The Real Reason We Are So Tired
I’ve always been an overly responsible person.
As a child, I used to help take care of my sisters, I had a steady babysitting job at the age of 11, and had donned a purple Burger King hat by the time I was 15. I was the good girl, the responsible girl and that’s where I received my praise and value.
I’m not sure if any of my early jobs were completely legal, but work ethic and the idea that you need to be a responsible person who is beholden to other people is something that was bred in me.
I valued the fact that I was tough enough to handle most things, that I didn’t need a lot of help because I was strong.
Somehow I got it stuck in my head that making other people happy was the most hailed virtue.
I liked making dinner while my Mom worked, or helping friends study for tests because deep down I think I believed that if I was good enough people would love me. Deep down I was running from all the lies that clamored inside me that told me I wasn’t good enough and therefore people wouldn’t love me.
Perfectionism was a god because if I could just be perfect no one would ever find anything wrong with me, and if they couldn’t find anything wrong, they couldn’t leave me.
When I moved to Uganda as a missionary, I found new ways to carry this belief to the extreme. I had high expectations of myself. I felt the pressure to perform and produce.
I worked long hours and skipped meals, stood in long lines at hospitals so my women could be seen, I answered emails into the night, I got sick and I got sick again. I bled straight through an ectopic pregnancy and barely missed a beat.
I didn’t take care of myself because I thought martyrdom was my way of proving to the world how holy I could be, how lovable I was.
Yes, I did do it in part to show my love for the people I served there. Yes, I wanted to be the face of Jesus to the women and girls. But underneath all those sacrifices was a deadlier truth:
I thought doing all these things would make me more loved.
Because who would love me if I just stopped?
The dark and ominous truth simmering beneath all my good works was that I didn’t really love myself.
The lie was that I didn’t think I deserved to.
I could prove I was worthy of being loved and admired because of all the sacrifices I was making. Look at what I’m doing. Can’t you see how good I am? Can’t you see how busy I am. Aren’t I valuable? My heart cried.
And when I had spent myself and was too tired to go on, I was too afraid to stop performing because all the attention, accolades, love, and support I’d received was dependent on that performance, that identity of being the one who kept going when everyone else couldn’t.
I thought of all the girls and women and children who’d been abandoned and I was going to be that one person who stayed. I wouldn’t let them down. My identity was all twisted up in that.
And that wasn’t love, that was pride.
My body kept breaking, and I was full of anger, my marriage was in pieces, and I was a shadow of the me I used to like, but I kept shifting the blame.
Well, I can’t stop because people need me.
I don’t have any choices, really. This is what I have to do. This is what God requires of me.
If I stop then everyone will know that I’m not as capable as I like to think I am.
When God finally, and very clearly did convince me to leave Uganda, I was devastated. Some people didn’t understand. Others, stopped supporting me. Others questioned why I couldn’t just finish the race. I disappointed people. Some people did stop loving me. This, being the most agonizing culmination of all my fears.
I let other people determine my value.
I found out that all that busyness was just a way for me to hide from my truth.
I started seeing a coach and one day her words changed my life:
You can keep going, you can do that, but if you do that you’re going to be going against your own inner truth, your own integrity, and you might even be able to get away with that for a while. But in a few months or years something inside you is going to break and you’ll hit rock bottom, or end up in the hospital, somewhere much worse than where you are right now. This is serious and you can’t ignore it, the consequences are far too real.
Well, crap. That sucks. I was hoping I could keep ignoring it. I got mad because she wasn’t letting me wriggle out with my excuses, But can’t you see I’m helping people?
Meh. No. She wasn’t buying it. Was I really helping anyone by being tired all the time, critical, and snappy, by getting typhoid butt (don’t ask) and saying “woe is me,” and nearly road raging pedestrians.
Was I truly giving my best gift to the world if I was constrained so much by what people thought of me?
How could I be my most loving self when I didn’t really like me?
So I worked hard, made a good transition plan, and I stopped. I started saying no to things.
Because the truth is we always have choices.
God speaks to us through our spirits, our souls, our hearts, our bodies. But it requires rest and stillness to hear.
I went on a four year journey (that I’m still on) of healing and learning to receive God’s love and learning to love myself. And the strangest thing happened. All that compassion for others I was afraid had run dry, began to increase.
My acceptance of self allowed me to accept others and be a safer place for them.
The reality is even though I’m not “perfect” anymore I’m learning to radically accept myself.
I have intimate relationships with people who love the real me.
I just got off a Skype call this morning with my women in Uganda and you know what? They still love me. I’ve shown them my weakness. And they prayed for me this time instead of the other way around. They don’t love me less because I was honest about what I could and couldn’t do.
I used to think we were all so tired because we were just plain physically exhausted, and that’s partially true (especially for all sleep deprived mothers)
But the real reason we are so tired is because of all the negative beliefs and lies we hold about ourselves, God, and the world around us, that erode us from the inside out.
It’s exhausting to fight back a mud slide of self hatred and fear of listening to our insides every day because we’re afraid of what it might tell us if we stopped to pay attention.
Now that I coach my own clients, involved in good works all across the globe, I hear those same fears and insecurities I had. I see it isn’t an issue relegated to me alone. I hear that same vein of lies slowly being replaced with Truth. I hear and I understand, because I’ve been there. And some days, I still am.
What I’ve realized is that I’m not alone. I wasn’t the only one to run to the sands of Africa or the tropics of Asia, to start a ministry, or plant a church, to stay busy, or suffer from burnout, because I wanted to know I was worthy of love.
There are so many of us trying to perform for the world, crying out for the love that we need.
And I just want to say Stop.
You don’t have to be perfect. You’re not alone.
It’s going to be ok. Just begin with the first step of being honest with yourself. Perhaps what you really need is not to keep pushing. Perhaps what you really need is permission to stop. Rest.
Listen to what the silence is trying to tell you.
“I was pulling a little red wagon and as I pulled it along, I filled it so full that I could hardly keep pulling. That red wagon was my life and the weight of it was destroying me. But there was something that kept driving me forward, a set of beliefs and instincts pushing even as I was longing to rest.” –Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequiest-
How have you learned to stop trying to be perfect?