I wondered if I needed to see a doctor.
Headaches. Fatigue. Aches and pains. Insomnia. Every time I tried to fall asleep my heart would race. I began waking up in the morning weary and with a pit of dread in my stomach, knowing I’d feel awful during the day, wondering what was wrong with me.
And it wasn’t a good time for something to be wrong with me.
Work pressure was high. Is high. I am leading what seems like a billion different projects and initiatives, all high-stakes. I am out in public and visible and present in a way I have never been before, and am learning new skills I never previously needed. My hours are longer and the work is harder.
My friends are a constant storm of drama, upset about their jobs or their lives or each other.
My dad and I are still adjusting to a new life without mom.
There’s too much going on, and I could feel my immune system collapsing. As the physical symptoms hit, I began to wonder if I should nudge up the date of my scheduled physical. Maybe turning forty really had made everything in my body fall apart at one time.
And then I took a week of vacation.
It was needed, really. I hadn’t had any time off since the holidays, and the First Christmas Without Mom wasn’t exactly merry or relaxing. I needed some time to sleep in, I decided. To breathe. To work on some projects around the house, to craft, to do what my mom used to call “puttering.” My husband decided to do the same.
I as astonished—astonished—by what happened.
I am, as a write, still three days from the end of the vacation. But I can tell you that all of my physical problems…left. The headaches stopped. The aches went away. So did the adrenaline and racing heart. I could breathe deeply again. My energy returned. I slept hard.
Just two days in, I almost burst into tears in the car over the sheer joy of it. I feel newly made.
I wasn’t sick.
I was stressed.
Psychologists will tell you that stress isn’t always a bad thing, and that’s true. Some kinds of stress can be good for the body. And even periods of acute unwanted stress are normal, if unpleasant. But perpetual high-grade stress damages like a disease. And although I knew that, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might experience it.
But why wouldn’t I, after all? Grief over mom, a career that’s gone into overdrive, a life that in many ways feels new and disconcerting—these are the elements stress is made of.
For me, the antidote turned out to be simple.
Birding. Hiking. Reading. Quiet lunches on the patio. Good music. Candles. Baths. Little things, simple things, blessed things. Enjoying what God has given me to enjoy. Not simply “managing” my problems and projects but giving myself permission to put them away entirely. It has been lovely.
And it has made me think, a lot.
I am the daughter and granddaughter of self-confessed neurotic perfectionists. I was raised to work hard, to do my best in everything for the glory of God. To always seek the good for other people, when I can. To be patient. To be, sometimes, a people-pleaser. And to that end, I have spent the last eight months of my life burning myself down to the wick for absolutely everyone and everything around me.
The funny thing is that I’ve known in some unconscious way a meltdown was coming, and I have been trying to manage it.
Aware I’ve been going through a lot, I’ve sought different ways to alleviate the pressure. I do my yoga and my daily walks, my deep breathing, my prayers and my Scripture reading. But even then I wasn’t confronting the problem so much as trying to work around it, build bridges and shortcuts over a problem that kept growing and growing and growing.
God wants us to rest.
And Sabbath is a command for the week, yes, but Sabbath is also a deeply spiritual principle inasmuch as it is a reminder that we don’t have to do anything to be beloved of God. That we can, with full permission from the One who created the earth, stop striving and simply enjoy.
The critical difference between that approach and secular self-care, I think, is that Sabbath rest is centered on God. I rest knowing God can take care of things; I rest because I trust God to deal with everything I’m not looking at; I rest because God made me for joy and delight; I rest because I am in perfect safety. I rest not because I am special and deserve it, but because God is special and has gifted it.
I don’t know who needs to hear this. But I write this as the sort of deeply responsible person who checks my email on vacation to make sure nothing’s caught on fire. Who makes sure to announce that she’s taking time months in advance so no one’s put out. Who worries that taking time to rest and be joyful is wrong when there are tasks to do (there are always tasks to do) or I might be better served by, I don’t know, baking zucchini bread for someone or listening to a friend for another forty-five minutes.
And what I want you to know is that you need to rest and God wants you to rest.
The well that we draw from transforms us. And if we’re drawing from a place of peace and contentment and provision in God, then we’ll have the resources we need to do whatever we need to do, so long as we return to that well. But if we’re drawing from within ourselves—even if we’re drawing from the “I really want to love and please God and others” part—we’ll run dry. And then we have to rest from necessity, not choice.
Make the time to rest. Set aside time to breathe. Don’t let your service to others and even to God be the thing that keeps you from resting in God and refilling the cup. Going away for a little while can give you more strength to go farther than being on all the time for everyone.
Go rest. You need it.
God made you that way.