I found myself coming to grips with my limits during my college years. Even as a young child, I had always been driven, trying to do as many things as I could within a day and having a variety of ambitious goals at one time. In undergrad, I found myself juggling a full college workload as a music composition major, averaging 8-10 classes per semester, a several hour devotional period in order to salvage the faith I had no idea what to do with, and teaching high school/college Sunday School class at my home church. All while attempting to have a semblance of a social life, being a good roommate, and spending time with my family.
It all came to a head my sophomore year of college, though it had been building up since my middle school years. I found it more and more difficult to go to sleep and more and more difficult to wake up. To get out of bed and go to class, I had to fight against bouts of sleep paralysis. I was exhausted all day, continually needing to resort to caffeine, cold showers, and old-fashioned self-determination to stay awake and focused during the day. The only time of day I was not tired was when I laid down to sleep. My difficulties sleeping were coupled with episodes of depression and anxiety. I underwent a sleep study and was diagnosed with sleep apnea, though treatment did not seem to improve my sleep and only exacerbated my anxiety. A second opinion determined sleep apnea was a misdiagnosis and theorized the possibility of narcolepsy, but test results were negative. I began undergoing counseling for anxiety and a third sleep specialist treated me for insomnia, giving me several books to read with environmental and cognitive techniques. Along this journey, I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism and prescribed medication.
To this day, my difficulties with sleep, anxiety, and low energy have yet to be fully resolved, though I have learned to cope and experience them with less intensity. By junior year of college, I was forced to face the truth that I had much less energy to work with than when I was younger, and that might very well be a permanent case. My ambitious goals would have to be adjusted to my energy levels. I was also faced with a way I do not trust God. I cling tightly to my goals, dreams, and dilemmas. At the end of each day, I feel I must retain control, never relinquishing them to God. Struggling with sleep has forced me to admit I cannot cling to control of all elements of my life, but instead, God works on my behalf, even when I sleep and have no control. I wish it was as easy to live like that as it was to write it.
I believe the source of my workaholism and anxiety is twofold. First, growing up, my dad has always said to me when I have talked about my dreams and goals, “Do it while you’re young.” The assumption is there is a short timeframe in which to accomplish big goals and visions, so pursue them and do not relent until circumstances stop you. For my dad, this statement comes from his own experiences of giving up his dreams. He always wanted to pursue music and ministry, but when he got married, he felt the pressure to get a “real job” and became a teacher, a career he has generally enjoyed, and then, after having children, he felt he had to focus on me and my sisters. Only this past year, since he retired, as he begun to pursue the things he dreamed of as a young man.
Second, for most of my life, in church and Christian school, the version of faith presented to me was one that demanded I “get it right”. Different portions of the church I was exposed to demanded I follow the right set of morals and believe the right things. The latter category was far more varied than the former. The subliminal message I picked up was that faith was up to me to get right. So I worked hard, reading as much as I could, trying to find the right things to believe. I live my devotional and seminary life as if the quality of my faith is based on how much I read and how long I pray.
I have found that becoming aware of these assumptions has helped me step back from such workaholic activities and allowed me to become more relaxed. Though I have learned how to deal with these assumptions, the Gospel has yet to truly transform this part of me. I have found the prayer of examen to be an essential part of understanding these assumptions and bringing them to Christ. The practice of Sabbath is a difficult practice, but serves to directly confront my false assumptions and remind me I am not the master of my time, but rather, Christ has done the great work on my behalf, in which I can rest.