It was about the time in college when I got mono at Urbana 2003. How I got it, I have no idea (and no, I wasn't kissing anyone!) But how I made it WORSE? That I know. I ran on adrenaline… kept going to classes, pushing myself to do one… more… thing. Because that’s what I was supposed to do, right? I knew how to overcome, and there wasn’t much that could slow me down.
But God could.
And He did.
And my trying to push through this exhaustion made the illness last for over six months.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. - Ps 23:2-3
God used this time to show me things in His Word I’d been too busy to notice before. In fact, I’d been too busy, in general. Sleepless nights, restlessness, and darkened days when all I wanted to do was sleep (my poor roommate! It’s amazing we’re still friends) gave me lots of time to think, and pray, and read, and learn. And the more I struggled to “do” – reschedule my next three years of classes at Hope, start a Spanish minor (I’d need that for missions, right?)… the more God chuckled, lovingly and knowingly, and allowed my plans to fail. Over and over. As did my energy levels. And my understanding of what living for God meant. I was too busy trying to be everything for Him that I missed the fact that He was already everything I needed. So I slowly (and oh so painfully) learned to slow down. To rest. I took time off classes, and read the Narnia series for the first time - all the way through - just to make myself stay in one place and rest. I started asking God at the beginning of the day to lead and guide my time, my directions. And He did. And often, it looked like slowing down, like listening more and doing less. It looked nothing like what I thought I was supposed to be doing for Him.
Fast forward a few years to Tanzania. I’d learned a lot, but the mission field (which is everywhere) is a tough place to accept you can’t do everything. When you’re constantly surrounded by evident needs, and you see amazing people doing incredible things every day to meet just a few of those needs… it’s hard to be ok with going home and just sitting at Jesus’ feet. Or making a good meal from scratch and getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, it’s hard to sit still at all.
And so, that first year overseas, I nearly burned out.
Come to me, all 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Mat 11:28-30
It got to the point where sometimes I wished I’d just get so sick that someone would have to send me home (from school, from the field?) so I’d be forced to rest, really rest. Because I didn’t know how to give myself permission to do so. I was fueled by guilt, by trying to match those around me (who apparently had WAAAY more stamina for teaching PLUS everything else than I did). I knew it was too much, but I didn’t know how to stop. I was filling my life with so many good things, that I had no time for rest. And apparently, that was important for sustaining. I was barely surviving, let alone thriving!
I heard God whispering, “Crystal, I called you here to teach. You’re doing that well. It’s ok if you don’t spend your evenings in outreach and Bible Studies and other “ministry.” Your ministry is to these kids… and that is enough.”
So I dropped pretty much… everything. The attempts to connect with after school ministries, the small group Bible Study from church… Everything besides teaching, dancing with middle-schoolers, and living in a tough place… which was enough. For me. I couldn’t handle any more, and, thank goodness, God didn’t expect me to. He didn’t even want me to. I was doing what He put before me- and that was enough. In fact, doing more was disobedience and sin, and it had taken its toll.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. – Mat 6:31-32
I’d trained myself from an early age to fit things into the schedule. Is there time in the day? Then fill it with good. I used to think that sleep was wasteful – that if I could survive without sleep, I could accomplish so much more! I’d long-since dropped that idea before heading overseas, thankfully. But the waking hours were still fair game to fill to the brim. Which was fine… for a day. Maybe a week. But a month? Year upon year? Teaching overseas and cooking from scratch and making sense of life in a different culture and language, moving and living with (amazing) roommates I’d never met before arriving… then spending springs and falls prepping for summer grad classes on a different continent… only to start all over again… I didn’t realize just how much wear and tear it was taking on me.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Ps 4:8
I loved it. It wasn’t always easy (following God never is) but it was without a doubt what God called me to – and I would do it again in a heartbeat. But I’d do it differently. I’d take more time to write. To enjoy sitting under a banana tree, or on the front porch taking in the Indian Ocean breeze instead of fretting that the power was out – again – just as we were getting ready to make dinner. To not worry so much about what I wasn’t doing or couldn’t do, but give thanks for the opportunities God gave me in the classroom, in the ministry He had put in front of me. To stop living in a sense of guilt, but to embrace a sense of God’s grace and the Truth that I am enough. Already. That yes, there are huge needs out there, and they need doing. But that I’m not God – and that He is.
That I am enough.