toward that end, I regularly plan what I call “A Day with Jesus“, where a small group of fellow Christians gather together at a location I reserve ahead of time, enjoy some time alone with Jesus, then come back together to share about our time of solitude. If you’d like to join me in one of these solitude retreats, you can find out more information and register here.

NOTE: I’m anticipating a ministry sabbatical this fall (Sept – Dec 2015) so I don’t have any retreat dates on the calendar for summer or fall, but if you’d like some help in setting one up for yourself or your small group, please contact me and I will see what I can do.