Do you take pride in your exhaustion?

There has been a lull in my writing for what has felt like an especially long week. While I’ve continued to jot notes in the early mornings, my inner self has felt strangely averse to disclosing recent experiences or reflections. Perhaps its because I’ve struggled to know which are appropriate to  express openly, which need to be told to the few, and which are better to keep privately tucked inside, shared only between me and my Source. (If only there were a step-by-step handbook on the “proper” boundaries between public and private information…!)

Also, when moments of free time have surfaced during the last several days, I have found myself wanting to rest rather than write. Sometimes writing can be restful for me, but not always. It can take serious energy to dig inside, effort to choose words to describe abstract thoughts and feelings, and courage to push the publish button. Simple solitude, or sleep, are often much more alluring options.

Though I want to stay devoted to the discipline of writing, this last week’s break has been positive. I’m reminded how rhythm always includes breaks, and how the consistency I desire requires rest stops. In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy LivesWayne Muller explores a similar concept: the ways busyness can enslave humanity, and the ways the Sabbath can set us free. I especially relate to his description of people taking pride in overly-booked planners:

     As the founder of a public charity, I visit the large offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service agencies, and the small houses of the poorest families. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: I am so busy. It does not seem to matter if the people I speak with are doctors or day-care workers, shopkeepers or social workers, parents or teachers, nurses or lawyers, students or therapists, community activists or cooks.
     Whether they are Hispanic or Native American, Caucasian or Black, the more their lives speed up, the more they feel hurt, frightened, and isolated. Despite their good hearts and equally good intentions, their work in the world rarely feels light, pleasant, or healing. Instead, as it piles endlessly upon itself, the whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous obligation. It becomes the standard greeting everywhere: I am so busy.
     We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single, mindful breath, this has become the model of the successful life.

The professor who shared Muller’s reflections with me this week also shared a personal story. He recalled how for years of his life whenever anyone asked how he was doing, his response usually included a remark about his busy schedule. Then one day he was hurrying across campus to who-knows-where when he crossed paths with one of his students and an unknown other. When he paused to say a brief hello, the young man turned to his friend and said, “This is Dr. Allison. He’s always busy!”

Those few words pierced his heart. Was that the message he was sending – that he had no time to connect or care, because there was an endless list of other important things that needed to get done? Would his gravestone read, “Here lies a man who was busy”? From that day forth, he became intentional about valuing people over productivity and no longer lets comments about the fullness of his schedule enter into his greetings.

Through that experience, my professor realized that in order to cultivate real relationships with God, self, and others, every person needs regular doses of replenishing rest.

Do you take pride in your exhaustion?

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