There is a kind of high you get when you push yourself. It’s that feeling when you have just finished an intense run or other type of exercise. Like a race car engine revving at high speed, you feel the pumping of your heart reverberating through your chest. It’s as if the needle on the tachometer is quivering over the red line. Your mind is totally lost to the acuteness of the moment as you drive the limits of your resolve.
Robert Ludlum’s character Jason Bourne finds himself in a perpetual state of adrenaline and hyperfocus in The Bourne Series novels. It’s one of my favorite stories turned thriller movie where Jason is an ex-CIA operative with very special skills yet has severe memory loss that include the origins of his former role and capabilities. He is being pursued by killers from a top-secret group in the CIA because he has become a risk to exposing the program that molded him into an assassin. One thing that becomes acutely obvious is that Jason can’t relax or let his guard down. Every person and shadow is a potential threat as he pursues a journey to recall his past.
Now we are not in Jason Bourne’s shoes, but sometimes it can seem as if we are in a continual state of tension and focus. Think about your own life - do you feel this way at times? First, many of us are involved in work or family activity that demands an immersion of concentration that carries over from day to day. Work or home activities escalate from one problem solving task to the next imperative so much that adrenaline becomes a new normal in your body. Have you wondered why your heart is racing when you are doing something as simple as reading an email?
Second, there is the pursuit. Think about standing on the shore of an ocean where waves are ebbing in one after another. Some are massive, and pummel seaside rocks in spectacular exhibitions of spray and thunder. Then the wave cycle eases and the crashes are smaller. Can you imagine swells not continuing to flow in against the shore? You could, but the nature of the sea is that waves will indeed pursue the land, over and over again.
Let’s think about the waves that flow into everyday life. Why are so many text messages popping up on your phone? Meeting requests, due dates, appointments, and other demands insist the convergence of your focus. You have to be here and here and here at a specific time. Many needs are back to back. One meeting goes overtime and then you are late for the next. Of course you don’t like to be late because now all the attention will be on you.
Most people would agree that there is an expectation with texts that you must respond immediately or at least ASAP. You get three texts within fifteen minutes from different people. OK - now you need to pull away from your current focus and context switch. I don’t know about you but I think this is stressful. If you receive 20 texts a day, that’s incessant competition for your attention. You are indeed being pursued, and more is added to “the list” of everything that seemingly has to be done. Checking off everything on the list is unattainable. You are also mentally and even physically exhausted. Phew!
Now your “to do” list is growing. The list can seem like an insurmountable presence. It’s like Lucy and Ethel in the I Love Lucy episode where they got a job in Kramer’s Kandy Factory. In this very funny scene they are put on an assembly line to wrap chocolates that come down the conveyor belt. The surly manager tells them that they will be fired if any chocolate gets past them. Of course as the conveyor belt increases speed they are not able to keep up with their duty of wrapping each piece, so they start stuffing the chocolate in their mouths, down their shirts, and in their hats in order to not let any chocolate on the conveyor belt get past them. Check it out on YouTube - it’s absolutely hilarious!
Does it seem like your to do list can feel like this? We find ourselves caught up in the seemingly urgent, just trying to keep up with that conveyor belt. In these flurries we forget God because we are so focused with just trying to hang on.
We were made to accelerate in bursts, but not to run at our limits as a perpetual state. You need an “off” switch. There is one, but many don’t hit it. An off switch is “I’m not looking at my email or text after 7PM.” Or “I’m going to commit to relaxing activities in the evening so my mind is not buzzing when I go to bed.” Or “I’m only answering texts at certain times of the day.”
Ferris Bueller figured this out in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when multiple times he turns to the movie audience and advises “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.””
Sometimes you have to set the stage for resting from this barrage. I have always been so grateful for how my wife Lauren understands this, as she intentionally has made our home a sanctuary from the noise of the world. She has formed it into a place of beauty and peace for us to retreat to at the end of each day. And believe me, we retreat. Even when our children were young and chaos was the norm, we set aside time to just talk and enjoy each other’s presence. We had date night on Wednesdays. I would pick up a take out dinner and we would have our date in the living room. The kids were “informed” that it was our time and they could not enter the living room for that treasured two hours. I was probably a little overzealous, but we somehow succeeded in creating a kind of invisible fence that the kids would not cross or try to shout over.
But God has the power to address the strain that is pressing on you in a way that is much different than setting aside time to take shelter from the deluges of life. He understands you are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. The reverberations of helplessness and anxiousness weighing you down can seem untenable because we aren’t meant to handle life solo. Think about that for a moment - we aren’t made to handle it all on our own. In fact we can’t. Perhaps you don’t believe in God or involve Him in your life. But He is the answer to “who is out there” and can understand the depth of your cries for help and is the one who will carry your burdens.
I love the scene from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Frodo, accompanied by his best friend Sam, collapses on his journey to the fires of Mount Doom to destroy the ring. Frodo is mentally and physically burdened by the ring with supernatural powers, and completely exhausted by the seemingly endless journey.
“He [Frodo] raised his eyes with difficulty to the dark slopes of Mount Doom towering above him, and then pitifully he began to crawl forward on his hands. Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him, if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will! Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well.”
I know this is fiction, but in the story Frodo’s circumstance with the ring is his reality, and his dear friend Sam is there to carry him. Sam is there to give Frodo hope. Sam is there to give Frodo strength that he does not have. Sam is with Frodo even in a dangerous and distressing situation simply because of his love for his friend.
Have you ever been so devoted to someone like this? Carrying their burdens when they were not capable? I think Sam gives us a glimpse of the nearness of Jesus as He carries our burdens if only we would let Him.
I remember seeing this with Lauren in one of the IRONMAN events she raced in. For me as a spectator standing at the finish line waiting for her to come across, it is obvious that every person is totally spent. There is no strength left in the athletes after pushing their physical and mental limits for most of a day.
Certainly God was with Lauren at every moment to give her strength to take one more stroke, one more step, or one more pedal. Within minutes after Lauren finished the race in Whistler, Canada at high altitude and in the freezing rain (and oh, encountering bears), she began shaking incessantly from hypothermia. Race workers whisked her to the medic tent where she was given aid to restore her body temperature to normal. Lauren was at a point where she didn’t have strength to care for herself. For sure, she was relieved that the race was over and could rest, but now this. To resolve the hypothermia Lauren needed to depend on the medics, who compassionately attended to her.
While life is not an IRONMAN event, it’s possible to find ourselves trying to work out the stresses of everyday life before it becomes clear we can’t do it alone. Even without intent we realize that we have been striving without God. But do we need to be exhausted before realizing there is no one else to turn to but God? Or do we long for God throughout the journey of our daily races?
While we are trying to figure out how to help an ailing parent or child, do we pause and thank the Creator of the Universe for the flowers we pass by on the way to the car? Do we stand still for merely two minutes and simply experience the sun warming our face? Do we then thank God for flowers and the sun? Do we say yes, thank you Lord that you are there! I can’t do this alone. I need you always. I surrender to your will for me. Like Sam or the medics, you can rest in knowing God sustains you. This type of rest is an inner rest, a peace that only comes from transferring dependence from you to God, and trusting Him for the outcome.
To live like this means that you become a wayfarer. You pursue a journey that takes you away from self reliance - a passage that has been ventured since the beginning of time. Some seek and find the true path while others don’t. God has always illuminated the way to Himself. Just look at the in the Sabbath in the Old Testament. After the Israelites were freed from Egypt, the Sabbath was given to them as a model for pausing their activity and reflecting on what God had done for them. The Sabbath was a shadow that would ultimately be fulfilled by Jesus. It was a picture of remembrance. It was a reminder for how to rest in the power of God to carry one’s burdens.
The idea with the Sabbath was to not be caught up in self-striving. Self-striving is just what is sounds like - working, making decisions, and so on all by yourself, without involving God. God had a determined track record for sustaining the Israelites when they could not. Freedom from slavery of the Egyptians, parting of the Red Sea so they could escape, providing food and water every day in the desert, are just a few ways God carried the burdens of the Israelites. There was no human plan or heroic effort by any individuals - God just made these events happen. Still, even though God provided for their needs, often He was the forgotten source of their provision. Does this sound familiar?
It seems they missed out on the intimacy of a relationship with their Creator. There wasn’t a thirst for God. Stop and think about what this might mean. Longing for God. This is actually the way we are designed to live every day. There’s a song I learned when I was younger that makes me think of this. It’s a picture of a deer longing for water as a portrayal of us longing for God every day.
“As the deer pants for the water So my soul longs after You … You alone are my strength, my shield To You alone may my spirit yield You alone are my heart’s desire And I long to worship You” (Martin J. Nystrom)
We are dependent on water to live. We need water every day. For some of us water is available from a faucet almost like manna from heaven was for the Israelites. Do you ever get thirsty? Of course. So for many of us when we long for water, almost like magic, poof it’s there by merely turning a handle. OK but do we turn God on like a faucet wanting magic results, or are we longing for Him? Do we yearn for the one who actually created water and provides it to us? Are we pausing from the chaos of our life to be grateful? Or do we take Him for granted and live with blinders on for the one who is the source of water?
Remember the post-Egypt Israelites. They wandered in the desert for forty years because of their constant striving to exist on their own terms. Because of their stubborn desire to live life their own way, God said that they would not enter the promised land. Because they replaced faith in God’s provision with self-effort, they were not experiencing rest from their burdens. In other words, they had no rest for their minds or bodies. This is what is meant when God says to “enter that rest”:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:5-6)
The point is not about ceasing activity. Rather it is about replacing self-effort with conviction in God’s infinite care. This is rest. Rest in the Lord. Your non-stop self energy actually does not check off everything in your to do list and create peace in your heart.
Remember that you are designed for God to carry your burdens. Pause and think about this again. He knows them. Give yourself permission to loosen the grip on your albatrosses. Let your shoulders down. Enjoy His presence and what He has provided. Give yourself permission to relinquish. Trust that He is the Creator of the Universe and nothing is impossible to Him. Even your work projects. Even your relationship issues. Even your health.
Even your schedules and deadlines.
Paul gives us a picture of what this looks like when sharing the essence of how he lived:
For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. (Colossians 1:29)
Striving according to His (not your) power. This is true freedom. This is what peace is. This is the result of what Paul also describes as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
It’s easy to be an armchair critic when it comes to assessing these scenes. Remember that we are on a journey with God and we trip up. We forget God just like others have. Let’s look at another story as an example. I like to cook, and at the end of the day I’ll transition from an intense session of work by putting some music on and go through a process of making dinner. My wife Lauren, our kids, and sometimes friends sit in the kitchen as we all talk, share in chopping vegetables, and then have a nice meal together. It’s usually pretty relaxing for all of us.
One night it was just my wife and I, and by the time we sat down to eat, my conversation responses were single word utterances, and my mood was, well, pretty depressing. Not exactly a good start to the evening. Lauren has a distinct way of calling me on these situations and “illuminated” my behavior. As she persisted to know what was going on, I shared how much pressure I felt with “my list” at work, and my list at home, and all the other seemingly urgent things that were consuming me. I felt overwhelmed. I actually don’t even remember what these issues were now. But back in the moment, after talking with Lauren it subsequently took me about an hour of reflection to realize what got me to this state. It was crystal clear that I had not involved God. That day I was trying to take on life by myself. Not only was I absent of ease without rest in my mind, but I was not pleasant to be around.
The light bulb went on that I was not asking God to help me with my burdens. Was I feeling wrenched up inside? Oh yes. Having realized this I started turning my list over to God and most importantly relinquished the outcomes to Him. For those of us clinging tightly to the urgencies of the moment, it’s a transition. It’s reestablishing a conversation with God. What a relief though.
It’s perhaps different for each of us, but I’m so grateful for Lauren and close friends who can hold a mirror in front of me to reflect what it looks like to not depend on God.
What if you don’t have a Lauren or friend to show you that mirror? What if you do, but instead have put out your hand to push away? What if you have tried it all alone and find yourself on the bathroom floor in despair? Or you look up only to see a paramedic standing over you on a dark night, and you are wondering how you got there and don’t know where to turn? What if your intellect and drive to gut it out by being self-made person just isn’t working?
Giving up is actually liberating. It’s a feeling of relief. Even more is to give in to believing that it’s up to God to work out your issues. Remember the waves that keep flowing into the shore? You are not meant to catch the waves. You’ll never keep up. It’s really the opposite. It's turning the ebbing tide of life over to God. Like frothy white sheets of water receding back into the ocean and revealing fresh shimmering sand, the weight of what’s pressing in on you slips away, to the sea. Your mind stops racing. Your heart stops pounding. It feels like your little world has a new fresh beginning.
For some reason we forget that it’s OK to take pauses. I think we need them. Have you ever seen a cow sitting down in a field, or a bird perched on a branch? They seem to be taking a pause.
On warm evenings Lauren and I sit on the porch and talk about things nudging our hearts, or about what is coming up for the week. It’s really an an intentional time because without checking myself I could work on my list until late into the night. These pauses are really a sacrifice to my persistent desire to get things done. And do I want to spend time with
Lauren - absolutely! For sure I look forward to spending time together with her each day. We need and crave that time to connect. My personality is that I want to do it all - my list, relationships, everything. I have ADD so perhaps that also has something to do with it. But there is only so much time and I recognize it won’t all get done, and so I try to turn it all over to God.
I’ve been amazed at the impact that taking pauses has had on my life. As an extension of this Lauren and I also try to intentionally reserve time a few times a year for us to get away and rest together, even if it is just overnight. This too has become a respite that I look forward to unplugging from the world together with my best friend and talking to God.
I have learned more about what reliance on God actually is, and how to live each day in a position of rest in Him. The stuff on my list is not all going to get done. That’s OK, but I need to constantly remind myself of this. It’s God’s time, not mine. It’s His outcomes. Whatever He desires for me is what I want. He’s responsible for what happens, not me.
One of my favorite verses of truth and encouragement from Jeremiah sums this up:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD And whose trust is the LORD. “For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
Trust. Dependence. Longing for the water of life and staying close to it. Not fearful, not anxious when the heat comes. Ah, this is rest.