“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”—2 Thessalonians 3:10
I’ve worked with kids in a few different settings: as a youth pastor, as a summer camp counselor, on the staff of an after-school program, and as a substitute teacher. Somewhere along the way, I was taught that it’s pointless to ask children how they’re doing, because they’ll just say “fine.” You get a lot further if you give them options, and one easy tool to remember is “Mad, Sad, Glad, or Afraid.” Those four things cover most of the things we might be feeling at a given time, and if you ask a child if they’re “mad, sad, glad, or afraid,” it helps them identify what’s going on inside, and often leads to a fruitful conversation.
If have found, though, that “Mad, Sad, Glad, or Afraid” doesn’t work nearly as well with adults. I tried to use it in the small group ministry when I was first starting out at my previous church, and it was a total bust. There are a couple of reasons: for one thing, adult life is a lot more complicated than childhood, and we experience a wider range of emotions. And for another thing, adults are stubborn and rebellious, and they don’t want to pick from the options you give them, they want to make up their own. But what’s interesting is how many adults want to change the rules of this little game in the exact same way. Time and again, I found that when I asked someone if they were “mad, sad, glad, or afraid,” they would say “Can I add one? I’m not really feeling any of those things as much as I’m just feeling tired. Can we add ‘tired’ to the list?”
Can I get an amen? Are you tired? Do you know anyone who is tired? Or better yet: do you know anyone who isn’t tired? In my household, my 8-year old son isn’t tired. He has energy coming out his ears. But the rest of us are tired. My teenage daughters have swim team early in the morning, and then they’re volunteering with kids at VBS or going off to summer camp or working a part-time job or making plans with their friends. Carey and I are balancing their schedules, playing taxi driver for all of their commitments, and at the same time juggling ministry and dental bills and social commitments and keeping the house clean, feeding everyone 3 meals a day, trying to get out and enjoy the summer weather, and trying to stay connected to each other.
I’m an early riser and Carey is a night owl, and our only opportunity for quality conversation is after the kids have gone to bed, which is later and later as they age. So if I’m going to check in and see how my wife is really doing, and let her know what’s going on with me, it means staying up too late, getting up early, and paying the price the next afternoon, fighting sleep while sitting at my computer under the fluorescent lights of my office. (This is actually what’s happening right now as I write this). My life is full of good things, but, just as with food, there is such a thing as being too full. Sometimes, no matter how good something is, there just isn’t room for any more.
I’ve written before about the fact that the Christian life is full of tension. There are things that seem to be opposites but are somehow both true, and we have to figure out how to hold onto one without letting go of the other: God is three, and God is one. God is loving, and God is just. God is in control, and God has given people freedom to make real choices. All of these things are true at the same time, and as they pull us in two directions, the tension keeps us upright, centered in the truth.
The Bible also describes a tension when it comes to this issue of being tired: God wants us to work hard, and God offers us rest. Both are true, and if we let go of either one, we lose our balance. In the above passages, Jesus offers weary people rest for their souls, and Paul warns Christians not to be lazy. If we run ourselves ragged, thinking we have to earn God’s favor by pushing ourselves beyond the limits of health and sanity, it’s a problem. If we want to be freeloaders and let everyone else do the heaving lifting, it’s a problem.
Personally, I have spent my adult life in church ministry, where it’s hard to find balance because the work is not consistent from week to week and season to season. Sometimes you are far too busy, feeling unappreciated for how hard you are running the race. Then things slow down, and instead of enjoying it, you feel guilty for not being busy, and you try to hide the fact that your load is actually light on that particular day. And I know it’s not just me. Whether you are a pastor or a Correctional Officer or a stay-at-home mom, finding balance is a tricky thing.
In his book Crazy Busy, Pastor Kevin DeYoung says that if you look at their lives and ministries as they’re described in the Bible, Jesus and the apostle Paul were probably busy people. They maintained healthy prayer lives, but they didn’t sit around staring off into the clouds all day. They had full schedules, with many demands on their time. They were busy, he says, but they weren’t too busy. They had time for prayer and time for people. They worked hard, but still ate and slept and took days off. Their lives were full, but they weren’t out of control. I think this is a good goal, but I can’t say that I’ve mastered it yet.
So if you’re tired today, I can’t offer you any easy answers. In a fallen world and fallen flesh, when we are privileged enough to be entrusted with important things, doing life well means we’ll be tired sometimes. Some things—making memories with your kids, a good conversation with your spouse, the precious souls of the children at VBS, a thriving church that brings glory to Jesus, perfect running weather on a summer morning—are worth being tired for. Heaven will be the place for perfect rest. On the other hand, if you’re not just tired but weary, if your body is breaking down and you aren’t at all excited about the things on your calendar, it may be time to slow down. God wants us to be eager servants, not selfish consumers, and not joyless drones. This summer, let’s try to find the balance, for His glory and our good.