September came and went like a whirlwind, full of energy, its chaotic swiftness leaving me wondering WTF happened as an entire month rushed by.
I turned thirty five. Produced from start to completion two heartfelt documentaries with profound human stories for local nonprofits, and two silly commercials for a gala raising money for fostered dogs. I photographed two spaces that house women in treatment (and their children), hosted an open house, and conducted interviews for my own not-for-profit company that resulted in one new hire. There were zoom meetings and in person meetings and board meetings for GirlCreative, and on the day my entire team was sick or without childcare I ran all the errands so we could still host an end of summer soiree, where so many likeminded women came to connect. It was so rewarding.
It was also exhausting.
I was a woman on the run, a sensation exacerbated by the fact that I was indeed on the run for an entire week in September; in addition to all of the above, we flew around the middle of the country filming bone marrow collection centers in Illinois and Texas for Be The Match. Filming in hospitals is no small feat, and I felt the weight of our work when meeting a woman who started working for the organization after she herself was a donor, someone giving a small piece of her life in order to help save another’s. It was so meaningful.
All of that, too, was exhausting.
That’s not how I saw it, though. Not at first. I saw all of this go-go-go as momentum to fuel the fall. I welcomed the busyness, and when the calendar turned to a new month I thought October would be more of the same, more output, more doing, more going and seeing and less just being. Being is boring, right? Busy is best!
Too bad my hut (what Brené Brown calls the heart+gut) didn’t align with that outward vision.
Inside I was a mess. I’d been sick for most of September, a residual effect of our child returning to in-person school: germs are spreading fast. And it seemed like once I’d kick a cold, Lola would bring home another. So I was coughing all month long, and relying on a steady diet of Dayquil/Nyquil/soup to help me soldier on. It was not a sustainable pace – but, sure, go ahead and try telling that to my ego.
I started looking at the mostly-clear calendar for October with an urgency to fill the empty time. I had long planned to see my sister in Virginia for a weeklong visit mid-month, but every time I’d go to buy plane tickets my hands would freeze and I’d get tired and walk away from the computer. I told myself I’d buy them when the price was right, then I kept putting it off until the tickets reached gouging last minute rates.
I grew more anxious by the day.
Lola also had her reservations about going to Virginia over her one and only fall break. It seems when we made this plan we were still living through the height of the pandemic (not to say we’re in the clear now because, frankly, we’re not), and “fall break 2021” seemed like an eternity away. But now, Lola preferred to stay here with her friends and her stepsister, which I totally understood. That seemed like a valid enough reason for Lola to stay back, so I leveled with my sister, telling her it would just be me coming.
I bought myself a plane ticket…and then cried.
The more I thought about leaving my family, the cats, and honestly my couch, the more I didn’t feel like going. I couldn’t put my finger on that reluctant feeling at first, so I let it turn into guilt that spiraled into shame.
What’s wrong with me? Why shouldn’t I want to visit my sister?
I can’t waste the money I spent on this flight when I don’t have a good reason not to go!
Why can’t I shake the feeling that I’d rather stare at a wall watching paint dry than get into another airplane right now?
These and many other concerns haunted me for days, and I dreaded telling my sister these thoughts.
Then one day last week, I walked in the woods with my friend Whitney who has incredible boundaries and always demonstrates such grace, even to herself. I told her, I feel so bad I don’t want to visit my sister and I’m so afraid of what she’s going to say, and there’s no good reason at all for me to feel this way.
“Yes there is,” she said, “you are so tired.”
Her words hit me like a slap in the belly with a cold fish.
No, actually, I’m exhausted.
The month of September was an exhausting level of output. MY ENTIRE LIFE typically exhibits an exhausting level of output. And I am in desperate need of some rest.
What a revelation.
Real rest is a vague concept to me, a classic over-committer, and my instinct to feel guilty about taking time off or to view down time as selfish has held me back from resting for as long as I can remember. It’s not been uncommon for me to fill blank calendar days with useless commitments and shallow social plans, just so they’re not empty days (the horror).
Once before a trip to LA, after Christian and I were both prescribed inhalers for advanced bronchitis and walking pnemonia, we still went because I didn’t consider that maybe we needed a break from the breakneck speed of our lives. I routinely run myself into the ground being busy, but I never believe it’s affecting me until I see the proof.
So at the fundraising gala where one of the documentaries we created in September aired to a room of applause, and the event photographer snapped a photo of me and Christian together, I finally saw the evidence: in the picture of the two of us, I look completely shot.
Whitney’s right. I’m exhausted. You can see it in my eyes.
Armed with that visual and the words of my wise friend, I started to accept that being exhausted just because life is exhausting sometimes is a perfectly good enough reason to eat the cost of a plane ticket and stay home.
And this time, I wouldn’t fill the empty time.
I started fantasizing about what truly resting when I’m not working could look like, running my fingers across the spines of books I’d not read because life was running me ragged. I visualized reading them in between naps.
I daydreamed about signing off social media, taking a walk through the trees and just calling my mom – with no agenda to adhere to or plans to make – and about reclining on the couch with Lola like we did when she was little, hanging upside down with our feet waving in the air, watching the blood rush from our limbs and feeling it go to our heads.
I imagined going to an apple orchard – something I’d accepted wouldn’t be happening this year as we were simply too busy in September – and I called our favorite one, just to see if they’d still have fruits from the harvest for a couple more weeks. They would, and the idea of crunching apples on a crisp fall day with my family inspired me to do what needed to be done.
(did that sentence just make you think of apple crisp?)
I told Christian I was sorry we might lose out on the money I’d spent on a ticket, but I wasn’t going to be able to visit my sister in Virginia.
And I wrote my lovely sister an email, overly apologizing, letting her know.
And do you know what happened next?
Nothing. Nobody died. Everyone was totally fine with it, understanding on all sides. Disappointed, but not much, and definitely not disappointed with me.
The shame I carry of disappointing people and my fear of their bad reactions overshadowed what I knew to be true in this situation: my husband has never denied me something I want, even if it means we lose money (there’s a story in that truth, but that’s for another day).
And my sister? She wrote back that there’s nothing to forgive. How could I have forgotten she’s a professional rester, and a real boundaries pro?
Even the airline offered a credit for my canceled flight.
It seems that, in being honest with my feelings, all the things I worried about got put into perspective; by getting real about my limitations, I was taken care of, and ultimately loved by God through the kindness of people.
Radical honesty invites that kind of acceptance. Getting real before God and then others is how we set our priorities straight and find rest.
And so, one night last week instead of working I devoured a novel, and then I baked a cake for no reason. Today I took an incredible, long, satisfying nap, followed by a walk to the grocery store with my beloved husband. We plan to watch TV tonight like an old married couple, just after I hit post on this blog.
If the fear of disappointing others or of failing your own expectations are things that hold you back from rest, don’t lose heart. I’m right there with you. But even the God who created the universe and everything we see pressed pause on the output and rested, instructing us to do the same (in the ten commandments, Exodus 2:8-11 baby).
Yet it’s still our choice whether to stress or take rest, and Jesus said the sabbath exists as a gift to man (Mark 2:27). With that being said, will you join me in choosing to stop trying so hard we miss out on accepting this gift?
Will you set down the idols of striving, over-committing, and people-pleasing, and trust that God is strongest in our weakness? (2 Corinthians 12:9)
By God’s grace, we can set boundaries around our time, press pause on the output, and ditch the shame of choosing rest. We can trust this process. God is continuously kind (Psalm 86:5).
It’s time to rest.
That’s the Sunday sentiment.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.