I was time warping again--laying on my bed with my wife, on what was supposed to be a relaxing Saturday morning, thinking about work on Monday morning. Thinking about work, I was warping through my time to rest. The realization and a strange thought shot into my mind: Just lay there and watch your cat breathe. So, I looked at Frisco our cat, cat napping at my feet, breathing slowly--rhythmically--easily--his stomach going up and down as he breathed in and out.
Work and rest are equal blessings from our Creator with equally necessary benefits. However, we are people of extremes. Most of us lean one way or the other. Some of us don't do enough and need a motivational boot to the behind. Some of us do too much and need a mashing boot on the brake. Neither extreme is good. Neither extreme is healthy.
My extreme started taking an extreme toll on me. A few years ago, when I went to the doctor for some abdominal pains I had been having for weeks, he had me explain my symptoms along with any other health issues I had not gone there for--fatigue, sleeplessness, a heart valve problem he saw in my file, etc. Then he had me explain what was going on in my life--work and relationships. After listening very carefully, he explained to me how stress (physical, emotional, and mental) has a residual effect on the body, whether we constantly feel stressed or not. Over time, it breaks the body and immune system down. This is what I was experiencing. The abdominal pain was intestinal spasms specifically linked to stress. Of course he couldn't tell me to do anything about what I couldn't change--the external stressors--but he didn't like my work and thought patterns. He flat told me, "If you don't change something now, you're going to kill yourself later." I told him I would take a serious look at how to deal with things better and what changes I could make. I took some medicine he offered for immediate relief of the symptoms. And I went right back to my old routine.
Things got worse. Three years ago, my emotions started fraying. I started having rages. By this time, I was driving a truck in the oilfield, and there were several times that, apart from the restraint of the Holy Spirit and the thought of destroying my ministry, I would have attacked some men doing the wrong things at the wrong time. Last year I hit a wall. Driving long hours, pastoring a church, and taking care of things at home, I started shutting down. I had spells in which I literally could not think a coherent thought--I literally could not think something through from A to B. My chest was hurting constantly. Most days of the week, I was short of breath, feeling like I was forcing every single breath. I would wake up in the morning not feeling like I had slept at all. I woke up one morning and realized that I was not doing well anywhere--at home, church, or work. All of it was coming apart, because I was coming apart. So, I made the painful decision to step down from pastoring.
When what you are doing is not working, it's time for a new approach, and I took one. I asked the Father to show me what I was doing wrong and to give me a fresh look at things. The first thing He immediately showed me was inside me--how I was handling things in my mind. My problem was not primarily physical but mental. The gears were always turning. I was trying to process everything at the same time. I was trading sleep for more studying--more reading and writing. Even if my body was still, my mind was grinding, sifting, sorting, solving, planning, and projecting--not in a prayerful, trusting way, but as if everything depended on me to work it out. I hardly ever shut down until I was forced to shut down. For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. (Ecclesiastes 2:23 HCSB)
When I looked at Frisco breathing, I was back in the moment again, relaxing in my down-time with my wife. That's what I've had to learn to do. Take the down-time and learn to live in the moments when you are supposed to be relaxing and recuperating. Find anchors to hold you in those moments (like your cat breathing) so that you are not time-warping through them, waking up on Monday morning, wondering where the weekend went, feeling like you jumped from Friday right into Monday. Just like the rhythm of Frisco's breathing, God has designed a rhythm into our daily and weekly lives--in and out, up and down, work and rest - there is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 HCSB). Work when it's time to work, but when it's time to rest...just lay there and watch your cat breathe.
“In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15 NASB'95)