I well remember the exhaustion of brand-new motherhood. When my first son was born, I didn’t pick up my Bible for months. I was so sure that I’d arrive at the magical land of discipline later when my baby wasn’t so needy. I didn’t realize that keeping the habits of Bible reading and prayer when it was difficult to do so would have laid the path to Bible reading and prayer later when it wasn’t so hard. When the days of chaos eased up, I found myself uninspired to practice any kind of spiritual discipline. The indifference I had excused as survival mode became my normal way of life, and my days were devoid of any regular connection to Christ outside of church attendance.
I’ve heard the “survival mode” rationalization many times from other Christians, too. I’m too busy. My time is not my own. I was up with the baby all night. I haven’t slept in weeks. I’m just trying to survive right now. Oh, these are hard seasons, friend!
The exhaustion is real. Just surviving feels like the right answer sometimes, doesn’t it? Yet what I’ve learned from older, more seasoned believers is that knowing Christ is the only way to endure those tough years when you’re pulled in a thousand different directions. If we’re not holding on to him now, how can we be sure we’ll be holding on to him later?
As believers, we live differently from the unbelieving world around us. We are new creatures in Christ, and everything we do is to be done by, through, and for him (see Col. 1:15–17). Survival mode for the weary Christian is not hibernation from Christ but perseverance in Christ. The things we tend to shuffle to the bottom of the to-do list are the very gifts God has given us to keep us near his side. We can’t survive disconnected from him. Prioritizing his word, prayer, and fellowship with our church is what helps us survive! Perhaps those habits will look a bit different during the hardest seasons of caregiving, but pushing spiritual disciplines aside until life settles down is not what will help us persevere through tough days. We persevere to the end by persevering to the end of this day.
When your reserves feel empty, when your patience is thin, when you can barely stay awake, saturating yourself with Scripture is survival. When the baby won’t sleep, when your responsibilities at work keep you up at night, when your parent with Alzheimer’s can’t remember you, when the laundry of four under four never ends, prayer is survival. When you are too weary to sing praises to the Lord, when you’re wrestling a rowdy bunch during the sermon, when it’s all you can do just to sit upright in the pew, being present with your church family is survival. These expressions of faithfulness to Christ are the means by which he keeps you faithful, even if they’re less structured during the chaotic years of caregiving. Survival mode for the Christian whose hands are full must include the things that help her soul survive.
True Rest When You’re Always Needed
Caregiving requires deep reserves of self-sacrifice. The loss of sleep, of personal pursuits, time, finances, and more makes life feel like a sieve. Everything that’s poured in is immediately poured out for the people we take care of. In putting the needs of others before our own, we pattern our lives after Jesus. He is our example in all things, but we see his selflessness especially in the ways he loved people, served his disciples, and died in our place for our sins. He traveled and taught as a poor, itinerant preacher with no home, no wife or children, and no possessions. The sick sought him out everywhere, the crowds pressed in constantly. Jesus knew what it was to be surrounded by the neediness of others.
How did Jesus handle being in constant demand? First, he intentionally sought out times alone to pray to his Father. Second, he rested. In Mark 6, the disciples returned to Jesus after they had gone out teaching his message. Jesus, too, had been busy teaching and healing the sick. His invitation to the disciples to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while,” came on the heels of a period so busy they’d not even had time to eat a proper meal (Mark 6:30–32).
A few chapters prior, Jesus slipped away very early in the morning to pray in a desolate place (Mark 1:35). He’d just spent days healing the ill and demon-possessed, one right after the other. In Mark 4, Jesus fell asleep on a boat during a storm at the end of a long day of teaching. Jesus didn’t shrug off his responsibilities of teaching and healing, but neither did he put off the things that he needed physically and spiritually to continue in his work. He sought time with the Father, and he sought rest. If Jesus the Son of God needed the rhythms of rest and prayer, how much more do we?
Knowing Christ is the only way to endure those tough years when you’re pulled in a thousand different directions.
Jesus gives us a pattern to emulate, but he also tells us the best way to rest when we are weary in body and soul. More than we need actual physical rest (though we do need that), we need rest for our souls that is found only in him. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). What we don’t see in this passage is permission to disconnect from prayer and Jesus’s words just because we’re weighed down by burdens. Jesus doesn’t say, “If you’re weary, ignore what I’m saying and wait until you’re not so burdened.” He doesn’t say, “Come to me later, when you’re not weary.” He tells the weary to come to him, take up his yoke, learn from him, and find rest.
Gloria Furman writes, “If I don’t renew my mind through the truths of God’s Word, then the fog doesn’t burn off and let the light of gospel hope shine in. By the end of the day I am lost in a cloud of discouragement that doesn’t lift. We need the compass of eternity to direct our perspective.”1 The way we come to God and learn from him is to take up our Bibles and know him through his word. The way we find rest is in seeking the Lord in prayer. We do this on our own and also when we hear the proclamation of the word and examine our hearts during communion with fellow believers in corporate worship together. His yoke is lighter and easier than legalistic rules and false religion, but it doesn’t allow us to roam free from all connection to him. His yoke tethers us to him and pulls us in the direction he leads us. We won’t find rest for our souls in loosening that tether from Christ. We find rest in staying by his side no matter how busy and exhausting our days might be. Christ is our survival mode.
As you serve and care for others, remember that Jesus knew what it was like to be needed. Emulate him by making time for prayer and the words of the Lord. You’ll be equipped to persevere when you are tethered to him. As you read his word, you’ll gain confidence in his love. As you pray, you’ll experience his fellowship and his help. As you unite with Christ’s body in your local church, you’ll receive encouragement and support. Here’s some good news for you, weary friend: Christ is at work in you as you persevere during these challenging days of busyness. As you pattern your life after Jesus’s—even when it feels like you’ve nothing left to give—the Holy Spirit is living in you and helping you persevere. He will use your habits of prayer and Bible reading to reveal your sin, to remind you of Jesus’s sacrifice for you on the cross, to lead you in obedience to him. Physical rest is important. But the rest that Jesus offers nourishes our souls so that we can continue living for him—even with a long to-do list.
As you press forward with regular faithfulness amidst a mountain of laundry, a rotation of diaper changes and nighttime feedings, or basic acts of care for an aging parent, the Lord sees you. He knows you are weary, and he is working good from it. He has compassion on you when you struggle to pick up your Bible or sleep through prayer. Christ is your example, but he is also your helper as he intercedes for you to keep following him in faithfulness (Rom. 8:34).
- Gloria Furman, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 52.
This article is adapted from Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perserverance in a Demanding World by Glenna Marshall.
If we intend to teach our children how to appropriately enjoy, but not abuse, time in front of a screen, we must check our own hearts and habits first.
With the power and presence of Jesus in our lives, we are called to endure and thus shine the light of Christ in a dark world.
God has equipped us to follow Christ faithfully no matter what season of life we’re living.
Put simply, family discipleship is leading your home by doing whatever you can whenever you can to help your family become friends and followers of Jesus Christ.