This summer wore me out. Actually, I think I was already worn out going into summer, but didn't realize it yet.
I didn't realize how much emotional, physical, mental and spiritual energy launching this website and the Straight From The Heartland Podcast had been. In addition, I was still juggling a work-from-home job and struggling to manage all of those moving parts.
Throw in a near-death experience with my Dad and the normal Spring busyness of a growing, active family and I was:
My work-from-home job wrapped up at the end of May, but the kids came home for the summer a few days later so the positive impact of that life change wasn't felt right away.
We went on vacation in June and what typically refreshes and rejuvenates me for the summer could only partially fill my depleted tank. By the end of July I was on empty again.
I was tired, yes. But, I was also sad. And I was discouraged.
I didn't have my usually joy. I felt disconnected. Heavy-hearted in my marriage, with friends and with God.
By the beginning of August, I really began to notice the symptoms. I was tired, irritable, and angry. My smile didn't reach to my eyes when Michael or the kids shared funny stories.
I kept telling Michael, "I'm off. I don't feel like myself. I'm not on my A-game these days."
He wisely suggested Relational Fatigue might be the cause which I mentioned last week. He was right. I was tired mentally, emotionally, and physically. But, I was also tired relationally.
Normally I'm a people person. I love people deeply. It's who I am and what I do. But, I was struggling in my relationships. I wasn't "seeing" people - really seeing them in their needs, hurts, joys, challenges.
I wasn't "hearing" people either - hearing what they were saying behind the words coming out of their mouths. Hearing the question behind their question. I snapped at my sister-in-law repeated times during her visit to Iowa and I didn't even remember them, let alone recognize in the moment to apologize.
Not my A-game.
I figured things would get better once school started, once my circumstances changed. I would have some breathing room in my days again. I would have some downtime. And I did. And it helped.
But, as it turns out, true joy doesn't come from downtime. It can't be produced merely through the clear thinking you find with a balanced schedule. Joy can't be mustered up on your own by thinking more positively or counting your blessings out of your own wisdom and strength.
Joy has a source and that source is God.
"There I will go to the altar of God, to God - the source of all my Joy." Psalm 43:4
The weekend after school started I went to the Belong Tour - a Christian, women's conference. Several of my favorite authors were speaking and a favorite musician was leading worship. I knew after an exhausting six months, I needed a recharge. I needed to get away with my dear friend Kara for a time of connection, learning, and encouragement.
I needed to come to the altar.
I had realistic expectations going in. I figured the conference would give me a needed spiritual boost. After all, when you're a dry well any amount of water feels refreshing, right?
But, I didn't expect to come back COMPLETELY refreshed. I didn't expect to have a clear mind again. I wouldn't have guessed I'd be so excited to and feel capable of engaging again relationally.
I felt rested, refocused, and back to my old self.
But you see, it wasn't simply about 24 hours away from the commitments of life, house, marriage, and parenting.
It wasn't about a girls' weekend reconnecting with a dear friend.
It wasn't about a life filled with more downtime upon my return.
I was about the altar of God. The source of all my Joy.
When we aren't feeling joyful, we have a source problem. We are seeking fulfillment, happiness, acceptance, and strength either through our own means, through others, or through our circumstances.
If we're feeling capable and rested and if our relationships and circumstances are positive, we feel happy. We are content. Life is good.
But, what happens when we're feeling incapable and tired? What if our relationships go through a rocky patch and our circumstances are blowing up all around us?
When I was tired/down/discouraged/empty, I tried to stir up my joy. But, I couldn't muster it on my own because I had a source issue.
Joy is found in God, not me. It's found in praise.
Psalm 43 goes on to say, "Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again - my Savior and My God!"
At the altar we are filled with what lasts. A nap or a short, relational break can fill our tanks a little. But that source will deplete again. Only joy found at the altar sustains.
A popular worship song about the altar came to mind as I was writing this post. The song asks if you're hurting and broken. Overwhelmed, having come to the end of yourself.
This is how we approach the altar. Tired, burdened, and weary.
No need to brush yourself off or clean yourself up. No need to hold your head high or offer something of value.
The altar is where we go for refreshment, forgiveness, joy. Where we trade in our ashes, mourning, and despair for beauty, joy, and praise. Freely we come, freely we receive.
So, fellow joy seekers: Will you join me at the altar? Will you bring your heaviness, discouragement and sadness? Will you stop trying to fill yourself back up only to find yourself empty again?
Matthew 11:28 says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
My suggestion? Play this worship song on repeat in your office, car and home. Let it wash over you bringing refreshment. Bringing hope. Bringing joy.
And let your hearts be filled once again by a Source who knows your every need. Come to the altar, my friend. The water is fine.