Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Overload Syndrome

It's frequently said that Americans don't get (or take) enough vacation time, that we've forgotten what it's like to just relax. Even forcing ourselves to leave the workplace often doesn't help. I've just finished a three-week "break" and feel as stressed as ever--that time "off" included a family funeral; two crowded airplane flights; too much sightseeing in too little time; a doctor's appointment; a badly timed project deadline made worse by a shortage of research sources (that project is still unfinished, and prayers are appreciated); and, worst of all, a never-ending flood of e-mails (most of them pure junk) and a mailbox that won't let me ignore it four days before it fills up and starts rejecting new messages.

One survey reported that half of U. S. executives skip their vacations entirely to "get caught up on increased workloads." Probably the majority of the other half spend their "vacations" telecommuting. There's no place to hide from bosses or clients anymore; even on cruise ships and wilderness hikes, we see people discussing mergers by cell phone or pounding away at laptop computers. (You can always tell those who are conversing or Web surfing for business from those who are doing it for pleasure; the former are the ones whose fingers and lips move at hyperspeed and who have upward bends in their brows instead of their mouths.)

And all our attempts to "catch up" with the success we're chasing only seem to prove the quote from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

The place we really want to "get to" is the point where all stress and worry disappears; and human logic says that will be our reward when we finish all our responsibilities. Sad to say, human logic is part of fallen human nature. If we prefer Scripture as an example for our thinking, we can only expect to reach that cherished point of pure rest when ready to depart for Heaven (e. g., Paul in 2 Tim. 4:6-8); and yet, it would be not only unhealthy but sinful to refuse to stop until then. When Jesus made His famous offer, "Come to me, all you 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" (Mt. 11:28-30), He didn't say, "You'll never have to work again" or "You'll never be tempted to stress again." He offers rest on His terms: the freedom to take breaks before everything is finished; the freedom to do His work rather than being enslaved by the demands of the world or our own lusts and pride. The bad news, to human thinking, is that we have to give up our presumed right to do and get what we want. Say "yes" to God's offer, and you may learn the hard way that His definition of "rest" doesn't always extend to the physical, and that "every decent person is entitled to a long and happy life" is not one of His inviolable rules.

Still, most people who do accept His offer say they wouldn't have chosen differently for anything.

My mind is a whirl of confusion;
My brain jumps from thought into thought.
My life has a million priorities--
With all of them coming to naught.

My brain always dwells in the future:
Try get it to work on one task!
There's so much that I could be doing,
So much that this world has to ask.

I'd love to get everything finished
Within the brief span of a day,
Then sit back and rest for a lifetime--
If only the world worked that way!

The books and the chores and the travel,
Each option that's under the sun:
Of all of the times to be born in,
Lord, why this insane, cluttered one?

But wait: I can hear His voice speaking:
"The stressful life only was new
When Adam was cast from the Garden;
Sin's weight passed from him down to you.

"Each life has its burdens and clutter;
Remember, it never was meant
For this world to be your soul's mansion,
Or make you completely content.

"Your true home is waiting in Heaven;
But even today, I give rest
If you will let Me take your burden
And set you the chores that are best.

"My task is the one that is easy;
My load is the one that is light.
So cast out this world's expectations
And find in Me purest delight!"

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