Help for Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Fatigue
A two-part plan for preventing and/or recovering from the collapse
Wake Me Up on Saturday
When my wife told me to wake her up on Saturday, I knew she wasn't serious. It was Tuesday. Did she really plan to sleep for five days? Even if she gave me those wake-up instructions as a joke, there was something there that revealed a deep exhaustion. She wasn't only tired. She was fatigued.
Obviously, fatigue can be physical. Marathon runners know what happens when they “hit the wall" at mile eighteen or so. Six hours of yard work in mid-July. Driving in Atlanta rush hour traffic. A full day of shopping. There are many ways to cross the physical fatigue threshold.
However, for many of us, the fatigue we are experiencing is more than physical. It is emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Earlier this year, a high-rise condominium complex in south Florida collapsed in the middle of the night, tragically killing dozens of residents. According to inspection records, the building had been showing signs of structural fatigue and was due for renovations. While building collapse is incredibly rare, it is not as rare for humans like you and me.
It is far too common for the weight of stress, anxiety, and worry to become too great for us to bear, causing us to buckle and collapse. Not physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
This post is for those of us who are feeling the fatigue.
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An Important Biblical Principle
In Scripture, God established a particularly important principle called Sabbath that should be applied to every facet of human existence: the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional. We were designed to rest and recover from the weight of living in a fallen world as broken creatures.
The primary focus of Sabbath points us to Jesus. He is the one who does the work required for our reconciliation to a holy God as sinners. Rather than working for our own salvation, we believe upon the work of Jesus as the one who kept the law in our place and suffered the penalty we deserved for our cosmic treason against the king. But wonder of wonders, the king gives himself unto death that we may live with true Sabbath rest.
Yet there is also a very practical, real-world necessity for humans to practice Sabbath rest as it pertains to the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of our lives.
You may have seen the meme of the massive dumpster fire with the simple caption, “2020.” Enduring the most devastating pandemic the world has seen in over one hundred years would have been enough to stress each of us to our limits. But in the same year, we witnessed catastrophic natural disasters, were immersed in one of the most polarizing election seasons in recent memory, watched cities burn in the wake of protests for social justice, incorporated the phrase “cancel culture” into the lexicon of our common vocabulary, and experienced unprecedented divisiveness on social media. Amid massive cultural upheaval, there not only was conflict on a culture-wide scale but in our own homes, as these issues tore at the fabric of family and friendship.
No wonder the dumpster fire meme went viral.
It very well may be that those who have had the most onerous time are those in positions of leadership. Whether school administration, small business owners, or pastors in local churches, leaders who have had the responsibility of making decisions, responding to, and shepherding the dumpster as it burned have my deepest empathy.
Leadership is hard. No excuses there. But the degree of unrelenting criticism expressed toward leaders on their first draft at pandemic navigation has been enough to cause any leader to begin dreaming of life on a deserted island without Wi-Fi. Whether you’re in leadership or not, it is safe to say you are “feeling it.”
We know this. Jesus deeply desires for us to experience the kind of peace that comes from deep soul rest. We know this from his words in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Just before his crucifixion, Jesus encouraged his disciples in John 14:27, saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Yes, God wants us to have the deep soul rest that is experienced when we receive peace from God, a peace that is both objective and subjective.
Objective and Subjective Peace
Objective peace is peace with God. Paul speaks of this in Romans 5:1-2,
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand."
This peace has nothing to do with our feelings or emotions. It is the kind of peace that is established between two nations who’ve been at war. It is a legal peace, whereby sinners are reconciled to God in such a way that we no longer fear the punishment our sins deserve because Jesus has already received that penalty through his propitiatory death. Having satisfied the demands of the law, we who trust Jesus as our sin-bearer have an objective peace with God.
The proposition with is important because there is also a subjective, though no less real, peace that we experience when our lives are tethered to the cross. This is the peace of God — peace that very much applies to our feelings and emotions as we trust Jesus in our storms the same way he trusted the Father through his.
Paul speaks of this subjective, existential, circumstantial peace in Philippians 4:6-7,
“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We know that the objective peace with God is received through faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf. But how do we enter this second kind of peace — the peace of God?
The short answer is that we experience the peace of God in the same way. We trust God through faith as a sovereign Father who loves us so much that he would put his only son through the torment of hell for us to possess heaven, where we will experience eternity in an atmosphere characterized as “the fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Christians are the beloved, adopted sons and daughters of God — a God who is working in all things for our ultimate good (see Romans 8). As sons and daughters, those who receive peace with God are entitled to the peace of God.
Receiving the Two Imperatives as Gifts
The Lord himself gives us a clear guide for how to practically experience the peace of God. We find this in Psalm 46:10, where we read, “Be still and know that I am God.”
There are two imperatives to the process: be still and know. But don’t take these two imperatives as a law-laden burden. Remember, Jesus wants us to unload our burdens. In 1 Peter 5:7, we read, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Jesus desires to give rest to the weary.
Therefore, I want you to see the imperatives “be still” and “know” as gifts. Because we are so steeped in legalism by nature, any kind of imperative, “command” language sounds legal, as if we are being called to fulfill a duty. But just the opposite is true.
In these imperatives, we are being presented with an opportunity. Can you imagine living a life of rest and peace? What if you didn’t have to worry? What if the structural pressure on your heart and soul were lifted?
I know it is hard to imagine. But the possibility is held out for us in Psalm 40:10. The challenge is for us to take the next steps.
I call this a challenge in view of my own experience because I find it hard to be still. Not only physically still but especially mentally still. If this passage is calling us to a state of distraction-free focus (which it is), the challenge is not merely to still my body but to still my mind and heart.
But there are so many distractions! My mind is filled with worries and random, drifting thoughts. Mentally, I wander to my calendar. Then a compulsion leads me to open my email. While I'm there, might as well check Facebook and Twitter. I wonder what's happening in the news. Thankfully, I do not have TikTok. Otherwise, I would be utterly ruined.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that we live in an excessively distracted age. None of us needs convincing. I am asking myself if it's even possible to be still? Whatever internal and external distractions there are, the gift God offers in this small text is enough to make me want to fight for that stillness.
As I’ve reflected on the fight, I’ve compiled a few thoughts that might be helpful. By the way, when it comes to the length of “still and quiet” we are talking about, some of us may need to detox from distraction little by little. In other words, don’t expect to sit in undistracted stillness of mind for an hour. Some of us may need to begin with a commitment to sixty seconds.
Whichever period of time you choose as a goal, here are some suggestions for the first imperative. Then we'll look briefly at the second imperative.
Find a quiet place where you can be still. While a chair in the den, in the kitchen, or on the back porch might be an obvious and sensible place to be still, you can be still anywhere. It may be lying in bed or even going for a walk. Okay, going for a walk isn't technically being still. However, the idea is not merely physical stillness. It is a stillness of soul, of heart, and of mind.
No brainer, common sense alert: turn your phone on silent mode and place it in a separate room. Turn off the TV. Close your laptop. Put away the tablet. Duh.
This one might be new. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Inhale as deeply as possible followed by as long an exhale as you are able. Don’t shortchange the five. Get five quality breaths in and out. Not four or three. Count down from five to one.
Now that we are relaxed, still, and quiet, I want to set you at ease with a reminder that we are not practicing a form of new-age mysticism. The goal of Eastern meditation is to empty the mind. Christian meditation is quite the opposite. The goal for the believer is not to empty the mind but to fill the mind with the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of God’s truth and grace — things that will allow us to be gripped by and stilled with his peace.
The text of Psalm 40:10 does not go into detail, except to say that what we are to know at the most fundamental level is that the Lord is God. This means I’m not God. Neither are you.
This is incredibly liberating news. If I were at the airport awaiting a flight and told that I was now responsible to fly the Airbus from Chicago to Paris, I would be overwhelmed with a crushing burden. I can hardly fly a kite much less a plane. That expectation would be exponentially beyond my ability.
The place to begin the process of receiving the peace of God is simply to know that I am not God. I am not omniscient. I am not omnipresent. I am not omnipotent. I am not responsible for Covid, politics, financial crises, unpleasant people on Facebook, or anything else in the dumpster fire.
In a word, I am not sovereign. The good news is that my Father in heaven is sovereign. He can fly the plane. My job is just to get on board.
I wonder how much peace could be experienced in my life if I would get out of the cockpit, take my seat, and let him fly the plane.
Verse 10 of Psalm 46 has a context that shows us the depth and extent of peace that is available. The preceding verses proclaim this with extraordinary hope, stating,
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
From natural disasters to national calamity, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.”
Translation: peace is possible in the worst of circumstances.
The final lines of the Psalm are equally as relevant, showing us that through all the trial and tribulation, the Kingdom purposes of the Lord will be fulfilled. Even amidst the evil, God is working for good, as the Sons of Korah record the words of the Lord, saying,
“10b I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” 11The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
It is not that the Lord might be or hopefully will be exalted. He will be. The Lord is not merely strong and able to guide history according to a sovereign plan, he is “Almighty” — the God of all might, total authority, and complete control.
Be still so you can focus, be reminded, and know — tethering your mind and heart to the strong truth of God’s sovereign care.
The Peace of God Begins by Having Peace with God
When we are convinced of these things, peace will descend, and we will be able to rest like a babe through the storm — just like Jesus in the boat when the disciples thought they were about to die. Do you remember that scene? The disciples wouldn’t die. But Jesus would. And for them.
This is why the peace of God begins by having peace with God. It is this peace that gives us several other important things to know and upon which to meditate.
In closing, I will mention just four. With Jesus as your sin-bearer and righteousness provider:
You are fully and unreservedly forgiven. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. No stain remains.
You are perfectly righteous in the Father's eyes. Jesus has borne the rags of your sin upon a cross so that you can be clothed in and credited with his moral record.
You are a dearly loved adopted son or daughter. You’re not merely tolerated. You are treasured. This is who you are in the Father’s eyes.
You are indwelt by the Spirit of God and empowered to love well and face every challenge in his strength rather than your own.
So, when you start “feeling it,” be still and know this. Feel this. He is God and you are his.