Two years ago I experienced some health trouble that awakened me to the fact that I don’t have superpowers. It turns out that you can’t live however you want without paying the consequences. This may seem obvious to you, but I was genuinely surprised. Stress, sleeplessness and trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations had depleted my health and energy. Naively, I thought that to be selfless and godly, I needed to be busy. But in the end, it was just pride talking.
By God’s grace, I was finally forced to reckon with the limits of my humanity. I began to see that God is the only one who never grows weary (Isaiah 40:28). And I was not God.
Once I understood this truth and began living within my proper boundaries, my relationships improved, my work became more efficient and my joy in God increased.
If you are feeling exhausted or overwhelmed with life, it may be that you have forgotten your human limitations. But don’t be discouraged. With prayer, biblical wisdom and a little planning, you can learn to live well within your limits.
Get to the Root of Your Busyness
Busyness is not always an innocent pursuit — and our motivations matter to God. He takes no pleasure in busyness fueled by ungodly ambition and idolatry.
If you find you are overcommitted, you need to ask yourself why. Are you trying to prove yourself? Are you afraid to let people down? Are you anxious about the future? If so, idolatry may be at the root of your problem.
The scriptures are clear: “the love of money” will bring you grief (1 Timothy 6:10) and lead you away from God (Matthew 6:24); people pleasing that goes unchecked is idolatry (Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:23; Matthew 10:28); and anxiety demonstrates an unbelief in God’s love and ability to take care of you (Matthew 6:25-34). The truth is that you are unable to control the future, and God is always trustworthy.
A better motivation for our work and leisure time is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul admonishes believers, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Are you still uncertain whether your busyness is God-glorifying or harmful? Author Tim Chester gives us helpful insight in his book The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness. He says, “We can spot idolatrous busyness because it will eventually cause harm — in our bodies, our families, our churches and our relationship with God” (p.84)[PW1] .
Pursue Restorative Activities
We all know that self-indulgence is not a Christian virtue, but some of us have mistakenly assumed that self-neglect is a Christian virtue.
When the Bible tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ, it is not saying we should neglect ourselves (Matthew 16:24). It’s saying that we need to deny our old sinful patterns — including our ungodly ambition and idolatry. When we follow Christ, we reorient our lives to pursue His glory and not our own. So when God grants you life and breath to serve Him, it’s not wrong to take care of yourself. In fact, it’s right to be a good steward of the body and soul He’s given you.
Our spiritual well-being requires tending and training just like our physical bodies require care. According to the Apostle Paul, we should not neglect either — although spiritual health should be the priority because it has value beyond this lifetime (1 Timothy 4:8).
When it comes to restorative activities, we cannot measure our progress by tasks completed. The benefit to our relationships, spiritual growth and overall health is intangible, so this growth requires a different kind of measuring stick.
Take for instance communion with God. If we merely read the Bible and pray in order to check off a box on our “to-do” list, we miss the point. We must take the time to savor God’s goodness in our life — to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). This may feel indulgent when we have tasks waiting for us, but we are making progress in personal sanctification.
You may be surprised to think of church activities as refreshing, but they actually have great power to replenish your soul — especially when they involve prayer and preaching. Simple pleasures such as watching the sunset, going for a bike ride or enjoying fellowship with others can also refresh your spirit and stir your heart to glorify God.
Apart from communion with God, the restorative activities you choose will be unique to you. And you will find that as you take steps to regularly renew yourself, you will have the energy and resources to be more effective in the work God has given you to do.
Scripture tells us to work hard and be diligent (Proverbs 13:4, 6:6-8, 12:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Ephesians 4:28), but hard work and busyness are not always the same thing. It is entirely possible to be a busy time-waster.
A time log can be a helpful tool to assess how effectively you are spending the hours of your workday. Write down how you spend each 15-minute block of time. You may be surprised by all the non-essential “fillers” in your day. Fifteen minutes of wasted time here and there can add up to hours, which could mean the difference between an evening of work and an evening of leisure.
If you find you are consistently working into the evenings, brainstorm ways to reduce the non-essential bulk in your day. Start each morning with the most difficult or important things to be done. See if you can compress the less important tasks into a shorter period of time and leave them for later when you are more mentally fatigued. If you can, outsource them.
If you are a student or have a job that is never done, it is essential that you prioritize your responsibilities, minimize wasted time and say no to less important things. You need to decide which things are worth the investment of your limited time and energy.
If you still find you are working around the clock, you may need to reassess your motivations. Do you overwork in hopes of gaining wealth or approval, or do you work in a way that glorifies God?
Trim Your Social Calendar
Maybe your social calendar is your Achilles heel. Most of us struggle with this to some degree. Between friends’ expectations, family commitments, volunteer obligations, hobbies and career-advancing social events, we have an onslaught of good opportunities being flung our way on a regular basis.
If you have a very busy social calendar, it’s essential you have your priorities well defined. Is your relationship with God suffering? Do you have time to be an active member in your local church? Are you setting aside time to nurture relationships that matter?
If you find the things that matter most to you are consistently being shortchanged for the sake of less important things, it’s time to scale back your social calendar.
We all need to be willing to miss out on good opportunities in order to make time for better ones. We also need to be willing to let people down. If our priorities are shaped by other people’s expectations, we could be in big trouble. But if we choose our commitments with biblical wisdom and prayer, we will be on solid footing.
The Way Forward
God knows our limits. He gave us a pattern to follow when He rested on the seventh day of creation. We need time to rest each week. He also gave us daytime for activity and nighttime for sleep. We cannot go 24 hours without replenishing our energy.
It takes humility to admit our limits, but our need for rest reminds us that we are intrinsically weak and in need of a Savior. We can’t save ourselves — or anyone else — no matter how hard we try. We can only look to Christ and point others in the same direction (John 14:6).
So don’t let false expectations drive you. You are under no obligation to be God-like in your abilities. The Gospel is glorious: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
During these past few years I have learned to recognize the weakness of my “jar of clay,” and I no longer presume I’m unbreakable. I have also grown in my appreciation for God’s “surpassing power” that enables me to pursue God-honoring activities.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying no to a great opportunity in order to give my time and energy to a better one. And always, it means that when I lay my head down to rest at night, I rest in Christ’s sufficiency for me. I am limited, but tomorrow He will provide for me out of His limitless energy.
Copyright 2015 Christel Humfrey Snyder. All rights reserved.