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Sarah Is Not Tired: The Freedom of Simplicity

Image: R.F. Studios

One of my favorite things about Facebook is the “memories” feature. I’ve been on Facebook since 2008, back when my 16 and 17-year-olds were just one and two years old. Some of the memories are forgotten jewels in a long-lost treasure chest of my own fallible memory, while others are just plain hilarious. 

No one needed to know that “Sarah… is tired,” but guess what? Back in 2008, that was probably the status update I shared most often.

This trend began long before the social media revolution. Our family’s motto is “Fugmans are hard workers.” (That’s my maiden name.) I was, and still am, to some degree, driven by performance. 

Sleep-deprived and stressed out, I spent most of my first semester of college in 2000 sick and obsessed with my grades. God started to chisel away at my false god of productivity in 2001, when I went to Australia. The people in Australia (and my boyfriend at the time) did their best to supplant “Fugmans are hard workers” with “No worries, mate!” which helped me chill out (a little), and take my life less seriously (kind of).

But some idols are especially hard to break.

At the start of the New Year, many of my memories included links to my blog, where I’ve recorded resolutions every year for over a decade. In 2013, the first resolution on my list was ”maintain sanity.” The title of the blog post was “Walk Instead of Run.” Here’s a short excerpt:

In 2013, I think my number one resolution is to walk instead of run. I am tired of running all of the time. There has to be a way to slow down. I am so good at busy, so good at “entering a busy season,” that stopping or just braking for a minute seems impossible. Of course, I am already defeating myself in this area, since next Monday I will start classes toward my master’s. hahahahaha

That year was the year I really strapped in, buckled up, hunkered down, and worked hard to stop working so hard.

Nope. That isn’t at all how it went, not at all, not one bit. I’m pretty sure in 2013 I had a mental breakdown. 

But I started my master’s degree! I worked a full-time job! I published things! 

If slowing down in 2013 was my primary resolution, I failed miserably. In fact, I “entered a busy season” every season for the next 28 seasons, all the way up until 2020. On the eve of that fateful year, I wrote on my blog, “I’ve sensed with some anxiety a quiet, nudging voice suggesting that maybe I should prepare myself to make space… for what, I don’t know. Maybe space to breathe… Space to stare at fish in a tank and reflect on what it means to stop being so busy and just be.” 

And then a global pandemic pressed on the universal brakes and forced everyone to stop entering busy seasons.

My global pandemic came with a side dish of long COVID, which stripped away my cognitive ability to be a hard worker. I have taken so much pride in my ability to perform, as if any of my abilities were things I had earned in the first place. 

But suddenly, I couldn’t do anything to prove my worth. I had to quit my job to make space for what I hoped would be a full recovery. It’s been almost four years since my peculiar string of life-altering symptoms developed, and today I can say with some hesitancy that I am 95% recovered… maybe 90%. 

I think this is the new me.

And I love her, far better than I loved the old me.

I’ve been half-rooting for a simpler, less busy life my entire adult life. I say “half-rooting” because did I really want to slow down? Not when I believed that my value was rooted in my earning potential.

It took a chronic illness to strip me of this lie.

There is no way to earn love. There is no way to earn the favor of God. We (I, you) are already in God’s favor. We (I, you) are already loved by God. We (I, you) are children of God, and God adores his very good creation. We (I, you) are very good.

I think I have spent most of my life addicted to work. Long COVID was like detox from my drug of choice. I am still in recovery, daily surrendering my need to earn and perform back to God, who cares for even me, this little bird on a fleeting breeze. Because of this, my life is far simpler, far sweeter, far lovelier than it has ever been.

In The Freedom of Simplicity, Richard Foster writes, “Simplicity enables us to live lives of integrity in the face of the terrible realities of our global village… The Christian grace of simplicity can usher us into the Center of unhurried peace and power… In simplicity, we enter the deep silences of the heart for which we were created.”

Foster stresses that simplicity is both a grace and a discipline. “Simplicity is a grace because it is given to us by God. There is no way that we can build up our willpower, put ourselves into this contortion or that, and attain it. It is a gift to be graciously received.”

This is humbling to me because I tried to work so hard to live a more simple life, for years! I was terrible at it!

Foster continues, “We often get an idea of what simplicity should look like, and then we proceed to push and shove until, bruised and battered, we ‘fit.’ But that is not the way simplicity comes. It slips in unawares. A new sense of wonder, concentration, even profundity steals into our personality… Simplicity is a grace.”

But it is also a discipline. “What we do does not give us simplicity, but it does put us in the place where we can receive it. It sets our lives before God in such a way that he can work into us the grace of simplicity. It is a vital preparation, a cultivating of the soil, a ‘sowing to the Spirit,’ as Paul put it.”

It is both/and.

This grace of simplicity came through the severe mercy of chronic illness. I wish that it didn’t have to be so, but I am also so grateful for that generous gift. And, if I am not careful, I will quickly slip back into the old habits. I will let down my guard and invite the idol of productivity and performance back to the table. Simplicity is a grace and a discipline.

Look, I don’t know if you’re like me, addicted to work, or if you are a people pleaser, or if you are running yourself ragged so that you can be certain of your own security. I don’t know. But I know that simplicity’s grace is there for you already. 

Your Facebook status update does not have to be “… is tired.” 

However, there isn’t a 12-step program that will address these deep-seated needs. As Foster puts it, “It is learning to walk in the Spirit that builds the life of purity, unity, and grace.”

There is One who can:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” Jesus asks. “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly

Matthew 11:28-30

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