When You Just Can’t Rest

When you can't rest

“Mommy syndrome.” The oral surgeon removed the tongue depressor from my mouth, and leaned back in his chair.

I stared back blankly, starting to feel offended. I’d come in for an emergency follow up after my oral surgery a week before, sure that the non-stop excruciating pain was due to an infection, or dry socket, or something that required an urgent medical intervention.

“We see this all the time,” he continued, “Your husband takes you in for your surgery, and pats himself on the back for taking a whole day off. Then the next day, he goes back to work, and you go right back to taking care of kids, working, and everything else you do. You feel fine at first, but you didn’t give your body the time it needs to heal after surgery. So three to four days later, it starts to catch up to you, and you’re in a lot more pain than you would have been if you’d rested for a couple days right away.”

Sheepishly, I smiled while blinking back tears. Not just because I knew he was right, but because  I wanted to cry at the rising panic I felt at that word, “rest.”

“You’ll have to take the time to rest now, or it will just get worse,” he continued. “Rest is the only cure.”

“Rest” meant I actually needed to take the pain medications they’d sent home with me (I hadn’t because they made me tired), take naps, work from home if I had to work at all, definitely NOT work over the weekend (like I’d planned), get help with Edison, go nowhere and do nothing all weekend … and for as long as it took to start feeling better.

I walked out to my car, disappointed and panicking. I wanted an solution for the pain – like, you know, an antibiotic. But I was the problem.

I couldn’t even blame it on my husband. In the days after my surgery, he’d often asked, “Are you sure you should be doing that right now?” “Can I get you anything else?” To which I always responded empatically, “I’m fine!”

As soon as I stepped into my kitchen, the mounting wave of panic crashed over my head as I surveyed the ever-present reminders of what I needed to do. Laundry that needed to be put in the dryer, dishes piling in the sink, that paper clutter pile on the counter filled with to-do’s, my work laptop on my desk with emails pinging away, the toys scattered on the living room floor, the half-finished craft project, the calendar reminder of a date night with my husband at 6 pm.

Rest? Do nothing? How could I, when I already wasn’t doing enough? 

I sank onto the couch and picked up a book, but I couldn’t concentrate on the pages over the whispers of the laundry and mess and to-do lists in the back of my mind – chanting the familiar refrain of “Not enough.”

You’re not working hard enough. All your co-workers are staying later than you.

You’re not creative enough. Your ideas aren’t original, it’s been said before, and better.

You’re not parenting well enough. You should spend more quality time with Edison.

You’re not a good enough wife. You should spend more quality time with your husband too, but not with Edison, and not talking about the budget or schedule.

You’re not doing enough at home. You should be able to keep up with the laundry and dishes, you’re already a failure since you pay for a house cleaner, after all.

You’re not thin enough. You need to eat healthier and work out more.

You’re not pretty enough. Maybe new clothes or make-up will fix you.

You’re not smart enough, or capable enough. You’re in over your head with this new job.

You’re not spiritual enough. After this many years, why are you still struggling to read the Bible? Why don’t you have anything insightful to add to the discussion at small group? You should be better than this.

Beneath those whispers is the darker reality of what I hope to gain by being and doing “enough”:

If I work hard enough, I’ll be respected.

If I do more at home and spend more time with Brian, I’ll always be loved and appreciated.

If I do better at parenting, I won’t be judged, and other parents will approve of me.

If I’m thin enough, pretty enough, and nice enough, I’ll be liked. 

If I’m smart and capable enough, they won’t be disappointed in me, and I won’t be embarrassed by making mistakes.

If I’m spiritual enough, I’ll be accepted.

That’s the real reason I panic at having to rest – I’m afraid I’ll never be respected, liked, accepted, and loved if I’m not enough. The truth is, I’m never going to do enough to earn those things. The more I do, the more I realize how much further I am from perfection. 

Laying in bed Saturday morning, “resting,” surrounded by books I “should” be reading to be productive and my laptop, I opened my devotional and read John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

This doesn’t feel like abundant life, Jesus. I thought.

How do we balance wanting to do our best at the callings and roles God has given us, with rest? Where is the “abundant life” in the midst of the real constraints of 24 hour days, deadlines, disappointments, and all the things that need to be done?

I think Moses could relate. When God called him to set the Israelites free from Egypt, Moses’ answer was, “They won’t believe me. They won’t listen to me. I don’t speak eloquently enough.” And finally,  “Please just send someone else!”

Moses didn’t feel like enough for this task. God didn’t explain to him that that he alone was uniquely equipped for this job – born an Israelite, but raised in the palace, he alone knew both cultures intimately. And he even had some “leadership experience” as a shepherd in the desert.

Instead, God’s answer to him is simply, “I AM.”

I AM enough, and I will be with you. 

The truth is, there’s never a point at which I’ll reach “enough” to satisfy all the external and internal critics. But that’s the gospel. It’s woven throughout the scriptures from Moses, pointing directly to the cross.

I’m not enough, but Jesus when Jesus looks at me struggling under the burdens of “not enoughs,” he says, like God did to Moses:

I made you.

I love you.

I am with you.

I am enough to fill all of your needs and the places where you’re lacking. Where you feel weak, I am strong.

You’re not, but I am.

I AM.

I’m learning to let those “not enoughs” roll off my back and into the empty tomb.  It doesn’t happen overnight – I started a load of laundry in the middle of while writing this paragraph – but when the whispers start up, I can look to Jesus, and know that he is.