I hear it again. Someone who has not had a day off in three weeks. Another whose exhaustion is not touched by a week away. Doing good things. Great things. But my heart breaks as I wonder. . . How long can they continue?
I wonder. . . Is this really how it’s meant to be? Or are we missing out on the best?
And my heart breaks. It breaks because I’ve been there.
I will not soon forget the pain of finally having to admit (after six weeks of trying to work from bed) that my illness was not improving and that I had to leave my Central Asian home. I planned to return after a short break. When I was still sick after a month, I moved the target. I was going to be ready in another month. And another. It took me six months to finally resign my position in Central Asia and a year to be able to apply for disability insurance. I wasn’t disabled. I couldn’t be. I had obligations to meet, people to serve, lives to save. I was the doctor, not the patient. Surely soon my body would catch up with my desires and I would be okay again.
But I wasn’t.
Slowly, in the midst of the questions and illness and grief, I began to hear the freeing whisper that I am dust. Loved dust. Fragile and vulnerable and cherished and held. Nothing to prove. No need to earn the love. I heard the call to rest.
I had heard that call before. Several years previously I had studied what the Bible had to say about rest. I had spoken about it and led studies on it. I had been challenged by the pictures in Isaiah 28 and 30:
“He offered rest and comfort to all of you (or, as the NIV puts it, “He said, ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest,’; and ‘This is the place of repose’”), but you refused to listen to him. That is why the LORD is going to teach you letter by letter, line by line, lesson by lesson. Then you will stumble with every step you take. You will be wounded, trapped, and taken prisoner.” (Is 28:12-13 Good News Bible)
“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift! A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you will all flee away, till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop, like a banner on a hill." (Is 30:15-17 New International Version)
The consequences of refusing to rest had startled and frightened me. But, faced daily with up to three hundred patients lining up at the gates of the hospital, I hadn't rested. My sense of responsibility to the 150,000 people in our region had won and I had pressed on, responding to each need.
“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Is 30:18) For me, the crash was part of the compassion. It was perhaps the only way God could bring me out into a spacious place where I could learn the beauty of the call to rest, and of the One Who Calls.
I still sometimes struggle to rest. I still feel the pressure of deadlines and do lists. But slowly I’m learning that when I respect my limits and say no to some needs, God can handle the situation. (Case in point: when I finally did leave Central Asia after four months of being the only doctor, God provided four others!)
I'm learning that life, true, abundant joy-filled Life, is more about relationships than do-lists, and that I miss it if I don't slow down and listen.
I am learning that my overdeveloped sense of responsibility more often reflects lack of faith than faith-full servant hood. In believing that I had to respond to every need myself, and failing to honor the way I am made (from dust, and still bearing the frailty of the same), I was also failing to trust that God (the Shaper of dust and Reality whose image we bear) could meet those needs another way.
Oh, God, give us grace to respond to your call to be still and remember Who You Are!