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June 2, 2009

Confessions of a Finite Follower

"How long will it be before I am better?" I asked a trusted mentor and advisor. He thought for a moment and replied, "If you are really careful, I expect you'll be somewhat recovered and almost back to normal in about eight months." I blinked in disbelief. Eight months? It was not the answer I wanted or expected. A week, a month, at most, but eight months? It didn't seem possible; he must be mistaken.

For the last three years, I had been following God's call and pursuing a doctorate degree at Talbot Theological Seminary. In addition to my full-time studies, I worked at least fifty hours a week teaching, mentoring and advising students at a neighboring university, and running my own writing and editing business. Somewhere in the midst of that crazy schedule, I still found time to spend with my husband and run or hike 30 to 40 miles a week. Each day, I woke up pulsating with energy, ready to tackle the day and the ever-growing list of to-do items in my Franklin-Covey planner. I was fueled by my passion for learning, my love for students, and my commitment to communicate God's truth in ways that would be meaningful to others.

But in the last few months, I had grown weary. I was more than exhausted; I was tired straight down to the marrow in my bones. My passion was running dry and my patience and compassion for others waned. My relationship with God suffered. I couldn't hear his voice as clearly and or sense his presence as often. Sleep did not revitalize me and the old self-renewal tricks like weekend getaways and nature hikes did not restore me.

I was frustrated. There was no time to be tired. I wanted to be better, to be well. Now. There were projects to complete, classes to teach and take, people to meet with, and exciting opportunities to follow up on. At some point, I knew I had to stop, but the drive to achieve and the pressure to perform were practically irresistible. At the core, my problem was not simply biological, it was theological. I had forgotten, or rather, ignored my own finiteness. In all my bustling activity, I blew past my own limitations.

As any perusal in the local bookshop or a quick Google search will reveal, I am not alone in this struggle. Article after article and book after book are devoted to the topic of rest and whole industries have sprung up around relaxation techniques. But I am convinced that our cure lies not in simply adjusting our schedules or modifying our behaviors. Many of us, particularly those in leadership, struggle deeply with accepting the limitations of the human body or the limitations of what can be accomplished in a minute, an hour, a day, or even a life. In order to continue to lead well and minister effectively, we must remember who we are and who God is. As Psalm 86:10 reads, "For you are great and do wondrous deeds; you alone are God."

A full year has passed since that conversation with my advisor, and I never did get "back to normal." Instead, I learned to be content with a B+ rather than A+; to be satisfied with 4.5 miles a day rather than a full 5. I let a few opportunities pass by. I accepted practically what I had always known theologically: that ultimately, I am not the leader, but a finite follower.

Related Tags: busyness, spiritual disciplines


Learn the unforced rhythms of grace...

Matthew 11:28-30

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

I hear you, Halee. I seem to have to learn over and over again that I'm a finite follower. I have had a chronic habit of confusing self-discipline and self-sacrifice for discipleship. I can't be told enough to stop and listen. Thanks for the reminder.

Dear Halee, The first thing that came to mind after reading your story was when Jesus went into the wilderness alone, to be alone with His Father and pray. It is a spiritual balancing act that you need to make in your life in order to be productive and effective for the glory of God. Even though we hunger and thirst each day to please God, it pleases Him also to rest and take time to be alone with Him to pray and to listen to Him. Taking on too much, too often takes away valuable time that we need with God. God Bless Halee, and always remember "Be still and know that I Am God".

Great article! I can't help but wonder how well developed church leadership would be if the emphasis of training was on being a "finite follower" rather than a "leader" (of multitudes, as they are trained to think in my own church.) Hmmm. . .

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