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“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30, The Message
“I am so tired I could sleep for a week!” Have you ever said or felt that way? I have felt that deep in my bones a few times in my life. Times where the physical exhaustion was deep enough to impact my mental and emotional and spiritual state of being and I was “tired” in all areas.
I am feeling this to some extent as we navigate setting up a new household, starting over in a new community with a new school system, and leaving our house. We are working to clean out a house and property that we have lived in for 18 years and renovated three times: one by choice, and two amid unpredictable and unwanted disasters of sorts. Figuring out what to do with “stuff” from the attic, basement and barn as we put it into space that has no attic nor barn is challenging and slow, and certainly isn’t something I like doing. And yet, as I take on this challenge and feel the impact of being “tired” I had all kinds of reminders this week of God’s presence and past learnings about what brings renewal.
“What makes your heart sing?” That is the question the Pastoral Excellence Program for Clergy Renewal asks those seeking to make application for sabbatical to consider. We applied in 2016 and that question has stayed with me. I often find pondering it helpful.
What makes my heart sing? At times I quip back, “Sleep! Sweet sleep!” with somewhat of a cynical tone. I do come from a long line of insomniacs so there is definitely some concrete physical truth to that. I have found, however, that true rest requires more. Absence of activity and physical rest by themselves do not make my heart sing. They do help make space, or set the stage so to speak, but inactivity can be just as stifling and suffocating as hyperactivity. My heart sings when I am basking in God’s abundance and in touch with life, love, and beauty.
I had the opportunity to go see the van Gogh immersion exhibit this week with my family. When I was younger, I saw van Gogh as a tortured soul that was “kinda weird” but produced beautiful art. As I grew older and learned more, my appreciation only grew. Yes, a tortured soul, but also a Dutch Reformed pastor who struggled with the institutional church at the time and saw great depths of beauty in the ordinary. An artist whose works were not recognized in his lifetime, yet had a profound influence on the art world over time.
Vincent van Gogh influenced technique, form, and subject matter, helping the world to see beauty in the ordinary and mundane, and in the hard-working unseen people of the land. I now relate more with the tortured soul and see that people are “weird” in general, and I am no exception. I imagine all who are reading or listening this far can relate with disappointment in institutions, and certainly we all have concerns about unseen people as the world refugee crisis only seems to expand, week by week.
I told my kids to be on the lookout for my favorite van Gogh. I was disappointed that it was not included in the exhibit and had to backtrack to even find an online image of the well-worn pair of dirty browned work boots to show them. Not surprising, I suppose, the “potato eaters” were also not prominent in the exhibit. And yet, while the exhibit focused on the more well-known images that do seem to be beautiful in and of themselves, the immersion experience did still convey the sense of finding beauty in the ordinary and having courage to be your own unique self. The Immersive Experience was fantastic.
What makes your heart sing and fills your soul? What restores your life? What rejuvenates your spirit? In “Faithwalking” and “Churches Learning Change” we talk about our “spiritual workout” of creating systems of support to help keep us learning and growing closer to God, ourselves, and others with our unique blend of social and emotional needs. While our physical bodies need a healthy diet, exercise, and rest, our souls are nurtured not through inactivity, but through connection to God’s love and community. This includes connection to God’s world, God’s people, and beauty. Our spiritual workout needs to change over time as our needs change based on our circumstances and our learning.
Renewing our souls and singing with our hearts is actually work. Yes, God does the main work and the Holy Spirit is always seeking to help bring us to deeper connection. . . and it is our work to respond. We control our time and how we use it. We often think escapism and inactivity will nurture and renew our souls, in part because our culture constantly tells us it will and that we “deserve” it. However, God is constantly trying to remind us that God’s love and our reality in God’s love are based on relationship and engagement, not merely disengaging and isolating or escaping or self-indulging. I appreciate the realists who remind me of the need for a balance of self-care and self-comfort, even as I assert both take some work on our part and are needed so that we stay engaged with our world as a part of God’s great renewal.
With the end of summer, fall start-ups and even prep for the upcoming holiday season are likely in full swing. Perhaps you are already starting to feel busyness creep in and are resounding with Ted Loder’s poem, “catch me in my anxious scurrying, O LORD.”
Now, and in all that is to come, what will keep your heart singing and your soul full of God’s love? How will you pause for the work of seeing beauty in the ordinary and the love of God in the seemingly unlovable? Sometimes just pondering is the work that we need to do, and then the actions themselves end up being as simple as a change of perspective, confronting our own irritation and assuming others have good intentions, taking more deep breaths and practicing breath prayers, refusing to look away, or inviting God into the mundane with us.
May our hearts keep singing together, empowering an ever deepening presence of love in our lives and our world.