A Word for the Weary

Weariness is something we all experience from time to time. For some, it is a more or less chronic condition that goes along with being the parents of small children, illness, or caring for someone who makes huge demands on our energy and patience. Today, in the U.K., I sense a kind of collective weariness about our forthcoming General Election. People are beginning to tire of the debate, the endless accusations, the promises that don’t quite add up, the gimmicks, the shoutiness of social media. For those of us observing Advent, there is also a kind of mid-season weariness to be factored in as well. Can we really be so close to the third Sunday of Advent when we don’t seem, to ourselves at least, to have even begun? Is there a word for the weary we can all take to heart, that will provide balm for our souls and encouragement for what lies ahead?

What a gift today’s Mass readings prove to be! Isaiah 40. 25–31 comforts us with the reassurance that even the young may stumble and tire but the Lord will bear us up as on eagle’s wings. Then in Matthew 11. 28–30 we have those comforting words of Jesus himself, inviting those who labour and are overburdened to come to him and share his yoke. But there is a snag. There always is a snag. Most of us don’t recognize that we are weary or overburdened. Those who go around proclaiming how tired they are or how much they need a holiday are not usually exhausted. They are still able to register what they think and feel. Their judgement is still at work. The truly exhausted are no longer able to judge their own exhaustion but tend to go on, becoming wearier and wearier, often more and more silent or sending out cries for help that go unnoticed by others. In my experience, it is not those who can articulate their distress who tend to have the break-downs but those who can’t. Can anything or anyone reach such depths of weariness?

The conventional answer to that question is that grace can touch and transform anyone at any time. Weariness is no obstacle to God. I agree with that, of course, but I think I would want to add a small nuance. St Benedict is very eloquent about the mutual support community members are to give one another. Much of it is unspoken, rather understated, but it relies on being aware of others and their needs. To give a simple illustration, last night was wet and windy and I admit to shivering a bit. When I went to bed I discovered that someone had put a hot water bottle between my sheets — unasked, just because she noticed. Hot water bottles are a very practical response to a perceived need, but it isn’t only, or even especially, practical needs we can help with. A smile, a prayer, a little patience may be all it takes to give someone else the courage to face another day — and in helping others, we may find that we have been helped, too. Those eagle’s wings take many forms.

General Election 2019
Whenever we have an important decision to make in the monastery, we stop discussing it for twenty-four hours before voting on it in chapter. That gives us time to think and pray without being distracted. Accordingly, apart from posting our prayer intentions, we shall be abandoning social media until tomorrow so that we can reflect more deeply on the choices we and the rest of the country have to make in the Election.

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On Being Tired and Weary

Today’s Mass readings, Isaiah 40. 25–31 and Matthew 11. 28–30, linked together by Psalm 102. 1-4, 8, 10, speak to all of us at times. We have all experienced moments — perhaps even weeks, months or years — when everything goes flat, hope shrivels and life becomes a struggle we seem destined to lose. It is at such times that difficulties and disappointments multiply. We may cry out, ‘Why me?’ or shake our fist at the skies and declare, ‘There is no God!’ but answer comes there none. God’s silence is as disconcerting as his word. We are alone in a hostile universe. What is the point of going on? We also know that it doesn’t take much to restore our confidence and good spirits: a smile, an encouraging word, a good meal or some small piece of unexpected good fortune can transform everything and we can laugh at our previous gloom. We are indeed fickle creatures.

But I think there is another side to the weariness the scriptures speak of that we need to consider more deeply. There can be a kind of disgust with God and the things of God that is much more serious than our transitory ups and downs. We can try to escape God in a thousand different ways, which can exhaust us and leave us spiritually and morally shipwrecked. That may not mean that we abandon our Christian principles altogether. On the contrary, we construct our own version of Christianity, with all the bits we like left in, and all the bits we don’t left out. We cocoon ourselves in a religion of our own devising which means we never have to confront the reality of God and his demands. But we need to remember that the God who invites us to come to him for rest is also the God who asks us to shoulder his yoke. Perhaps this Advent we should spend a few minutes thinking about what it means to labour for God, as well as taking our ease in him.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail