The Road Ahead: When Less is More

Jul 6, 2013

Exhausted and utterly spent, I am close to the edge.

It is a familiar but unhappy place, one in which I have spent for most of my life.

From as far back as I could remember, I have been driven—driven to succeed, to perform, to seek love and approval by producing work of exceptional — almost impossible — quality even as a young child.

What drives a person to push beyond healthy limits, causing her to over produce? I believe the answers are many and layered—answers I hope to uncover over the next several months.

God first drew my attention to this destructive tendency during the winter of 2007. In a quaint bed and breakfast nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains on, I experienced God in a way that I had not for months. During my prayer time my first morning there, a profound sense of God’s peace and presence enveloped me like a protective cocoon. It remained snugly wrapped around me for the entire weekend.

I emerged from that weekend transformed, but also aware that I would have to be intentional about making changes in my life. Tough changes.

A Sabbatical for My Soul

Shortly after returning from that weekend, I took a sabbatical, temporarily leaving my Pentecostal church of 20 years and returning to my spiritual roots –a small, Anglican Church not far from my home to rest in anonymity. I recall sitting there my first Sunday back. Light flooded in from the stained glass windows, bringing with it a tactile and sensory experience, rich with symbolism and metaphor – the language of my soul.

Although the sensory experience was satisfying, the spiritual experience seemed not to suit me as it had years ago. After 18 months, I returned to my Pentecostal church, strengthened by the outpouring of love I had received.

As is often my way, I jumped back in with everything I had. Of course, it wasn’t long before I found myself once again on the performance treadmill of “serving God,” a.k.a. “ministry,” in most evangelical churches.

So it should come as no surprise to me, that in the summer of 2013, I have hit a wall.

I have nothing left.

And I sense that is just where God wants me. A place where there are no quick fixes.

But this time it frightens me. It is different from times past. The exhaustion has seeped into my bones; and despite my best efforts, I can’t push through the debilitating fatigue I feel this time around.

A new diagnosis of hypothyroidism, along with existing anemia and abnormalities in my blood and liver, has left me feeling like I have one foot over the edge, and unless I do something drastic, I will fall.

Sure, the medications for my thyroid will relieve some of my symptoms over time, but the combination of the chronic anemia and the abnormalities in my blood, along with a bone disease, leave me doubtful that my energy level will even approach anything in the normal range.

I’m at the end of myself.

And I sense that is just where God wants me.

Although it’s uncomfortable, it’s not an entirely bad place to be. While I am at the end of one season of life, it is also marks the beginning of another. One that requires less of me. More of God.

I will need time to adjust.

A New Season

As I have tried and failed to overcome my new physical limits, a harsh reality has seared my soul. What has worked in the past will not work now. My life requires a complete overhaul, orchestrated by God Himself. I’ve done what I can, and it’s not enough.

What does that mean practically?

I’m not sure. But I do know that it means soul-wrenching changes.

Although I’m just beginning to get a sense of the changes I need to make, here is what I know so far:  In just a few months, provided all goes well, I will begin a formal year-long spiritual direction program. Structured around such core spiritual practices as contemplation, study, and relationships, it promises a slower, easier way of life that seems ideally suited to this season of life. My hope is that the structure of the program and the accountability will enable me to achieve what I’ve been unable to do on my own – a healthy, sustainable way of life.

Ancient Practices

Recently, I have also found myself intrigued by some of the experiences of what some call, “the Dessert Fathers and Mothers,” a monastic movement that saw stillness, rest, quiet, and silence as central to the practice of prayer. It was common in the community I was a part of early in my faith journey, and now it seems that I am to return there once again. This expression of faith seems to suit my temperament, as well as my limitations, values, and season of life.

While I have some reservations about whether I can change my schedule to make it work, it appeals to me on many levels, not the least of which is that it allows me to focus on what I feel God is calling me to for this season: prayer, rest, study, work (speaking, writing, spiritual direction), and relationships.

Will it work? I can’t say.

But it gives me the hope that I need to forge ahead despite growing physical limitations.

And, for now, that is enough.