Fighting for “No”

We are a nation of exhausted people.

Celebrating exhaustion, sympathizing with exhaustion. It’s almost a game: who can fit the most into their day? Ask someone how they’re doing: “Tired.” As a college student, it’s standard for classmates to be asleep at their desk, zombie-ing their way through the day.

It’s a culture.

As I write this, lounging out on my lumpy dorm-room futon, I feel sleep itch the corners of my eyes. Sunday afternoon, time for a nap. Standard. Because I just have so much to do: not only classwork, but fundraising for an upcoming trip, a bible study to lead, a blog post to write (ha). Sleep comes in the wake of all that lies ahead, collapsed on the most convenient plush surface, not in the dead of night, when it is meant to.

It’s backward.

And I’m tired of being tired. I’m tired of identifying myself by what I do, elevating my humanity with every stroke on my planner.

Go, go, go.

It’s what we do, at least in the university realm. The more work you have, the more you talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you identify with it. Who are you apart from what you accomplish in your studies? Or accomplish on the soccer field? What time could you possibly give to stillness and rest when there is simply so much to do?

It’s a message in priorities. When I began college, I prioritized friendship, involvement, adventure. So I never said no to a social outing, joined as many clubs and activities as I could. As each year went by, something new painted my calendar, weekly meetings and intramural sports and hall bible studies. One on one lunches, hanging out with kids on weeknights at church. Spontaneity died, for I could not afford it. I walked the thin line between juggling and dropping the life I had created for myself.

Health forbid. I was shocked into reality this year when I began to schedule my cries. Every Wednesday, before heading off to be a small group leader at kids church, I would spend my hour break beforehand on my knees, tears parading out of my tired, baggy eyes.

“I don’t understand.” I would say to God. “I love these kids so much, so why is it tearing me apart?” 

I don’t like to admit that I’m human. I don’t like being limited, don’t like saying “No”.

Scratch that, I don’t know how to say “No”.

Why aren’t we taught? Every time we say “Yes” to one thing, we say “No” to another. There is only so much every one of us can do until we work ourselves into an exhaustion-induced coma. Breathing, checking boxes, but where is the life?

I suppose this post is a plea, on your behalf, for the rest you so desperately need. I wish somebody had told me that more, more, more actually meant being so much less than who I actually am. I get so rushed and busy that I stop being the essential parts of myself. I become anxious and spacey and sarcastic, when I know that just beneath the exhaustion there is the real me, the fun and understanding and present me, just trying to find a way out of the life I created.

I’ve begun to practice saying “No”. I’m no expert, but let me say: It’s not as scary as we think. In general, people are actually understanding. People tend to respect a person with priorities.

So what are yours? I was challenged this year to think through mine, and was shocked to realize that they didn’t line up with the life I was living at all. I prioritized intimacy with God, and health, and yet both of those things were being pushed aside for all of the billion things I had to do.

When our priorities are imbalanced, so are we.

The Bible is chalk-full of God pleading with us to just be quiet already. I think my favorite example is one of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He had just come from a mountain-top experience, praying to God for fire to rain down from Heaven. Challenging the prophets of Baal, living to the full his faith in the God of Israel.

But it was not enough.

Just following this time of extreme faith, Elijah walks out into the desert and lies alone and literally falls into a deep depression, asking God to take him away. He fell asleep, and God sent angels to feed him and let him rest.

Then they fed him again, and then let him rest.

And then finally God began to speak to him, but His words were not in the the wind.

And His words were not in the earthquake.

Nor the fire.

But in the whisper, soft, only heard by those who were listening.

I want to live a life that hears God in the whisper. I want to live a life where, everyday, I can breathe and think and just be. I am learning that just because something is good, and I would like to do it, and I would be good at it, doesn’t mean it should be a part of my life. Our commitments should never steal away our lives.

A friend of mine recently shared her fear that, without all of the things that she does, she will miss out on life. And I told her: those things aren’t where you find it.

Life is found in the quiet morning hours, coffee in hand, fog settling over the ground outside, bible on the kitchen table. It is found when you just go for a walk, with no destination. Found when you sit on your favorite bench and allow yourself to just be a human being, watching others human beings go about their day. It is found when you read a really good book. Or eat dinner with friends and laugh the whole time.

It is found when you let yourself cry. Or laugh really loud. When you eat a mouth-watering meal, or just a perfectly ripe apple.

And that’s what I’m fighting for, one “No” at a time.

3 thoughts on “Fighting for “No”

  1. This wasn’t a big part of the blog, but I was struck by the line “The more work you have, the more you talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you identify with it.” That is so true! It made me think about what I talk about, how I identify with that. It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that I become what I talk about.

    Like

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