The JOY of Being Exhausted
By Sarah Summers Granger
Are you exhausted? Today I got a short nap and sat down with a warm cup of coffee to write this blog, my baby is sleeping, my 12 year old is happily homeschooling next to me, and I am not exhausted. I know it sounds crazy, but I wish I was.
About a month ago, I had the privilege of running Faith Camp, a five day Catholic faith building camp for junior high Students that involved about 250 youth. It took a tremendous amount of work to prepare for Faith Camp, and after months of planning, the daily schedule of the camp required me to wake up before 6 am and be busy nonstop until after 11 most nights. I was also 8 months pregnant and trying to be present to my 15 month old son who was desperate for my attention in any “free time” I had.
On Wednesday night, we had a glorious time of praise and worship and Eucharistic adoration during which the Holy Spirit showed up in power. Every camper was prayed over and experienced the presence of God. After a day packed with nonstop activity, I spent the two and a half evening hours of Adoration sitting on a tiny wooden stool with the Music Ministry helping to lead worship, my pregnant ankles swelling to mythical proportions. As I climbed into bed close to midnight, after leading the evening staff meeting, I felt that I could not have walked another step if my life depended on it. I sighed with relief, and my husband Kevin, asked if I was okay. “I am completely exhausted,” I replied.
At that moment, I remembered a prayer I used to pray in mission, one that my Mom taught me decades ago: “Lord, let me fall in bed at night exhausted from service to the Gospel.” My eyes filled with tears of joy and gratitude, and a refreshing peace flooded my heart. How amazingly blessed I was to have this mission opportunity right here in the United States, to completely exhaust myself in spreading the Gospel to so many hungry young hearts. I knew that the next morning I would wake up with enough strength to do it again. God’s word promises that “The steadfast love of the Lord . . . is renewed every morning” Lamentations 3:22-23, and that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Phil. 4:13. Sure enough, the next day and the day after that I woke up refreshed and ready to carry on serving Jesus. On the last day of camp, campers stood in line for over an hour and a half to have a chance to testify about how they had experienced Jesus, many of them for the first time, on that exhausting night.
So many times in mission I would be tired by early afternoon from walking up and down hills and visiting the homebound. I would lie down to try to get 15 minutes of rest before evening ministry, only to hear a knock at the mission house door. I admit my heart didn’t always leap for joy. Exhausting yourself can be hard. I would get up, though, and have the blessing and privilege of encountering Christ Himself in a usually sick and needy person asking for prayers, counsel, medicine or all three. I was blessed to see instant healings and hearts transformed on a regular basis. Pretty much every night in mission, I would fall into bed exhausted, and pretty much every night I would thank God for the joy and peace which surpasses understanding that would flood my tired heart and mind because I had given my all for Jesus that day.
St. Paul reminds us “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” 1 Cor. 9:24. This verse always inspires me, but what does it mean to run to win? As a Mom, especially now just weeks from my due date, I am often exhausted from daily life. Feeding, clothing, serving my children and husband takes all the energy I can muster. When I am spent at the end of the day, if I remembered to offer all of my work to Jesus, to do it for Him and to see Him in my family, I know that I have run the race to win and I am at peace. If I have resented my work, focused on my tiredness rather than on the goal of sharing Jesus with my family and those I encounter throughout the day; if I have held back, trying to spend less of myself; I am still exhausted, but without the peace and joy that come from running to win. I know that I have not given all that I can give to serve God that day, and I miss it. I miss out.
Although I have experienced over and over the joy of pouring myself out completely, my flesh cries out against being exhausted. I am often cranky when I’m tired. It seems like a foolish idea to seek to be completely spent at the end of the day, to hold nothing in reserve, to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” Yet that is exactly what the urgent work of spreading the Gospel requires. I confess that I am quite possibly the slowest runner in the world, so I have never actually won a race. I have noticed, though, that winners invariably have one thing in common at the finish line – they are exhausted. They have given their all to win the prize. So must we! The prize here is the conquest of souls for Jesus, the spreading of the fire of God’s love to every heart we encounter, whether in foreign missions or in our own homes. And we are promised renewal. So, setting our tiredness, crankiness and swollen ankles aside, let’s get exhausted for God.