Originally published in Area of Effect magazine
I’m quick to believe life can be lived as a speed run. I move from one project to the next looking for adventure and thirsting for success. Stopping for a break means I’m lazy. If I’m not busy with something, I’m wasting my time, God’s time, and using up valuable resources.
Or am I?
Before the ever-present autosave showed up, older video games had different ways of encouraging players to save their progress. In order to rest, recover HP and MP, and save the game, players often had to stop at inns, or old typewriters in the case of Resident Evil. Other times, players encountered a simple point of light, providentially placed. The purpose of these rest stops is practical for a video game, but in life saving progress looks a bit different. Maybe I have more to learn from those quiet markers of saving grace than I realize.
At the beginning of this year, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish. I had a roster of new projects to take on so I could push myself professionally and personally. I planned to search out more freelance work, spend more quality time with my wife, serve my church, help my friends, and attend to the needs of my family. Plus, there were video games I would play, books I would read, and exercise I would commit myself to every day.
I’m an expert in what I want, but I rarely ever want what I need.
Eventually, my needs caught up with me, and I couldn’t keep up the impossible pace I had set for myself, though I wasn’t quite ready to give up. An opportunity came up to get away on a spiritual retreat, so I jumped at it and thanked God. This is exactly what I need, I thought, a chance to recharge and maybe catch up on a few pressing projects while enjoying a lake. The plan to rest just became another item on my to-do list.
When I arrived at this retreat, an oasis compared to the bustle and traffic of Montreal, I found something I didn’t expect. Instead of men being recharged and fortified, I faced a crowd of faces in various stages of brokenness. When I witnessed the depression, exhaustion, and sadness around me, I regretted my decision instantly. I was emotionally drained from supporting those closest to me and wasn’t interested in heaping more weight on my soul. I was there to replenish my hitpoints and then I’d be back in the fight—I had things to do!
It took hearing about the hurt and unbelief all around me to expose the conceits and lies I was cherishing. When my turn to speak came, I said I felt storm-tossed and in need of a safe harbour to rest in before going back out on the waves. Then, I started to really listen. Before the weekend was through, I admitted to thinking I could overcome the storm by my own skill and will. I confessed that I believed my sacrifices made me valuable. I had passed by the save points without stopping; I had ignored the quiet invitation of the inn and the typewriter. That weekend was like the message in A Link Between Worlds: “You’ve been playing for a while, why not take a break?” I needed rest, just not the to-do list rest I wanted.
There was nothing inherently wrong with the goals I had set for myself, or even the burden I was bearing—they were good things—I just couldn’t do it all. In her book Humble Roots, Hannah Anderson writes, “We must never forget that looking like God does not mean that we are God. We are made in His image, but we are made nonetheless.” Unlike God, I have limits—and I reached them.
In the Dragon Age games, you acquire injuries after a period of adventuring without stopping at your campsite. You can cure some of them with Injury Kits on the go, but the effects stack up and you just can’t keep up with them if you don’t rest. You’re less and less effective as you move forward, and can find yourself handicapped for the challenges ahead. By moving on to the next quest without rest, I was making myself less effective in everything I did. My work suffered, my relationships suffered, and I suffered.
Thankfully, God and the people I care about don’t require a completed list of duties before loving me. I can’t carry every burden that breaks my heart. Sometimes relationship means shared weakness. Sometimes I need to ask for help, and be filled, instead of constantly filling others. Sometimes I need take a break, and that’s hard. The truth is that I’m still learning this lesson, and I’m still suffering the consequences of ignoring the healthy limits of my abilities. It may hurt to remember how small and finite I am, but the alternative is a sure slide towards Game Over.
Whether it’s a weekend in the woods, coffee with a friend, or silent contemplation in a church, I’m trying to value rejuvenation and stillness alongside my other worthy goals. Though I live in a culture that never stops, I’ve seen what happens when I don’t. I’m far more effective, joyful, and at peace when I take the time to pause at an inn (or pitch a tent in Final Fantasy), drink a mana potion, converse honestly with my party members, and rest. I still blow past save points when life is stressful, but it’s getting harder to ignore my limits, and that’s progress I want to hold onto.