Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

Day 4: Repentance redefined: Giving up exhaustion and opening to change

“exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth and change”

We had been meeting for about two years when my directee said to me: “You know the most helpful thing you’ve said to me since we’ve been meeting is

“God is not in favor of exhaustion.””

As a woman who struggles with over-work, conversation about balance and spiritual practice were a large part of our conversations together.  But it wasn’t until we began to talk about the theology behind  exhaustion that change began to happen. What does chronic exhaustion say about what I believe about God?

Many of us have heard it time and time again:  “You have to lose your life to save it.”

Jesus said that or something similar repeatedly in Scripture.  I grew up hearing that those words meant that I was to work until I could work no more, sacrifice until I was depleted, and then I would be deemed as faithful and transformed by that exhaustion.

But in my life, that view made less and less sense. I found that it just wasn’t working.  I was just exhausted.  And exhaustion was not fertile soil for growth, change, or anything that looked like love, joy, or peace.

And then I read three words that came just before one of those statements by Jesus:

Remember Lot’s wife.

Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

When I went back to Lot’s wife’s story , what I saw was a woman who died because she was afraid to change. She was called to flee from the city to the mountains, told by angels no less, and turned back to her old life instead.

Change is hard. Really hard. Even good, freeing, soul-satisfying wonderful change is hard.

Even change that leaves behind exhaustion is a challenge.

 Or change that reconnects us to family.

 Or change that lets us shine in our giftedness.

If you’ve followed this blog this lent, my hope is that you have experienced that non-traditional upside down redefined repentance is bringing light and joy and freedom to your soul…. that freedom to connect in messiness, to speak and to stand tall is producing the fruit of God’s spirit.  Counter-intuitively, at the same time, I trust that it has been hard. Actually even more difficult than if I had asked you to give up chocolate or facebook or a lot of your hard-earned money.

As women, an invitation to more sacrifice can deepen our ruts of caring for others and is often not helpful.

 Self-care challenges those ruts, and sometimes even our theology.

As Brother Vryhof writes in today’s version of Brother Give Us a Word,

 We may be afraid to be totally and unconditionally loved by God. What would it mean for us to begin to see ourselves – and to live – as beloved children of God? What image of myself might I have to let go of in order to embrace this new identity?

– Br. David Vryhof
, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Letting go of old beliefs and patterns is hard, even if those old patterns are destructive forces in our lives.

How would your life change if you really believed that God is not in favor of exhaustion?

One of the changes I am opening to presently is the delight of being welcomed into our daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter’s life. My parents and I always struggled to connect. I am sure it was a co-created reality that we never managed to get past.  There was no estrangement; simply little connection. So, though I worked and hoped that that same distance would not be true with my own children, a part of me fell into that rut and never expected anything different.

But it is different.  In fact, we are going to our daughter’s house this evening to witness Georgia eating sweet potatoes for the first time. If recent history is a predictor of the future, it will be wonderfully enthusiastic, impossibly messy, great fun. To say “yes” to the invitation to go and make room in my life for such joy is what it means right now for me to lose my life (the distance I experienced and expected) to save it (to be transformed by the love of God in the form of a 6 month old and sweet potatoes.)

Who knew repentance could be such fun?… I promise I will share the pictures!








“M” is for mystery and for mystic
Being prayer
Re-imagining the Trinity
Welcome back
  • Gail Showalter

    It’s letting go and opening up, isn’t it? Allowing the newness, the unexpected to wash over us. I love that we walk a path not knowing the surprise around the next curve.
    Thanks, Janet, for your wonderful insights.

    • Janet Davis

      Gail, I think you are so wise in noticing it’s not just letting go, it’s also opening… because, as Jesus taught about the demons, something new needs to fill where the “demons” were or they will come back! So, often though, we do not recognize how hard it is to open to that something new. Thanks for your wisdom!

  • Lori Wenner

    Reading your blog is part of my practice of deepening spirituality this Lent. Your challenge to give up the old practices hits me with my reluctance to trust and believe. I recently tried your suggestion to commit for five days to trying something new–in believing and trusting in a recent new relationship in my life and it has reaped great rewards not only in the relationship but in other areas of my life.
    I am so enjoying your pictures of your beautiful granddaughter and I am looking forward to more in the future.

    • Janet Davis

      It’s amazing how challenging simple trust can be, isn’t it? Thanks so much for taking the time to add your voice to the conversation…

  • Mary Gemmill

    Your struggle mirrors mine and countless numbers of women in our generation, I’m sure.
    My maxim used to be John Wesley’s, and it got me into so much exhaustion and burn out!
    “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

    Thank you for addressing such mind-sets and for your helpful articles on self-compassion- that are such a blessing to me as I strive to live a more balanced and healthier life!

    • Janet Davis

      I think it’s interesting that perhaps that mantra worked, brought health to John Wesley because men tend to be, not all but many, more inherently self focused. If that’s the case, those words brought him balance. They just send most women into the pit of overload and exhaustion! I am grateful that you are seeing a new way!

  • Mary Gemmill

    good point Janet~! I hadn’t thought of it as a man/woman thing.

    I used to have another mantra on my bedroom wall that did untold damage to me [ not all healed, praise God!] It went something like:
    Laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone
    meaining: When you are happy, people will want to be around you and share your happiness, but when you are sad, people will avoid you
    My new mantra is: It’s ok to tell certain trusted friends the truth about what is going on, but be wise in who you share the deeper things of life with.