Last week I quoted St. Anthony and lamented that I was not only subpar in his thinking that one should not “easily leave” the place one lives, but his advice that someone who wants to please God must always “have God before your eyes.” As a mom to two little things who demand my time and my actual all-day physical presence, I was feeling like a failure in my attempts at the contemplative life.
Then, this weekend, I was reminded again of the kind of shift I underwent during my time in San Francisco, when God saw fit to remake how I understand his heart and love for me. The reminder came in a blog post (“Practicing Wholeheartedness“) written by Chuck DeGroat, one of the pastors and the Director of the Counseling Center at our church in SF.
In it, he quotes (as I’ve heard him quote before) David Whyte’s assertion that, “the antidote to exhaustion is not rest, but wholeheartedness.” I remember when I first discovered that God actually longed for me to be healthy. Shocker! I spent my college years and young adulthood believing that God loved busyness. I never would have described it in such a way. I would have said that God was most pleased with me when I sacrificed my time. That translated into working hard and sleeping little. I was a pleaser (still am) but lived out my greatest act of please-seeking for God. I just wanted him to like me. So I signed up to lead Bible studies. I took high school girls out for coffee. I scheduled every evening with something “substantial.”
It wasn’t until I was burned out and bitter that I realized that God hadn’t done it to me, I had done it to myself. I was the one who hadn’t believed that God wanted me to be a human who slept at night. He had made me needy for rest. He had made me a person who likes to read and take naps and play. And all of those things are valuable to God, not just my sacrifices in ministry.
Last night on the phone with the hubs (Chris and I have been apart for 2 weeks. 1½ more to go!), I asked what he thinks of “wholeheartedness” as opposed to “rest.” He struggled to know the best explanation for such a concept. What he did know was from something he had learned from a Tim Keller sermon. Chris said: “God did not rest on the seventh day because he was exhausted. He rested to show us that we don’t have to be slaves to our work.”
Chuck says in another post,”what’s wrong with your pastor?” (one of his best, by the way) that his emphasis on wholeheartedness is not to say that rest is not important, but that we need to look beneath the surface of what we think rest is. It’s not a week at the beach. It’s discovering the broken thing inside: our insecurities, our built-up anxieties that rule us and form us into people who can’t stop exhausting ourselves, who can’t say no, who can’t forgive, who can’t stop striving. The opposite of wholeheartedness, Chuck says, is a divided heart. Until we begin to see the ways we are living divided, the ways we harm ourselves in our spirit, the broken places we live out of, we will not find the antidote to exhaustion.
I’m thinking about this because I reread my first post on this blog the other day. I reread it because I’ve been feeling frustrated that I set out to learn how to make the ordinary in my life at home holy. I began this blog in an attempt to discover how to live with a constant tether tugging me back to God in the midst of the rhythm of my life. I wanted to live out a new kind of solitude while still being realistic about the demands of motherhood. And, if I’m honest with myself, I wanted to teach you how to do it too.
But then I found myself writing again (last week) how much I long for real communion with God in my day, how much I desire a genuine life of solitude and reflection. And I know in my heart that it is possible that I can live out the contemplative life while raising boys, breastfeeding, and potty training.
It seems to me that what I’m missing is not the opposite of busyness but the opposite of distraction. What I admire about the monastic life is not the ease of the monks’ ceaseless prayer (the monks I’ve met would probably say ceaseless prayer hardly exists, even for them) but their lives of rhythm and awareness.
It’s not REST that I need. What I need is WHOLEHEARTEDNESS. I want to be aware of God. I want to live into him in the daily. I want to pray from a place that’s whole.