I’m sitting on the couch, laptop in front of me, typing so fast it sounds like a machine gun when my husband wanders into the room. He says something to me and I reply with a vague “Hmm,” which is my way of signaling, “I’m busy and being productive. Please come back later.” But he persists in his efforts to communicate with me, and I, such a kind and intentional wife, persist in mine to ignore him and carry on with my work.
I know better. I’m a licensed counselor and certified life coach. I’ve read the studies that the most powerful thing you can do to any relationship is to turn toward the person trying to connect with you, not just physically but with your heart, mind, and attention. But there’s a specific situation in which I instead act as if I have the emotional intelligence of a toad so intent on catching the next fly that all else fades to oblivion.
I make a noise as if this were true as well. My “hmm” becomes something more like “rrr,” which is entirely unintelligible and convinces Mark that the cause is lost. I’ve gone into cold-blooded reptile mode, and until I reemerge, all hope of this conversation going anywhere is lost. He wanders out of the room, and I hear the click of a remote and the television on.
Only then do I snap out of my daze and realize I’ve gone back to a place I’ve been before — a place of striving and hustle, trying too hard and working too long. I’d been at my tasks for hours, barely taking a break even to refill my coffee cup. My shoulders ache and so does my mind. I had gotten to the point where I knew I should’ve stopped hours ago, but I’d persisted.
Years ago, I often worked like this, and it took me to the brink of burnout. I wore my relationships thin. My faith felt like a burden. But I slowly learned to believe I was loved not for what I did but who I am. I learned to have boundaries with my time and energy. I learned to rest. But, occasionally, I slip back into old ways.
Psalm 127:2 says, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” I looked up the meaning of the original phrase, and “anxiously working” basically means “work that hurts.”
When God spoke the world into being, sculpted a man from clay and a woman from a rib, He made work holy and good. There is work that’s sacred and life-giving. But there is another kind of work — the kind that destroys us.
I’ve found the difference between the two is that one comes from a place of fear and another from love. When I’m working to the point of exhaustion and excluding those closest to me, it’s almost always because I feel I have something to prove or something to lose.
When I’m working from a place of knowing who I am and how much I’m loved, that I have a purpose, that all will be well no matter the result, then I’m doing work that heals. It’s part of a holy mending in my own heart, in my relationships, and even in the great big world around me.
I close my laptop. I whisper a prayer. I find my husband and rest my hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I say, “Tell me what you wanted me to hear.” Everything in me yells, “You can’t stop! You have more to do! You’re going to fail if you don’t get back at it right now.” But in this moment I choose not to heed the warnings. I listen to my husband. I listen to my truest self. I listen to the God who invites us not to labor but to love and be loved.
God, thank You for inviting us not to hustle but to hear Your voice telling us who we really are and that our worth isn’t based on anything we do. Thank You for the gift of work. When we stray from Your design for it and let fear take over, calm our anxiety and give us the courage to return to love. Amen.
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When we work from a place of knowing who we are and how much we're loved, that we have a purpose and all will be well no matter the result, then we're doing work that heals. - @holleygerth: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I have worked myself into a state that work DID begin to hurt. I justified it because I was doing God’s work, but if I remember correctly, God says that our righteous acts are like filthy rags in His sight…Ouch! I’ve just written a post on my blog about being “scared into rest and self care”. That also includes realizing how much I have put my relationship with God and other relationships in my life on the back burner. Sometimes, we need a rude wake up call, allowed by God, in order to get our attention. Putting God first helps all our other relationships and priorities fall into place. Excellent reminder this am.!
Michele Morin says
While I’m sitting here wondering if you have been reading my journal, I’m giving thanks for this message of hope. While I know in my redeemed mind that everything does not depend on me, that God does not value my work over my presence (and neither do my people) I persist in a crazy, demanding approach to work.
Thanks for motivation to push back from the altar of my desk and to rethink my relationship with productivity.
Mary Geisen says
I’m nodding my head with what both Bev and Michele wrote in their comments. I believe that my achievements matter so much more than they really do. God cares about us more than we ever can, but He knows we are more than the sum of our achievements.
The reminder today of who I am and whose I am comes at a perfect time. This is where the deep rooted work is occurring in my heart.
Beth Williams says
This world clamors for more-doing, being, achieving. It states work long, hard hours & you will achieve lots of money & prestige. In the end you will just be a mere shell of yourself worn out with nothing to give anyone. When all is said & done God doesn’t care about money or prestige. He cares more about you! He wants your presence & time. Sure we may be doing “good Christian” things, but God isn’t pleased with busyness. That is just a ploy of the devil. Keeping us so busy we have no time for God, prayer or relationships. Bonnie Gray wrote a book “Spiritual Whitespace”. She talks about putting margin in your life. Purposely making time for family, friends & God. We must remember how much God loves us no matter the effort we exert. We are loved just because of who & whose we are!! He doesn’t like striving & doing to earn stuff. We can’t earn or buy our way into Heaven. All we have to do is believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, be baptized in His name. He simply wants us-our time & attention. Let’s quit out striving & give ourselves permission to have margin in our lives.
Chelsea Ratzlaff says
What spoke to me so clearly is when you said that you made the choice to stop working and go listen your husband, but that “everything in you yells ‘You can’t stop!'” I can relate to that so very often, but I needed to hear and recognize today that voice telling me to keeping working or I will fail, isn’t necessarily ever going to go away completely. I think that I see it as a battle that will be won if I could just ‘do better’ and I won’t have to deal with it anymore, but that may never be the case. This will likely be a battle that I will always face in some way, shape or form – and I’ve got to trust and lean into Him for the strength to resist the desire to always choose projects over people because of my fears. Thank you for sharing this part of your life Holley, God knew I needed this today.
Holley Gerth says
Thanks for being here and sharing your encouraging, insightful comments!
Michelle Stiffler says
Holley, yes and amen! For me, striving is always a flying leap down a rabbit hole. Thanks for encouraging me to ‘be’ more than do. I need that reminder daily!
Hope Forleaks says
I just wanted you to know that I read these posts daily, and yours was the first one where I thought to myself, “Now *that* was worth reading.” What a great piece of writing. THANK YOU for sharing your experience. I think so many people can relate to this. (I know I can.) It’s nice to know many of us are on a similar journey, struggling w/ a similar issue. I feel just a bit more connected to others after reading this, and will definitely be reminded of your post going forward in my life.
First reaction; hee! haw! laughing out loud at ‘cold blooded reptilian toad mode’ description, followed by a swift ‘ouch – that’s me!’, my need for repentance + awareness of my need to apologise to my adult children for this tendency + the realisation that THEY do this too! – AND THEY LEARNED IT FROM ME!!
Holley Gerth says
So glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with striving! Let’s keep leaning into grace together.
Becky Keife says
You, my friend, are wise and real and I feel like we are cut from the same cloth. I am always better for reading your words. xx
Gail Noe says
Perfect word. Thank you so much for sharing it. Been there. Done that .
Sara Willoughby says
Wow… this is *not* the first time I’ve “stumbled upon” this message (or had it forced in front of me XD) in the last 24 hours. Maybe I should take God’s hint. 🙂 Resting is something I am terrible at.