Beyond Exhausted

Thinking and Feeling Everything Is … Exhausting.

Guest Contributor / 11.10.20

This post comes to us from Sarah Denley Herrington:

I‘ve noticed something interesting lately. Remember how people used to sigh and say, “Busy,” when you’d ask how they were doing? I used to say, arrogantly, that people loved to “wear this as a badge of honor.” Now I know they say this as a cry for help. Or at least a plea for validation.

In the wake of a global pandemic and months of isolation and distancing, I begin to more often hear “exhausted” in response to the previously mentioned question. I started to notice it being used as an adjective as well: “Parenting is exhausting.” “Virtual school is exhausting.” “People ranting on Facebook are exhausting.”

A couple of years ago, I learned the term Compassion Fatigue. Being sad and in a state of overwhelm all the time, about all the things, it turns out, wears on a person. More recently, I learned the term Zoom Fatigue. Staring at a screen and using it as a replacement for most of your interpersonal interactions all the time, for all the things, it turns out, wears on a person. There’s also Decision Fatigue, which, as a very indecisive person, is one of my favorites. Having to make choices, sometimes with limited information, all the time, for all the things, it turns out, wears on a person.

Are we a culture that pathologizes everything? Probably so. Is this problematic? I’m not sure.

And? Wait for it … I’m too exhausted to try to figure it out right now. I find myself saying this quite a bit in 2020, but if I’m honest, it’s been my go-to phrase for a good while when confronted with trying to unwind my thoughts about a theology of suffering, various social issues, and many a parenting paradox.

I’m fortunate that I attend a church that not only encourages questions but is full of questioners. I’m fortunate that I have friends who are comfortable with uncertainty. I’m fortunate that I have children who extend grace to me when they realize my limitations as I struggle with not having answers to their many questions.

I read a quote months ago by author Kelly Corrigan: “I was well into my 30s before I understood that the reason my mother was so tired all the time wasn’t because she was doing so much but because she was feeling so much.” I have many thoughts on this as it relates to parenting, but it recently came to mind again as a phenomenon that’s true for everyone. Even when family activities are taken away and the schedule is whittled down to the bones, we are still an exhausted people.

I have realized that for me, taking away the “doing so much” makes space for the “feeling so much,” and that’s helpful. But it’s still a heavy weight to carry, and for many of my friends, the converse has been true. Thinking and feeling everything is … exhausting.

And there is so much to think and feel. In the last few months alone, a very superficial reading of the news would alert to you to the fact that the west is burning, there’s civil unrest in the streets, and the plague had made its way to the leader of the free world. It brings to mind another of my favorite go-to phrases (in 2020, and in life): “It’s just a lot.”

As soon as we feel like we’ve remotely got a hold on these things, there’s some sort of personal disaster on a smaller scale. There’s sibling fighting and spousal fighting and Facebook fighting — just the conflict that comes from being in a tight space (or a hostile social media platform).

I’m well aware that this “I’m too exhausted to figure it out” line may seem like one enormous cop-out to many.  But it has been a sanctifying experience in some ways. When I am less certain of my opinions and ideas, I am much more generous in my judgments and assumptions about others. And when I have to humble myself even further and admit that, in my weakness, I don’t even have the energy to wrestle with these things, I am really willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt.

But more than that, it’s been a form of surrender. Much of the work God does in life involves His gently pushing us to let go of control (or the illusion of it, as I like to say). And the need to figure everything out is just another form of control.

Recently, my pastor preached a whole sermon on exhaustion and rest. She ended it this way: “We will never get Jubilee right. … It will always have a crack. Even with the cracks, we can celebrate imperfect Jubilee because we have trust in a God who does not crack.” One of my favorite Rain for Roots songs tells us (my children and me, most nights) to “learn to rest, even when you are awake.” I usually don’t like prescriptive lyrics that boss me around and much prefer songs that talk less about us and more about God, but this one resonated.

And the way I’ve learned to rest? The way I’ve dealt with a tiny bit of my anxiety (in addition to an SSRI) is to say, “I’m too exhausted to try to figure this out right now.” In these strange times, exhaustion is perhaps a sign that the need for control can’t be sustained. A juggling act is impressive to see, but no way to live. Would it be so bad if a ball dropped? Or better — would God actually let it hit the ground?

God is probably a little bit delighted for us to realize that we do not have to have all the answers, let alone have the energy to try and find them right now. Resting — and trusting — are helping me be a tiny bit less overwhelmed in 2020. The alternative is, well, exhausting.