It’s been one of those weeks. One of those weeks that you’re glad to have reached the end of. A week of frustration with the internship, mixed with a generous dollop of exhaustion and seasoned with homesickness. I’ve always found energy to be a resource that’s in very short supply in my life, but this week the reserves have run dry. And as we prayed at work for all those connected to our department who suffer from fatigue, I realised this is a problem many of us share.
I am familiar with fatigue. When I was a child I was diagnosed with an illness that is known as either ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I missed great chunks of school and spent several years in primary school only attending school in the mornings. By the time I reached my final year in primary school I was well enough to attend full time, as far as I was concerned I was better, and I tried to put the illness behind me. But I suppose the older I got, the more I saw that my energy levels didn’t quite match up to my friends my age. I never had the energy that was supposed to go with youth. Most of the time it didn’t cause me many problems, except that sometimes the quality of the tiredness would shift. Shift from regular tiredness to something a little more sinister. It’s like the tiredness seeps into my bones, and lingers there, resistant to sleep and rest. I’ve felt this shift this week.
I’m aware of the way my decisions change when I’m this kind of exhausted. The single most important thing in my day becomes how much sleep I can get. When choosing whether to go to a social gathering it’s about what time I will be in bed by. It can feel like you have to make selfish choices,and you get scared about how those decisions will be perceived. You fear that one day your friends will stop inviting you altogether. Worry that they will get frustrated and turn their backs and leave. I don’t lead the life I want to lead because there’s not enough energy to go round. Sometimes I feel like a bird with injured wings, too weak to fly.
I find it can be lonely choices that you have to make. Sometimes there is only enough energy left for your own company, no matter how fed up you might be. It’s hard to make people understand and so you don’t talk about it. You can feel very alone, unable to find the strength to interact with the world. It’s embarrassing as a 22 year old when you do go out to meet people, and have to excuse yourself early because you needed to be asleep about an hour ago. Or you feel the pressure and stay, only to suffer the penalty the next day.
I’m learning that I’m actually not very good at listening to my own body, at making decisions that put my health and well being first. We are taught to put others before ourselves, that it’s best to serve and selfish not to. I feel guilty when I say no to things. I’m aware there were warning signs I could have picked up on, I could have slowed down, and I might feel different now. But I don’t think I’m alone in this selective deafness to our own needs, we live in a society that does not stop, that rarely rests. After all we only live once, right? Yet even as Christians we struggle to care for the bodies we have been given. We work too hard, throw ourselves into any act of service that we have even a grain of ability in. We don’t know how to stop, until we are stopped. There are too many people living lives hurtling towards burnout and disaster. And you don’t want to be one of them.
I know if I’m sensible it will pass, the fatigue will gradually dissipate and I can go back to being just regular tired. In the mean time I’m holding on to the promises of the bible. Whether we feel it or not we have a God who understands, and who tells us that:
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:31
Maybe it won’t be today, but we can trust that God’s promises will stand true, regardless of how we feel. In the mean time I was encourage today by the story of the widow’s offering (Luke 21:1-4), where Jesus witnesses people donating money at the temple. He saw many rich people putting in extravagant gifts, then a poor widow came along and put in two copper coins. Jesus said “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Luke 21:4). We’ve always thought of this passage as relating to money, but we can be poor in many different ways. For some of us energy is something we are poor in, and I was encouraged today that God sees us how we are. He sees the little we are able to give him, out of our own poverty, and is pleased. It’s not about what we can do in comparison to other people, but what we can give out of what we have. We are all different, created to do different things. I suppose what I wanted to say is that whether you are weary today or bursting with energy, you are enough just as you are. Whatever you have to offer, however small it might seem, it is enough. You have a heavenly Father who loves you just as you are.
And to all who are weary, we have a God who says “Come to me all, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We can be confident that this too will pass, knowing that God is at our side for all those moments where our strength fails us. We are never on our own.