I’m sitting on the couch, laptop in front of me, typing so fast it sounds like a machine gun when my husband wanders into the room. He says something to me and I reply with a vague “Hmm,” which is my way of signaling, “I’m busy and being productive. Please come back later.” But he persists in his efforts to communicate with me, and I, such a kind and intentional wife, persist in mine to ignore him and carry on with my work.
I know better. I’m a licensed counselor and certified life coach. I’ve read the studies that the most powerful thing you can do to any relationship is to turn toward the person trying to connect with you, not just physically but with your heart, mind, and attention. But there’s a specific situation in which I instead act as if I have the emotional intelligence of a toad so intent on catching the next fly that all else fades to oblivion.
I make a noise as if this were true as well. My “hmm” becomes something more like “rrr,” which is entirely unintelligible and convinces Mark that the cause is lost. I’ve gone into cold-blooded reptile mode, and until I reemerge, all hope of this conversation going anywhere is lost. He wanders out of the room, and I hear the click of a remote and the television on.
Only then do I snap out of my daze and realize I’ve gone back to a place I’ve been before — a place of striving and hustle, trying too hard and working too long. I’d been at my tasks for hours, barely taking a break even to refill my coffee cup. My shoulders ache and so does my mind. I had gotten to the point where I knew I should’ve stopped hours ago, but I’d persisted.
Years ago, I often worked like this, and it took me to the brink of burnout. I wore my relationships thin. My faith felt like a burden. But I slowly learned to believe I was loved not for what I did but who I am. I learned to have boundaries with my time and energy. I learned to rest. But, occasionally, I slip back into old ways.
Psalm 127:2 says, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” I looked up the meaning of the original phrase, and “anxiously working” basically means “work that hurts.”
When God spoke the world into being, sculpted a man from clay and a woman from a rib, He made work holy and good. There is work that’s sacred and life-giving. But there is another kind of work — the kind that destroys us.
I’ve found the difference between the two is that one comes from a place of fear and another from love. When I’m working to the point of exhaustion and excluding those closest to me, it’s almost always because I feel I have something to prove or something to lose.
When I’m working from a place of knowing who I am and how much I’m loved, that I have a purpose, that all will be well no matter the result, then I’m doing work that heals. It’s part of a holy mending in my own heart, in my relationships, and even in the great big world around me.
I close my laptop. I whisper a prayer. I find my husband and rest my hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I say, “Tell me what you wanted me to hear.” Everything in me yells, “You can’t stop! You have more to do! You’re going to fail if you don’t get back at it right now.” But in this moment I choose not to heed the warnings. I listen to my husband. I listen to my truest self. I listen to the God who invites us not to labor but to love and be loved.
God, thank You for inviting us not to hustle but to hear Your voice telling us who we really are and that our worth isn’t based on anything we do. Thank You for the gift of work. When we stray from Your design for it and let fear take over, calm our anxiety and give us the courage to return to love. Amen.
For more encouragement and a life-changing tool, 15 Minutes to Your Mission Statement: 4 Exercises to Help You Discover Your Personal Strengths and Direction subscribe to Holley’s blog.
When we work from a place of knowing who we are and how much we're loved, that we have a purpose and all will be well no matter the result, then we're doing work that heals. - @holleygerth: Click To Tweet