This weekend I had to drop out of a course I’ve been taking. Why? because I was too tired. That familiar twinge that comes from a lack of seratonin somewhere in my brain got my heart racing, my head spinning and I knew that if I was going to make it through to a big festival I’m running next weekend I’d have to take a break. The fact I slept straight through till after midday today tells me I needed it. To be honest though, a part of me wonders if I’m just a little bit weak.
I’m wondering if this was always the way. I spend most of my time with people in their late teens and early twenties and the familiar refrain is that they’re ‘too tired’, ‘life is just really hard right now’ or that ‘I feel like I’m about to burnout’. Let me tell you something, I’ve been close to burnout and it’s not something that creeps up on you one afternoon when you worked too hard. There are a lot of off-ramps before burnout and you get there by driving straight past all of them.
I’m sure previous generations didn’t suffer from this perpetual fear of tiredness the way we seem to. The 9 to 5 was normal as was raising kids when you got home. People would hold down these same jobs for decades on end and still have time to catch up with friends, belong to the local community club and serve their local church. These days I feel like anything over part-time is exhausting for most of us. What’s that about?!
I’m not claiming we don’t all feel the way we do and that those feelings aren’t real to us. I’m also aware that there are people who have really legitimate reasons as to why life is tough and I don’t want to minimise those at all. I also have to acknowledge that as someone who doesn't have kids there is a whole world of tiredness I'm yet to experience! However, I am wondering why it is some of us feel so overwhelmed when we actually have so little to do. It suggests to me that this might be more a mentality than it is a reality of our circumstances.
The Catholic Friar Richard Rohr puts it well in a book of his I’ve been reading recently:
“(most of our) recreation does not re-create us, but is only diversionary. I think that’s why (people) need so much recreation and entertainment. If it doesn’t really entertain and refresh, , we will need more very soon. But for open persons, those who know how to receive and let events teach them, a little bit goes a long way. If they see one beautiful flower they have to write a poem about it; they don’t have to revisit and see it again because it is printed somewhere inside of them. We always need more if we were never there.”1
That’s a pretty powerful indictment on our culture - that ‘we always need more if we were never there.’
I’m wondering if perhaps what I, and many others, have failed to understand is that rest is not the same as retreat. There is an ability to rest into the moment around us and it looks like being present. The problem many face today is that our bodies are always playing catchup to our minds. While our physical being inhabits dinner with friends or work, our mind is living hours ahead in another task or concern. That’s no doubt a stressful stretching of our very being to live across two places in time.
I know I have capacity for all that God has put in front of me. I’m capable of this and more. What I don’t have capacity for is to belong simultaneously in a multitude of spaces (be they physical or digital). My challenge for this week and beyond is to be only in one place at once. I don’t know for sure, but I have an inkling that within this intentional practice I may start to find a new way of living that starts to feel a lot more joyful and a lot less exhausting again. I’d love it if you’d join me and see what happens.
1 - quote from p.54 of Richard Rohr's 'Everything Belongs'