Posted On September 21, 2021

Till All Our Strivings Cease: Enduring Exhaustion with Hope

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

“I’m so tired.” These words seem to come out of my mouth more and more these days and start off more journal entries than I can count. I feel physically tired, as though no amount of sleep could possibly replenish my energy, as well as emotionally tired. I hear these sentiments from others too. As a society, we are exhausted. Circumstantially this makes sense. We have been in a state of heightened alert since March of 2020. Grief has battered us with varying levels of proximity since March of 2020. We carry the fatigue of the indefinite, of a finish line just out of sight.

At the same time, exhaustion carries with it an underlying sense of failure. “Why am I not strong enough?” “Others have it worse than me; why should I complain?” In a society characterized by striving for achievement, weariness feels like defeat. This mindset is just as prevalent in Christian circles, creating an underlying cultural current of toughing it out. Tiredness is met with more accountability, and verses that call for superhuman endurance are taken out of context. Let’s take a step back, though. Does God call His redeemed Beloved to live chronically worn out with a prolonged sense of failure? Absolutely not. Rather He meets us in our exhaustion and calls us to rest and refreshment.

Let’s be clear: exhaustion is not a failure. The word exhaustion has become synonymous with being tired, but exhaust as a verb means using up or draining resources. Picture for a moment that energy, strength, emotional bandwidth are a cup of water. Pour that cup out, and it’s exhausted until it becomes refilled. There’s no moral failing in an empty cup. It’s just a matter of physics.

Scripture repeatedly uses images of dryness to describe weariness and water to describe refreshment. Psalm 63:1, for example, begins.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

The Psalmist here describes spiritual exhaustion with a compelling image. “Dry and weary” are two words that don’t initially seem to go together, as dry is a physical adjective and weary is more of a feeling. Together, though, they paint a picture of this need for refreshment. The Psalmist is desperate for the refreshment of God. Psalm 69 adds emotional exhaustion to the mix with this image: “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.” This weariness can be taken literally. The Psalmist has cried to the point of hoarseness, but also figuratively. The overall sense of weariness implies an emptiness in need of filling.

Just as weariness appears in images of physical dryness, refreshment and rest appear in the form of water. Consider some of the most famous words from Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Note the contrast in this description with the inner monologue of discouragement that we so often subject ourselves to in the midst of exhaustion. In the midst of weariness and exhaustion, the Shepherd does not berate His flock for not being good enough, strong enough, or energetic enough. Rather, He tenderly calls us to rest, stillness, and restoration both of soul and body, which comes from Him alone. As hymn writer Henry Baker so beautifully penned:

The King of love my Shepherd is,

Whose goodness faileth never;

I nothing lack if I am his

And he is mine forever.

 

Where streams of living water flow,

My ransomed soul he leadeth,

And where the verdant pastures grow

With food celestial feedeth.

If you are exhausted today, let the words of your Savior as a tender shepherd be stronger and more vibrant in your mind than the voices from a striving culture or from your own inner doubts:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The pastoral imagery of Psalm 23 points to a greater fulfillment in heaven, described in Revelation 7:17: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Not only is Christ the Shepherd who leads us to water, but He is also the source of the water, the living water that will never run dry (John 7:37-38). The Good Shepherd leads His beloved beside the waters, but this time they are living waters. In these living waters, the weary, exhausted, and parched are eternally refreshed and restored, and God Himself tenderly wipes every single tear from their eyes.

Not only does God provide rest for the weary, but He also models rest. Consider the seventh day of Creation. Genesis 2:3, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Think about that. The holiest day of the week, when God calls us to stop all work, originates in His own practice of rest. God, the source of infinite life, omnipotence, and boundless strength, established a day of rest. It’s not because, at the end of day six, He hung up His cosmic paintbrush and said, “Phew, I’m beat–it’s nap day tomorrow.” Rather, He models for us our own need for rest and restoration. If God, who is limitless, so lovingly established a precedent of rest, who are we to push through and tough it out to the point of exhaustion?

Jesus, God incarnate and clothed in humanity, also modeled rest. As His ministry intensified, He frequently sought refuge and solitude to refresh (Mark 6:30, Luke 4:42), He even famously napped in a boat during a storm (Luke 8:22-25). Despite being sought after with paparazzi-like intensity, He takes time to be alone to pray (Mark 4:45, Luke 6:12, 9:18 and 26). If any human could have pushed His limits, it would have been the human that was also God. However, He knew that the only cure for exhaustion is refreshment and refilling, and the truest restoration comes from the presence of God himself. The notion that exhaustion is something to be pushed through is not only a deeply damaging one but not of God.

This brings us to the paradoxical blessing that can be found in exhaustion. The truth is that not all exhaustion can be solved with a nap. Seasons of deep, prolonged suffering can bring crushing weariness that feels hopeless. Seasons of intensive laboring, seasons of loss and grief, seasons of illness, seasons of heartbreak, seasons of loneliness all can leave us physically and emotionally exhausted. In those moments, exhaustion comes with a profound opportunity to lean into our limitations and rest in the infinite strength of the one who does not grow weary. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we have come to the end of our human strength and ability, God is just getting started. There is grace, strength, and power available to us in weakness that we would not have access to relying on our own strength. As Nancy Guthrie so powerfully phrases it in her book of the same title, “God does his best work with empty.”

Christian must reject the lie that our limitations, weakness, and weariness should be met with shame, or worse, divine disappointment. Why would He require perfection of us when he has given us perfect righteousness in Christ? Why would He expect omnipotence of us when He has not created us to share in his omnipotence? Exhaustion brings the opportunity for His strength, His might, and even His tenderness to shine more gloriously. And then, in His good timing, infinite wisdom, and abundant love, He will fill, refresh, restore your soul. In the words of hymn writer John Newton:

​​How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

In a believer’s ear!

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole

And calms the troubled breast;

‘Tis manna to the hungry soul

And to the weary, rest.

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