Six months into my family moving to Uganda, finding effective ways to rest still felt like it eluded me.
(If you’re in the rigors of raising your financial support, maybe you’re already here.)
So many of the ways we’d typically unwound felt unavailable–down to the tilting pile of dishes accumulating every Sunday for handwashing, the lack of libraries, the nerve-wracking traffic between us and a nourishing date night.
And at the same time, the “Africa” slice of my pie was simply bigger than what it took to live in North America. Everything took at least three more steps: boiling and decanting our milk. Sanitizing our vegetables. Filtering our water. Planning for electrical outages. Purchasing internet at a store by the gigabyte.
So many of the global workers I speak with are simply worn. Which makes rhythms that restore–so we can serve God wholeheartedly, rather than hollowly–that much more critical. Here are three more.
Your Opportunity vs. Your call
Needs seemed to hemorrhage from everywhere overseas–which was why we were there in the first place.
But my opportunity, a friend pointed out, wasn’t necessarily my call. Meeting even the most dire needs would be physically impossible.
So I clung to verses like “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2)–the needs God had placed in my path, like the Good Samaritan. Or like Elijah, who in famine, chose to stay with one woman and her son, and help them.
(Check out this outside post: “Your Opportunity…vs. Your Call“.)
Rhythms that Restore: Saying “No”
More to the point, Eugene Peterson wrote that “Busyness is an illness of the spirit.”
Peterson explained reasons leaders are “blasphemously”, chronically busy: “I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant.” Or, “I am lazy. I indolently let other people decide what I will do.”
In The Contemplative Pastor, Peterson emphasizes relentless busyness is “the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection … a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him.”
In my own overcommitment, I shun the humility of God-given physical, emotional, social, and spiritual limitations; of seeing myself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
And I become a different kind of missionary.
I go through the motions of love, rather than letting love be genuine (Romans 12:9)—with God, kids, husband, and others. I can’t give the gift of being wholly “there” because my soul is emaciated. To feed others, I’m scraping out my ribs with a spoon.
I confuse “poured out” with “burned out”. I ignore Jesus’ warning, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). And with it, my marriage wilts.
Do I think Jesus was the most burned-out guy in history?
Are the best Christians the deeply-fried ones?
But that can be the gospel I convey: that God loves worn-to-the-bone Christians best. If my life’s “rhythms that restore” are sprint…sprint…sprint…fall down, I’m not walking at the 3 mph pace of Jesus.
Which is to say, I have a discernment problem. Is it possible my over-functioning, my constant “yes,” is really a form of unbelief or idolatry?
Miserably, I do not preach the Gospel to myself, nor do others, including my family, see it through me. Instead, I am what I do, or what others think of me, or what I have (popularity, control, security, comfort, a vast ministry, a following). I reject Jesus’ work and statement of my worth.
But surely it’s just me who pays the price when I run too hard. Right?
Rhythms that restore us include saying the right no’s so we can get to the right yeses.
A God-honoring life means leaving space, and enough give–a Selah of sorts–for paying attention to the God around us. To be present with him, to enjoy him.
Rhythms of grief and joy
I recently asked a counselor/acquaintance of mine about what she does for self-care. Her answer surprised me.
“I take time every day to mourn.”
This is interesting, considering God says those who mourn are blessed.
And living overseas, I’ve felt that God often calls me to mourn what isn’t right–what breaks his heart. To sit with him, even if I can’t change something.
But when I presented this idea to my husband–a member-care professional–he suggested we not only keep a rhythm of mourning, but of gratitude and joy.
I love that in both, I can sense God’s presence. I continue to find the ancient Prayer of Examen helpful in this regard. At the end of the day, the Examen is a way to reflect on your day in light of God’s presence.
mourning and Thanking: THE Prayer of Examen in modern language
1. Realize God’s presence. Quiet your heart down. Be with God, thinking about who He is.
2. Comb through what happened today. Look for places to be thankful.
3. Holy Spirit, show me truth while I pray.
4. Pray while thinking, How was God with me today?
5. Pray while thinking, How did I respond to God’s presence in my day?
6. Pray about your day, bringing it all to God.
Remembering the Image of God in You
Sure, it’s one of the most overquoted in Christendom. But remember Eric Liddel’s character in Chariots of Fire–who would become an Olympian, then a missionary?
“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
How does your heart naturally swell to (unproductive, unseen) worship?
As a parent, maybe you’ve sensed this from God’s perspective–when your kids explore how they’re made: drawing for hours, kicking a soccer goal with an ear-to-ear grin, strumming the guitar up in their rooms.
Apart from your service for him, from what you produce, how does God take pleasure in how he made you? Through rhythms that restore, how will you protect the image of God in you?
And how can you make time for it?
Maybe it’s that jog you keep putting off or taking a bath with no interruptions. You could blow the dust off your watercolors, inspired by your backyard. Maybe you want to stroll through a mall and look at pretty things.
You may well need to regularly, relentlessly schedule vacation–and perhaps more frequently than you would in the U.S. or than you might let your supporters know about, because they do not understand the pace and pressure-cooker of living overseas.
Or through a housekeeper or church member or babysitting-swap, you push open space for a regular date night or a weekly night doing something that brings you delight–like a local pottery class or playing basketball down the street.
Or mentally set a time on the clock when you’ll stop working and do something that replenishes you. And set up 5-10 minutes of space throughout your day to stop.
Because our lives don’t need to be stuffed to be full. To tip our faces toward God.
What if your happy worship of God replaced some of your work for him?
So whether you’re already overseas or just looking in that direction, take note of your rhythms–and whether you’re setting yourself up for resilience, stamina, longevity, and wholehearted service.
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Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.