Charlie's Blog: The Twilight Zone of Sheer Exhaustion


The Twilight Zone of Sheer Exhaustion

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep.

Jesus was a man who burned the candle at both ends. This is an insight I come across again and again in my reading of the Gospels. The popular notion of Jesus is that He engaged in some sort of relaxing pastoral ministry walking gently through the countryside and preaching sermons from hilltops. The reality is that He was a man who was mobbed by a crowd of desperate people longing for physical healing and words of hope in a world dominated by a brutal empire that left corpses to rot on crucifixes to instill fear in the populace. And Jesus did all that He could to deliver. He spent Himself daily ministering to these people. He poured Himself out. He was so thronged that He had to labor to get away from people, so that He could pray. When we get to the story of the storm and the boat, we see Jesus dead from exhaustion lying asleep in a storm that terrified His disciples. How could He sleep at a time like that? The answer is simple. He was exhausted.

I contemplate exhaustion often. This is because I am exhausted often. Some people may find exhaustion to be a negative, but I do not. Exhaustion is your friend. It has a double blessing. The first is that it allows you to sleep well when you actually find time to sleep. It doesn't matter where you are even if it is the stern of a boat in a stormy sea. A few idle moments is all that it takes for lights outs.

The second blessing of exhaustion is that it lets you know that you are living life fully. When I am lazy, I have regret, but I have no regrets when I am living in the twilight zone of sheer exhaustion. Exhaustion lets you know that you are doing all that you can humanly do. In the race of life, you want to cross the finish line on fumes. Leave nothing in the tank.

The disciples of Jesus learned this and lived this lesson of exhaustion. Jesus commissioned them with the same healing gifts and message that He had and sent them out to do what He did. I suspect that these disciples were thronged by the same crowds that followed Jesus. By the time you come to the episode of Gethsemane, you get this:
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays Me is at hand!” 
It is easy to jump all over the disciples for their failure to watch and pray at this crucial hour, but I tend to cut them a lot of slack. Most readers see them as lazy, but I see them as exhausted. If you have ever fell asleep while praying the rosary, then you know what these disciples were dealing with. But considering the hindsight of these disciples and the Gospel writers, they obviously lamented this failure to watch with our Lord. With the death and resurrection of our Lord and Pentecost behind them, these disciples would go on to be veritable workaholics for the Lord. I love these words from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:27,  "I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." What did St. Paul do during those sleepless nights? He prayed, of course.

I love the example of St. Paul's life as a model of living. He was an apostle working fervently to spread the faith among the Gentiles. He had a life of the mind as evidenced by his erudition and his many letters. But he was also blue collar making tents to support himself and not be a burden upon his faithful flock. Now, anyone can work, but who works so he can do other work? This is what St. Paul did. He poured himself out as a living sacrifice. His was a life definitely lived in the twilight zone of sheer exhaustion.

People fear exhaustion. This is why they avoid work except that which is necessary. But I like to remind myself and others that work is not the curse. Frustration is the curse. It is when you till the soil and it yields weeds instead of crops that you want to give it up. But one of the blessings of the advent of the Messiah is the removal of that curse of frustration found in Genesis 3:18. Yes, the ground still yields thorns and thistles. Your car may not start in the morning. That term paper you spent all night writing might be lost in a computer crash. But when Jesus lets his disciples fish all night to catch nothing then blesses them with an abundant haul of fish in the morning, He removed that curse of frustration. We may not always see the fruits of our labors for the Kingdom of God in this life, but that work will not be frustrated. It will not be for nought.

Frustration is our number one reason for not endeavoring in a project. No one wants to waste their time, money, and energy on things that are not profitable. Yet, when people find something profitable, they will pour themselves into it wholeheartedly working to the point of utter fatigue and exhaustion. Many are the tales of artists and entrepreneurs pouring themselves out for things that are here today and gone tomorrow. If such persons can give so much to the chaff, should we not give as much or more for the sake of the wheat?

The well rested life of leisure is a life without faith. Faith is the difference between a sleepy headed disciple and a workaholic apostle. We would do well to remember the words of our Lord in Luke 10:2, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Jesus call us to work. We are to pray for workers but also become workers. This is the work of apostolate. We are to do it, to do it well, to do it vigorously, and to do it to the point of exhaustion. How do I know this? Because Jesus and His apostles did this.

If frustration is one excuse for not working, the other popular excuse is specialization. Specialization is the belief that the work should be done but not by me. Lazy people at my work like to reply, "That is not in my job description." This is a cop out and a way to shirk duty. People are quite adept at finding themselves out of doing work than doing work. In time, they are out of work completely and on the unemployment line. Similarly, Jesus gives more work to those faithful in their duties but takes away work from the faithless. This is the parable of the talents. St. Paul could have rested in his specialization as an apostle, but he still made those tents.

Saints are workaholics for the Lord. Of course, this workaholism is tempered by worship and leisure. St. Paul wrote eloquently,
. . .I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 
There is nothing wrong with taking leisure and rest. Obviously, Jesus enjoyed leisure and rest. God commands us to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. If God can take a break, we can, too. But I think an important point needs to be remembered about rest. It is something earned. Rest is not a lifestyle. It is a respite from labor. And the best rest is the rest that is earned.

Sleep is better at the end of a day of work. Food tastes better after working up an appetite from labor and exercise. And a cold beer is simply awesome after a hot day in the field. I think this is what St. Paul was getting at with his words on contentment in circumstances. In our time of extremes, we opt for one polar extreme or the other. Then, people tell us to find "balance" which is never balance. The true way is syzygy. Embrace both polar opposites. Work hard and sleep well. As hard as St. Paul worked, I see him taking a nap once in awhile or enjoying a nice cup of wine with friends.

These are the lessons I have learned in the twilight zone of sheer exhaustion. The happiest times of my life have been the ones when I have worked the hardest. There is no joy in idleness. And when the Lord returns, may He catch us working instead of loafing. And may He catch us happy in our labor because work is happiness.

We have reminded Christians of the wonderful words of Genesis which tell us that God created man so that he might work, and we have concentrated on the example of Christ, who spent most of His life on earth working as a craftsman in a village. We love human work which He chose as His state in life, which He cultivated and sanctified. We see in work, in men’s noble creative toil, not only one of the highest human values, an indispensable means to social progress and to greater justice in the relations between men, but also a sign of God’s Love for His creatures, and of men’s love for each other and for God: we see in work a means of perfection, a way to sanctity.
Hence, the sole objective of Opus Dei has always been to see to it that there be men and women of all races and social conditions who endeavour to love and to serve God and the rest of mankind in and through their ordinary work, in the midst of the realities and interests of the world.