With the exception of two meetings, I spent the entirety of this past week in bed, trying to coax bananas and rice cakes into my stomach. I can't recall the last time I missed an entire week of work due to the flu, but amidst the depression and misery, I also experienced a paradoxical feeling of rest. I knew I could do nothing- because even an hour at the computer left me in a miserable stupor- so I relaxed in the sudden lack of obligations, happy to ignore the ever-present checklist of life's "to-do's."
I rarely give myself permission to ignore the checklist, because as long as I can sit upright, I assume there's work to be done, and if I don't do it, then my budget for even bananas and rice crackers will be gone. I don't care if I'm tired or my back hurts or my body decides to undergo a detoxification reaction; every day, I must work. And like every other single person in America who must not only bring home their bacon, but also cook it, too, I have a home to clean and groceries to buy, along with other obligations that leave me wondering when friends and fun will also get to be part of my existence.
Furhter complicating matters are my health challenges, which force me to ration my energy and life's activities, so managing all of the above sometimes thrusts me into survival mode, as I daily strategize how to do all of the "to do's" without massively stressing my body.
The strategizing has been a way of life for me. It's a product of reason and the system under which our society has been taught to operate. But it's also a product of the hardships I have faced growing up, and has been exacerbated by the financial difficulties that have resulted from not being able to work a full-time job for seven years. While the challenges have also caused me to depend more deeply upon God, knowing that He is providing for me is a battle whenever I stray from His presence. So at times, I push myself- to do what I'm not sure He expects me to do, but which I do, because common sense tells me people have to work if they want to eat.
God doesn't live within the confines of what we call common sense, but I'm not willing to bet I can rest on my laurels until my body feels like working, and still live in the beautiful condominium that God has provided for me.
But I'm digressing here. This past week, I gave myself permission to rest fully, when a thousand new work projects clamored for my attention. But I did so only because I had no other choice. And then I asked myself why I allowed myself to clear the "to do" list only because I was too sick to stomach anything but bananas and rice?
That ain't right.
Strategizing instead of surrendering in the Lord is one problem, but the other is that I sometimes don't have a healthy concept of what God expects of me. My workaholic tendencies leave me not knowing when I'm engaging in the addiction, and when I just need to push myself a little to put some bread on the table.
I don't work ten, or twelve, hours per day. I can't. My body decided a long time ago it wouldn't put up with that garbage anymore. When I worked for United Airlines, I sometimes put in 14-hour duty days, but when the marathon days started to become a regular occurrence, my body protested with symptoms, as if to say, "I'm not doing this anymore."
So now, I might write (my principal job) for only four to six hours a day, but those hours stretch across an entire day when I combine them with the other stuff on my "to do" list. And before I know it, the day is filled with obligations and there's little leftover for recreation or relationships- the stuff of which life is meant to be about, just as much as work.
Yet I am thankful. God has miraculously provided for all of my needs, and continues to provide. Writing is difficult, draining work, but at least I don't have to get up at 6 AM, fight traffic and put on make-up and a suit in the morning. I couldn't do it, anyway.
Fortunately, whenever I spend time in God's presence, He enables me to move out of survival mode and shun the false expectations- both of which beset me whenever I buy into the lie that I don't have time for Him or for other people, because there's just too much on the "to-do" list.
But I usually need an hour or two alone with my Lord and Savior- every day- in order to know who He is for me and that I will be provided for, broken body or not. And whenever I lie down, and ask Him for truth and peace- or for whatever it is that He knows I need- I find my strategies disintegrating and my striving abating. The answers to the "to do" list simply come, or the means to do becomes more evident, or I receive His peace about the problems for which I don't yet have solutions.
And during my time with Him, He often encourages me to do one more thing- to have a social life; something that has been denied me to some extent because I haven't felt well for so long, and am accustomed to making survival activities my priority. But surviving isn't living, and I'm slowly learning to believe that God will provide- even if I don't get enough work done because I decided to watch a movie or have dinner with a friend, instead.
Because it was for relationships that we were made, and the body doesn't heal well if the soul is lonely, sad or isolated. As others who read this blog will attest, suffering from symptoms of chronic illness can present a formidable challenge to being in relationships and being able to participate in social events with others. Yet real love transcends recreational companionship and needing friends who are always witty, happy and "with it," and survival and meaning in life come not only through our work, but through the relationships that we have with others.
When I reflect upon my "to do" list- not just my paid work, but my laundry, the dishes and the thousand and one errands that I have to do, I realize that it isn't just me or others with health problems who have too much to do. We live in a society where distractions and obligations abound and technology seems to increase the demands that are inadvertently thrust upon us. Everyone has fifteen email accounts, five thousand friends on Facebook and a million things to do besides.
Half of us live alone or are single parents, divorced or sick; - all of which increase the burden of life's responsibilities upon us, because, instead of sharing in life's duties by living in community with one another, we live alone and manage it all ourselves. Whether it's because we're single or simply like our personal space, the end result of being in such situations is often isolation, loneliness, shallow Internet relationships, and fatigue- the latter resulting from a larger "to do" list than we need to have.
I don't blame anyone for seeking companionship on the Internet. I do it at times, because I live and work alone, and on days when I'm not well enough to step outside my front door, Internet friendships help me to keep my sanity. And I love the people I have met on Facebook and in Lyme disease support groups- as far as I know them, of course. That said, a "friend" on Facebook once said to me, "You know, a lot of people really love you." (Meaning, those who read my books and blogs). I politely responded, "They don't know me. They admire me for my work and my insights, which is different."
While Internet friendships can provide a valuable source of companionship to those who are truly too sick to get out of the house, we all need face-to-face relationships with people, too. People who can hug us, squeeze our hands and smile; share meals with us, laugh with us over a comedy and share in life's responsibilities, and whose communication with us goes beyond the written word. But the Internet is replacing these types of face-to-face relationships with others. This, along with a mentality of independence- with which most of us have been raised-and the circumstances under which we live, foster a life of isolation, which I believe God never intended for His people.
I have traveled to over fifty nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, and I have observed that the happiest societies seem to be those where interdependence is not only encouraged, but is also a necessity, and daily social time with family and friends is a priority, not an option. Many of us in the United States are lucky if we share a meal with another human being on a weekly, or even monthly, basis.
There are no easy solutions for the soul accustomed to a life of relative isolation. I'm still trying to find a way out of the quandary myself. But I want to experience the fullness of life that God has for me in relationship with other people, and that means taking and making social time as much of a priority as my so-called "survival activities." And only by spending time with God am I continually reminded, that it is for relationships that we were made. Because only by being with others do we truly survive- and live life to the fullest.