I am about to share one of my deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets with you. It is a part of myself that makes me shudder in embarrassment; a secret that until recently I had never told anyone.
But in this season of pandemic isolation, of forced self-reflection, my secret has disrupted so much of my day to day functioning that I simply cannot afford to ignore it anymore. What better way to live more honestly, more humbly than to offer public confession in a blog post read by so many people that take their faith so seriously. Ready?
I am really good at work/rest balance.
Now, I know a number of you will read that and think, oh that Beth, she is just a laugh and a half and certainly I framed that “confession” in a way to get a few chuckles. But in actuality, I am not kidding, both about the work/rest balance and my embarrassment in being honest about it.
Admitting you are unwilling to overwork yourself is not congruent with being a Midwestern Calvinist girl, especially one who is passionate about her vocation in ordained ministry — you know, the career with one of the highest burn out rates in America?
It was undergrad that did me in. I threw myself into a dizzying tarantella of demands: a double major in music and theatre, acting in one show a semester, working in the college ticket office, and jogging 3-8 miles at 11pm, five nights a week. You know, Carpe Diem and all that jazz. Last I checked, Hope College requires 126 credit hours to graduate. I burned out and then dropped out with 170, leaving six of those credits in my majors incomplete. It would take another ten years before I worked up the courage to march myself back into the registrar’s office to see what it would take for me to address those incompletes and finish my abandoned degree.
My lesson wasn’t “Boy, that was close. That pace could have killed me. I won’t ever drive myself that hard again.” The lesson was to choose a new method of punishment. I put down the albatross of work addiction and picked up the angry ostrich of shame for my needing rest.
For years, I believed I was lazy, defective, unimaginative, and wasting my gifts and time. You see, one of the biggest lies about burn out is that it is the result of doing too many things you hate. For me, burn out was death by “oh-my-gosh-I-want-to-do-all-the-things.” I filled my new free time thinking about all I wanted to do, but couldn’t because I felt too tired or feared becoming too tired. The guilt I felt for succumbing to watching an hour or two of TV drove me to years of bingeing on ice cream, cookies, and Facebook, while staring at the screen.
Then came March of 2020, offering even more unstructured time. Knowing that I filled my belly at the same rate I filled my down time, I decided to examine my relationships to food, my self-worth, my body and rest. If I didn’t, I feared putting myself at increased risk of getting ill. Here I was almost exactly twenty five years later to the date of my first addiction confrontation. Though I had been in therapy for over ten years, for the first time I began to understand what self-love actually is. It is not to be confused with self-acceptance. That felt impossible.
Self-love is the action of speaking, feeding, protecting, enjoying, and yes, resting my body and spirit. Paradoxically, a commitment to loving yourself begins as a decision to work at loving yourself. Rest is work. Who knew?
After months of this new sort of work, an amazing change happened. I began accepting myself. I started to like my body and I started to like myself. Exercise stopped being another job. It became a time of gratitude. Goodbye compulsive running. Hello 15 minutes of morning yoga. Eating healthier food, which DOES still include ice cream by the way, became fun and another creative outlet.
And the big kahuna of them all, rest? Well, rest became joy. Like spending time with a friend.
Rest is reflection and a time of listening to my body, instead of dissociating from it.
Rest is becoming — Sabbath.
I confess that I care less about looking busy for others and care more about looking inward at my own needs. If you enjoy rest, you will enjoy your life: the secret to winning at life. This is the only secret I care about anymore.