The Sinful Exhaustion of My Heart

My ten year-old fights sleep.

As an infant, he went down without so much as a peep. I rarely had to rock him, he never needed a pacifier, and, if he did cry, it was only because he needed a diaper change. Babysitters and friends would constantly gush, “You’re so lucky! He sleeps so well!”

Pat on the back, Momma. (Or, really, pat on the back, God, for giving this first-time mom such an easy baby).

But all that changed when he hit three years old. Suddenly, he started dreading nighttime. He would scream and cry when it was time for lights out (or even ‘lights on,’ as he started requiring so many nightlights, his room was brighter than the sun) and, without fail, nightly he would end up in our bed.

Part of the reason was he started having nightmares around that age. An active imagination is a blessing during the day, but not so much fun at night. Another reason is, and I will quote him here:

“I just don’t want to rest.”

You see, around three years old, his brain and his body were finally coming into sync. There was so much to do, so much to learn, so much to explore. In his mind, there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to waste on rest.

We have tried everything over these past seven years. We’ve tried coaxing. We’ve tried commanding. We’ve tried rewards and punishments. Nothing helped the nightly battle. However, finally he’s reached an age and a maturity level where reasoning is starting to work, though only in bits in pieces. He reads nearly every night before bed and, before I leave the room, I always say, “Listen to your body. If it starts telling you it’s tired, close the book and let yourself rest. Don’t fight it.”

Sound advice. But last night, those words hit me in a whole new way.

As I spoke them to my son and then trudged back down the stairs, I was overcome by weariness. I’d been up since 5 AM. I’d put in four miles on the treadmill, dropped the kids off at school, gone to the grocery store, done the laundry and scrubbed the toilets, attempted edits on two different manuscripts, driven back to school, assisted with homework, prepared dinner, done the dishes, packed the next day’s lunches, read two stories, rescued a extremely important stuffed dragon from the backseat of my car, read two different devotionals, prayed two sets of prayers, and still needed to take the dog out and clean the kitchen.

Pretty much the same exact thing I’d done the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that.

My body was screaming with exhaustion. I had a headache. My feet hurt. My eyes felt itchy and irritated. And yet I continued on. No time to sit and rest for a moment because, if I did, I probably would have fallen asleep. And I had too much to do to sleep.

I was telling my son to listen to his body, but I sure wasn’t listening to my own.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we cram each day so full of activities and responsibilities that we end each and every day more exhausted than when we started?

I can’t answer that question for you, but I can answer it for me. It’s because I’m trying to prove that I can do it all. I can be a full-time mom, a full-time writer, and full-time spouse without help. I live for the applause of others’–wow, I just don’t know how you do it all–while hiding my exhausted tears behind a plastered-on smile. And, if I’m being completely honest, it’s not just about other people. It’s about God. I want to work to be the perfect Christian, showing God just how much I can do for Him, trying to make Him proud.

“Did you see how I prayed with my kids today, God? How about when I served my family by picking up dirty socks off the floor again? And what about that blog post I wrote on Abraham? That’s gonna get me some brownie points for sure, right God? Right?”

And therein lies the truth about the true sinfulness of my soul. Because, folks, my mouth can preach the good news of “Christ alone” all day long…but my body is living for works-based salvation.

When we deny ourselves the gift of rest–for that’s what rest truly is, a gift from God created for us and modeled on the seventh day of creation by a God who never wearies but knew we needed an example to follow–we may think we are doing all of these things for our job, for our kids, for our spouses, for our church. We may even take it a step further and admit we’re doing these things for ourselves. But, if you look deep inside our hearts, you may find yourself more like me than you care to admit: you may find yourself working yourself to the bone in order to please God.

But here’s the thing–God is already pleased with us. Going all the way back to the book of Genesis, God made man and called His creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31) Even when we mucked it all up with sin, when we knew what was right and chose wrong, still God loved us. In fact, Romans 5:8 reminds us that “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And His was a life He willingly gave! “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18)

And why would He do this? Because despite our sin, He loved us. We didn’t have to do anything or prove anything. Simply who we were in God–His children–was enough for Jesus to die on the cross for our salvation.

We couldn’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. And yet He gave it to us anyway. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

A gift of God already received. So why do we keep working to try and attain it?

You see, when I work for God, not out of love or obedience but rather out of a sense of sycophantic servitude, I am effectively telling Him that what He accomplished on the cross wasn’t enough. That it wasn’t His work that made me worthy but my own. And that kind of work leaves me feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and demoralized.

But when my work comes from a place of love, I find myself renewed. When I’m not striving to impress God, I’m free to admit when I need help and listen to my body when it tells me enough, without the guilt or pride urging me towards one more task, one more goal. I can take up the yoke of Jesus, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Matthew 11:30) and allow Him to guide my day, moving forward when He moves forward, pausing when He pauses. Resting when He rests.

For me, exhaustion is a heart check. Am I tired because I’ve run a good race today, keeping in step with God’s pace for my life? Or, in my pride, have I run too far ahead, trying to impress God with just how much I can do on my own?

Let us listen to our bodies. Let us listen to our souls. Let us listen to our God…and find rest.

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour our your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”
-Psalm 62: 5-8

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