Over several months, Bob’s stress levels had soared. As he accepted more and more responsibilities, he had less energy to bring to projects. Assignments were forgotten or neglected, people were disappointed, and Bob’s anxiety and frustration grew. As it turns out, Bob’s life was killing him—literally. One afternoon after a long day at work, Bob came home and had what seemed to be a heart attack. He was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat created by stress. The doctors recommended counseling. Bob had to find a way to slow down and learn to rest.
If Bob needed a reason to slow down, you would think he had one that no one could argue with. But someone did: Bob! Bob was in counseling because he didn’t know how to stop. When asked to lay aside some responsibilities for his own good, Bob couldn’t do it. In every area of his life, Bob would raise the same concerns: ‘But this is so important!’ ‘But it’s for the church!’ ‘But it’s for the kids!’ ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ ‘I would just feel too guilty.’ Bob was stuck on a treadmill of his own making.
Do you see yourself in Bob? Does your life feel like one long ‘to do’ list? Are you, like Bob, driven as much by your own demands to perform as the requests of others?
I do. Yes. I am.
The story above is from Winston Smith’s helpful booklet, Burned Out? Trust God with Your ‘To-Do’ List, which I dug out of my computer bag yesterday to read for the second time in the past month. Here’s a brief summary of how Smith counsels those of us who are like ‘Bob.’
- Rest. “There is one very important reason to slow down and rest. God commands it.” The Sabbath principle is rooted in the creation order. “God’s people are to observe this rest in imitation of [God].”
- Stop living like a functional atheist. After spending twelve pages explaining the importance of rest, Smith applies it to ‘Bob’ this way: “Bob’s fear and anxiety revealed that in many ways he was a functional atheist… Even when Bob was conscious of God, he lived as if God were just another task-master, one more person who piled up responsibilities and measured his performance.”
- Live for others, not yourself. “As Bob looked at what was driving him, it became clear that much of what he did was based on what others thought and felt about him. Most of Bob’s decisions were based on a set of unspoken concerns.”
- Get your security from God, not others. “Bob’s sense of inadequacy and fear drove him to take on too much responsibility. As hard as he worked, it was never enough to give him a sense of adequacy or to have any confidence in the affirmation he got at work…Bob lived out of a sense of shame and inadequacy that had dogged him his entire life.”
- Trust in Jesus to be your adequacy. Our approval comes from God, through Christ, not our performance. “God wants us to find our rest in him, not in our proud efforts.” Smith then asks this important, penetrating question: “Do you understand why it is important to have a Savior who is sitting? Like his Father in Genesis 1, Jesus sits because his labor for us is perfect and complete. In other words, ‘It was very good.’ Because Jesus rests, you can rest.” I need to speak this to myself regularly.
Practical Strategies for Change
Winston Smith wraps up his helpful booklet with 5 practical ways to build proper rest into our lives. I will just list them. Get the booklet and read it yourself!
- Become a devoted follower of Christ.
- Repent of pride.
- Don’t get in Jesus’ way by being overly responsible.
- Be a student of your own heart.
- Instead of being guilt-ridden about not having regular quiet times, carve out daily times to ‘rest in the Lord.’