You know who you are.
You already know that God brings us through challenges and difficulties that stretch our faith and perseverance. Your mind is full of words like discipline, schedules, diligence, work, and productivity.
Like me, you already know that there are times for pressing on and going beyond the limits of our abilities. After all, God meets us there and bridges the gap between our small showing-up and His great plan with His own strength.
But, maybe, like me, you aren’t so good at balance.
You recite endurance and success and good works to your soul, and then your soul whispers these habits back to you any moment that you stop to rest.
“You aren’t being diligent…” “A good mother wouldn’t sleep this late…” “You don’t have time to stop. You have to finish this now…”
Could it be true? Could you just be lazy or undisciplined?
I don’t think I can answer that question for you, because I don’t know your heart. I can just tell you about my discovery about myself. I hope that it blessed you and helps you “run the race set before [you,] looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of [your] faith” (Hebrews 12:1).
Over-analysis is my specialty, especially over-analysis of myself.
Even this week, my mental to-do list kept piling up in my head. Never mind the things I’d already done. Never mind how tired I was or how bad I felt. Never mind the things that I valued most were getting done. I felt like a failure, even if I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong.
This happens to me a lot.
It is a super-narrow logic, a short-sighted rubric, that I feel pressured to conform my life to. In this mentality, “the way I’ve always done it” and “the right way to do it” is queen. Success is a completed to-do list, so I can prove productivity to myself and anyone else who might wonder what I do with myself.
If you catch me off-guard and ask me how my week was, I will flounder to remember what exactly I did that sounds productive enough to mention. “Well, I’m not really sure what I did. Our routine just fills up the days,” I might say. My internal success meter drops a little as I reflect on the difficulty of encapsulating just what exactly I do. “I’m really busy,” I might say. “There are a lot of little things.”
Even though I’m incandescently happy with my real life, the moments are often deep, spiritual, and defy quantifying. What often happens is a draining paradox: complete satisfaction with what I actually do every day, combined with the nagging internal fear that I am never doing quite enough.
Even if I know that I’m doing the best I can, in the back of my mind something unsettles me. Maybe I could do more. Maybe I should.
But, oh sisters, this endless circle of restless work is so unhelpful.
How much better it would be to get half the work done with joy! How much more could we glorify God if we weren’t pushing, cramming, and otherwise stuffing the day with activities?
And since when did we get the idea that humans are supposed to be untiring production robots?
I think God knew that His humans would fall into this ditch. Perhaps that’s part of why He set the standard so early. The universe wasn’t even a week old before He took a rest. Since I know He didn’t need a nap personally, I highly suspect that the lesson was for our benefit. All through the Old Testament, the seventh day was set forward as the resting day. Scheduled rest wasn’t just part of the culture—it was one of God’s commands. And, I wonder, was it a coincidence that rest and worship intersected on that day? That the day of ceasing labor was also the day of lifting praise?
In the New Testament, Christians met on the first day of the week instead of the seventh, and they were reminded of Christ, their true Sabbath Rest. Although they were urged to be zealous in their faith, Paul also encouraged them to live “peaceful and quiet lives, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
Diligence is not the same thing as endless work.
Rest is not the same thing as laziness.
Success is not the same thing as production.
Abundant life is not the same thing as busyness.
So here’s what I’m learning.
When I get bogged down in the lure of unattainable productivity, I need to start fresh. You could call it a reset.
In the midst of life, balance is required and you won’t always be able to step out of the bustle and reset. But if you find yourself being your own slave driver, stop. Do something to quiet your soul and prepare you to step back into the game with grace. Take a few minutes in His word. Have your hands been busy? Fill your heart with something solid and true. Is your mind spinning? Quiet yourself before God, take a walk, sit down with a book you’ve been wanting to read, or brew a cup of tea and sit in silence. Don’t be afraid.
This is not the same thing as a selfish demand for self-indulgence. This is a thoughtful space where you can renew your body and mind so you can glorify God and love others well. This is a space where you discover that glorifying God in your body is not about how much you produced today, but about how much praise and honor your fervent love is bringing Him.
I hear it a lot, but I am a human being after all…not a human doing.
This is what the Gospel is about: our security in the identity of Jesus’ work, not our own. I usually remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into heaven…but I don’t always remember that I’m not trying to earn my way into happiness either.
As Gospel children, we don’t stop working when God rescues us, but we do stop working out of desperation. Our love powers our actions instead of our fear.
Author Sarah Young paraphrases the thoughts of God about our constant busyness:
“The world is so complex and overstimulating that you can easily lose your sense of direction. Doing countless unnecessary activities will dissipate your energy. When you spend time with Me, I restore your sense of direction. As you look to Me for guidance, I enable you to do less but accomplish more.” – Jesus Calling, page 252
That’s the beautiful paradox of rest. When we start fresh by refusing to give in to slave-driving fear and hurry, we go back to work with redoubled energy.
Don’t be afraid to slow down enough to actually enjoy God’s goodness and beauty, His “every good and perfect gift” as we travel through life (James 1:17). He really does give us all things to richly enjoy in this abundant life.
So stop. Take a breath. Remember why you work and Who you work for. Most of all, remember Who it is that accepts you because of His work, not yours.
And enjoy this beautiful, crazy adventure that you’ve been given.
It’s a marvelous one.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
– Psalm 46:10, NASB –