Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tiredness is a Blessing (1 Kings 19)


Once while reflecting on all the busyness of completing assignments and preparing for exams, my mind was drawn back to a study I did on Elijah a year ago. After his great victory over the false prophets of Ahab by calling down heavenly fire, he fled when Jezebel threatened to take his life. What happened? What made him come to this – from hero to zero? I think it was simply fatigue.

At the end of 1 Kings 18, it was recorded that he outran a thunderstorm all the way back to the king’s palace in Jezreel. Now Mt Carmel is 600 meters high and the distance from Mt Carmel to Jezreel is about 42 km, the distance for the Olympic marathon. Imagine Elijah’s state as he arrives. Physically, he must have been very tired. He must have also been emotionally tired too after having dealt with the prophets of Baal. And so he runs at the first sign of trouble. That is what tiredness can do. It takes our eyes off God. It makes us forget God’s power and promises.

Do we lament this aspect of our human-ness? Do we bemoan our tiredness wishing we could accomplish more work? Do we then push our bodies and think it good to ignore our fatigue so that we can achieve more? Do we think it a blight, this frail aspect of our existence that foils our efforts to squeeze more from our limited day? I know I do sometimes. Yet as we reflect, is tiredness a bane or really a boon? I have come to think it a boon, a gift of God. If we touch a hot iron, the pain automatically moves our hand away. The pain prevents our hand from being burnt beyond repair. In the same way, fatigue prevents us from going on and on until we are burnt out. It reminds us that we are human and therefore feeble. It reminds us that there are times we need to rest. It also reminds us that our strength and achievements come from God not ourselves. It helps us to be humble and dependent on God.

Do you get worn out from the cares and stresses of your daily life? If you do, welcome to the club. The demands of earning a living, our families and sometimes the burdens of friends’ needs add up to a lot of time and energy resulting in overwork, stress and sometimes burnout.

How do we avoid burnout then? Perhaps the following may be of help to us.

• Connect with God. This is most important. If we are too busy to be alone with God, we are too busy. Just as food gives our body the energy it needs, communion with God is also food for our soul.

• Decide what's really important. Everything we meet can be urgent but not everything is important. Ask God for grace and wisdom to decide what things are important and focus on them. Our role model, Jesus focused only on doing the Father’s Will, so we should do the same.

• Ask for help. Don't be a lone ranger. I believe that God has designed people to need each other. So sometimes, more is accomplished if we share our burdens with others.

• Remember people, not programs, matter. Relationships are the key to happy living. Let us not just work and forget the people around us. Let us make time for them. Sometimes merely being together is time well spent.

Sometimes the best is to just rest. That was what God did with Elijah. He did not lecture or rebuke Elijah when he complained, preferring to just let him eat and sleep. Only after Elijah regains his strength does God give him further instructions to carry out. The lesson is very clear to us. God cannot use a tired person. If we want to be useful in our lives, we must acknowledge our fatigue as a sign to rest. God can only use a tired person who knows when to rest. May He then give us the wisdom to know it and abide in it!

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