There it was again, the familiar haunting voice in my mind: “You’re not doing enough. You’ve got to do more . . . more . . . more!” Those words summarize the paradigm I’ve lived with most of my life. A few months ago my doctor referred me to a physical therapist because of headaches and back pain. In response to my stated goals for treatment, the therapist asked me, “Why do you think that being stronger and having less pain and having more functional hours—so you are able to do more—would solve most of your problems?”
“Who wouldn’t want less pain and more functional hours?” I retorted.
But his question was thought-provoking to the max. I realized that my treatment goals were like saying, “if only I had 28 hours a day instead of 24, then maybe I could get everything done I need to . . . and then I’d be happy!”
Did I really think my happiness (or level of righteousness) depended on getting a certain amount done? Is my well-being dependent on my physical ability to stack up just one more accomplishment? Is quantity what life is all about—how much I can get done? Quantity is all about externals, but what matters even more is what is happening inside.
Why do I keep focusing on being able to “do” more? The progress I truly seek is internal: I want a quiet heart, I want to come from a place of charity instead of judgment, I want to learn to give no credence to natural man thoughts that cause stress. I want to really hear the Spirit and follow it . . . and I want to rest.
How I agree with Psalm 55:6: “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” But I want the right kind of rest—the rest of the Lord.
The false belief that I can’t rest because my worth depends on constantly DO-ING keeps me from experiencing the rest of the Lord. I know that God is not a demanding taskmaster and that He doesn’t judge us on the sheer quantity of good acts we can perform. Yet old core beliefs die hard!
Whenever I focus on “doing” instead of “being” I’m still buying into the idea that my worth depends on how much I can accomplish! And yet that paradigm has never worked for me! I’ve never felt more “worthy” or of greater value because of an accomplishment. In fact, I’m more likely to feel uncomfortable because I’m really not “that good.” Sometimes I worry that people might conclude from the accomplishment that I’m better than I am. And there is always the lurking temptation of pride:
Sometimes I want to do more to look better. Is that why I always want to be the one serving instead of being served? Do I still have the need to show how strong and good I am? Do I still have something to prove because deep down I’m not sure of my worth? When I’m scurrying around “doing” too much, when I’m compulsive, I’m likely to ignore the still small voice that tells me that worth is not something you earn. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). The worth of our souls is great because we are children of God. Period.
In addition, am I forgetting that we all must take turns serving and being served? Sometimes I need to remember that no one would have the blessings of serving if another person didn’t need service and show their willingness to receive it.
Perspectives from Those Whose “Do-ing Is Severely Limited
One of my recent articles for Meridian was based on Psalm 23. I called it “When You are ’Made’ to Lie Down in Green Pastures.” I have received permission to share a couple of replies to that article that shine light on the subject at hand.
A Meridian reader named Roberta responded :
“I’ve been made to lie down now for close to 7 years with an illness [that has left me] unable to function as I used to. People think I am inactive in church. Perhaps I am if you consider that before, I never missed a Sunday or the opportunity to bear my testimony, and to do every calling that was offered (sometimes many at once), and attend the temple at every opportunity. Then one day, it stopped. I had to quit my manager’s job, stop attending church and stop helping my family and extended family. I could not drive, or think or do, but not once did the Lord leave me, and I have hung on to Him for dear life.
“I’m being slowly reprogrammed to allow others to serve me, to give them the opportunity to be a leader, to know how that feels. I say slowly because it is hard to give up being the one who thought she could do it all. I am learning to follow, and see that there are a million ways to do things, and a million people to do them, not just one. Learning to say ’Thy will be done’ and mean it is sometimes very hard. Allowing people to love me for me, rather than buying their love with what I can do for them is humbling to say the least.
“I am learning to ’be still’ and see that my cup does ’runneth over’ without me thinking it was me that was filling it. It may take a while longer to learn that I am of worth just because ’I am.’ I do not like the humble pie of my illness at all. I don’t like the limitations and not being about to ’do.’
“My cat Yoda has taught me more about being happy doing less than anything else. He spends most of the time snoozing, yet he manages to light up my life by following me around the house and snoring in whatever room I am in. He just does what kitties do and I love him. There is a lesson in that I think. I don’t know the Lord’s timetable, but I do know I am changing, and that is a very good thing.”
Roberta concludes, “We need to wake up and see that the gospel is not a curriculum, nor a weekly commitment, a meeting, a calling or for just a special few. It should not be used as a tool for guilt, control or manipulation. The gospel to me is the constant personal relationship with God (Heavenly Parents, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, etc.) to make life easier here, and to help me get to the place I’m headed next.”
Debbie Avila, who has muscular dystrophy and has been bedfast on a respirator for decades, responded to the same 23rd Psalm article (linked above):
“I love the fact that we are as lambs, that we can’t drink from rushing waters but need to be fed, nurtured, watched over by the Savior—whether by Him personally or another on His errand. Whether our needs are physical or spiritual, we aren’t meant to do it alone. Even Jesus needed help (in Gethsemane) and was sent an angel! We are asked to pattern our lives after His. We need to be conscious of anything that creates [instead of still waters] rapids or a whirlwind or hurry-up attitude within or outside of our lives which will, in time, drown us.
I get caught in such currents when there are countless demands on me, especially if it involves my health. Many times I just stop cold and turn to God, trusting He will provide the right person, moment, phone call, idea, impression, shelter–enough to meet my current need if I choose to stay centered. He has come through 100 percent. . . .
“Yes, we are counseled to be as self-reliant as possible and use all resources the Lord has blessed us with to serve others. He wants us to have the opportunities to develop and grow into the measure of our creation. I’m very self-reliant over my particular stewardships; however, my physical needs help me keep that independence in proper balance, or pride would step in.
“In a sense, Jesus was a beggar who depended on others. He never owned a home. He literally gave everyone around him the chance to open up their hearts and house to meet his needs, though he could’ve just snapped His fingers and had a mansion! But no, he taught (as King Benjamin says) that we are all beggars, in one way or another; nobody was asked or designed, commanded or expected to do it on their own. I highly doubt Jesus felt guilt for being provided food and lodging at other people’s homes! He freely gave what he had and so can we! I give what I have and my friends heal my soul’s hunger, my mind’s stress, as well as care for my physical needs. My primary need was to be able to humbly welcome others to use their gifts, time, abilities to help me. I’ve taken Jesus’ injunction ’Ask, seek and knock’ not only in prayer, but have applied it toward my temporal needs, and so far it’s a plan that has worked for me through the God’s grace.”
The Problem Is Widespread
It seems that the underlying reason so many of us get into the pattern of doing too much is that we really believe God requires it. And it is not just in our Mormon culture that the problem exists. In his breakthrough new book Love Wins, controversial pastor Rob Bell says he has sat with many Christian leaders over the years who are “burned out, washed up, fried, whose marriages are barely hanging on, who haven’t taken a vacation in forever.” He says that, like the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable, they see themselves as slaving all these years, doing and believing all the right things, but bitter because they feel God has let them down. All their striving hasn’t delivered the full life they expected and they are quietly suffering.
Bell suggests that part of the problem is that they have picked up the toxic notion that God is a slave driver, when of course He’s not! He says a quiet resentment can creep in if a person believes they’re sacrificing so much for God while others get off easy. This attitude, he explains, keeps them from wanting to share the good news of the gospel because it isn’t working for them.1 I had to reflect a bit on that, because I remember more than once thinking that I wasn’t sure I could wholeheartedly recommend my exhausting way of life to others.
The Big Picture: Scriptural Guidelines
Whenever we are tempted to believe the voices in our heads that tempt us to overdo instead of stay in our place of peace we can turn to the scriptures. Stan Winchester said, ”Many times when I feel overwhelmed, I repeat the words of Jesus, when he said, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). These words have such a calming effect on me: my breathing steadies, my heart rate slows, and I feel at peace. Sometimes I need to say it more than once, and with each iteration the calming effect increases until I feel His peace.”
The scriptures are always the best source of truth, so I frequently turn to them for a correct perspective of what the Lord really expects and what He promises His disciples.
In Matthew 11:28 we read, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Not a trace of a slave-driving God in that scripture. But what about Alma 37:34? “Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.”
Can we yoke ourselves to the Lord in practical ways? Can we really learn what it means to lean on the Lord and not try to take too much on ourselves? Can we avoid being weary of good works by following the voice of the Spirit? Is it possible to have the Spirit lead us to overwhelm and exhaustion? (Well, maybe exhaustion in extreme circumstances—think of the Pioneers. But even then, leaning on the Lord gave them uncanny strength in many difficult situations.) When we slow our pace and take time to listen, really listen, does the Spirit help us sort out what is really our spiritual stewardship from what may be driven by the need to look good and earn points?
I think about our modern prophets. They are diligent and valiant in the work of the Lord, and they carry heavy burdens of responsibility, yet because they are yoked with the Lord, their burden is light. (And they don’t keep their “bow” strung every moment. Remember the Joseph Smith quote about that?) Our modern prophets even take a little time for good old-fashioned fun! I must admit that I was intrigued (and surprised) when President Monson shared his love of good musicals, and thought, “good for him.”
What “rest to our souls” means to me is that with the Spirit to guide us, we know what is truly our stewardship. It means that when it is time to rest we can do so with a calm mind and be refreshed. Rest in our souls makes it possible to receive deep rest to our bodies and minds when we need it. Exodus 33:14 tells us the very key to real rest—the assurance that the Lord is with us: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
What Keeps Us from the Rest of the Lord?
Scriptures also warn us that unbelief and resisting the Spirit keep us from the rest of the Lord: Hebrews 3:18-19 states “And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.” Doctrine and Covenants 108:2 says, “Therefore, let your soul be at rest concerning your spiritual standing, and resist no more my voice.
More Keys to the Right Kind of Rest
Here are two scripture-based keys to rest of the soul:
1. Hope: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.” This message is repeated in slightly different words in Acts 2:26: “Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope.
2. Believing the Lord: ”And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest” (Enos 1:17).
So, whether we are talking about rest to the body or the soul, we can be sure that the Lord gives us permission and guidelines. I don’t believe the Lord is frowning when I spend time playing with my grandchildren. I don’t think for a minute that he begrudges me the pleasant minutes I spend swinging in my hammock in the backyard, watching the leaves flutter in the trees and the fluffy white clouds move across the blue sky. In that peaceful setting I have received some of my best ah hahs and spiritual guidance! Our God is not a stern taskmaster! He is a shepherd who leads us to green pastures and restores our souls. He is a Lord of strength who invites us to share His yoke, and assures us that because He carries most of the load, the burden will be light.
1 (Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2011, 180-82.)
Note: Darla has been a professional writer for almost four decades. She has written a regular column for Meridian since 2002. To learn more about Darla and her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, visit her website: darlaisackson.com