When You Are Weary

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

There’s much this year that’s wearying, isn’t there? 2020 is one of those years that we will talk about with our kids and grandkids for the next several decades – but we’re still in the middle of it. What’s particularly unique about this year is that we are all experiencing versions of the same struggles. No one is exempt. The upside of this is that we are all in it together. I don’t know about you, but I find this comforting.

Throughout the last few months, I have heard most people in my life at some point share that they’ve had enough; it’s getting to them; they are fed up/worn out/weary of the hardships of this year. Because of the ongoing nature of the pandemic, of the racial tension, of the politicization, we are hitting this point more than once, perhaps. I know I have.

If you’re in this place now, what does it look like to “throw off everything that hinders”? How do we “fix our eyes on Jesus” so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”? Here are a few ideas:

+ put away media // The balance between being informed and being overwhelmed by media these days is one very fine line. It may be healthy to resist the urge to check the news daily for a period of time. If anything major happens, ask your spouse or friend to share it with you. Otherwise, the mental space you’ll gain from a media break is worth the short-term ignorance, particularly if you’re feeling weary.

+ get outside // Could you spend one whole hour outside today? Maybe two or three? Take the kids to a nature preserve, pack a picnic, and leave your phone at home. Walk a long trail, pick flowers, lay on your back and look up at the shades of blue in the sky. Nature is healing. Seeing God’s handiwork with intention is healing.

+ confess sin // Has it been awhile since you brought your worries, your fears, your open heart to God? Since you’ve asked him to reveal the ugly attitudes, the prevalent discontent, the deep-seated selfishness? Taking a few moments to sort out our hearts before Christ and to confess the sin found there is an act of obedience and restorative to our souls.

+ look for beauty // When the world is looking ugly and bleak, look up. Look out. Look at the moon, the stars. Look at the variety of trees, at the birds, at your children, the color of their eyes. Look in a good book, look in Scripture. Look in your relationships, look in your church. Look in your food – how many colors are there? Open your eyes wider to the beauty in your everyday world.

+ put away technology // We are brilliant multitaskers, aren’t we? We can cook dinner, listen to a podcast, check Instagram, mhmm to our children, and respond to a text all in a minute’s time. This isn’t the best for a myriad of reasons, but for now, can you identify how you feel in the midst of that? Is there a twitchiness? A elevated stress level? What if you put the phone away for a few hours, for a whole day? What if you aimed to get your screen time to under an hour a day? Not only for the sake of your home, your children, and your spouse, but for you? I guarantee that with reduced technology use your mind will clear a bit; the fogginess will lift slightly, your eyes become more trained to see beauty. And it’s glorious.

+ focus your eyes on Christ // In my experience, a lack of peace, a world weariness is directly correlated with where my eyes and heart are focused. Not surprising, is it? When my days are filled with social media, with the news, with multitasking, my mind is a busy space, a restless space, flitting from thought to thought, to new ideas, to old memories, and there is little peace or rest. But once we’ve put away the news, and the technology, we use those pauses, those little captured moments to look to Christ – in nature, while on a walk, in our kids’ hearts, while washing the dishes. We read the Scriptures well placed throughout the house, we reflect on the morning’s devotions, we commune with Christ in prayer, and our souls are refreshed.

Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:3

A friend articulated recently that what is particularly hard about this year is that we don’t know when these struggles are going to end – how long do we have to “hang in there” for? It’s a long haul, but we can shake off the weariness with intention, looking collectively for the beauty, encouraging each other to fix our eyes on Christ. We’ll get through this.

Social Media Principles for the Thoughtful Christian

**A brief disclaimer: I am not perfect at using social media, shocking, I know. I am still learning how to be wise in my own social media practices and thought this article might be helpful for those of you who are also craving wisdom and discipline in this area of life.**

Between reading a few helpful things on technology use, desiring to maintain margin in my life, and noticing highly varied approaches to responding to social issues, I am compelled to outline a few principles for wise social media usage for the thoughtful Christian.

The vast majority of us utilize some form of social media daily, and have become consumers of these developing social platforms without considering the cost to us personally or developing principles for using it wisely. Personally, I have struggled through sin issues which have been exacerbated by my social media usage, such as comparison, discontent, unfounded judgment, and others. Yes, these sinful attitudes would likely emerge under other circumstances, but it is worth noting that Jesus says, “if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut if off” (Matt. 5:30). Perhaps these sinful attitudes are more prevalent in our lives because of the way in which and the frequency with which we use social media.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:5

Maybe you too, like me, have longed for a better understanding of what it looks like for us as believers to use social media wisely. Let’s keep in mind James 1:5, as we consider these principles:

Understand your level of social responsibility

My purpose here is not to argue against freedom of speech, but rather suggest gently that by virtue of taking out an account on any kind of social media platform, we are consciously (or unconsciously) joining a larger social group. With membership in such a group comes some level of responsibility. Undoubtedly, there are varying levels of understanding of that responsibility, and many contributing factors to navigate. Wisdom is necessary to determine what level of social responsibility each of us has, and how best to use our platforms wisely, whether we have one hundred Facebook friends or 20,000. On a social platform, as in a real life conversation, speaking up about an issue communicates something; in both cases, so also does staying silent.

Avoid dependence

Richard Foster, in his classic A Celebration of Disciplines, discusses outward and inward practices for the discipline of simplicity. One of his outward principles is to “reject anything that is creating an addiction within you.” This might bring up a number of convicting thoughts; at the moment, it’s worth considering how this might apply to our social media usage. Is Facebook or Instagram the first thing we must check in the morning, or the last thing before falling asleep at night? If we can honestly say we are struggling with addictive behavior in using social media, it’s probably a good time to take a break.

Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.

Use with margin

What did we do before this era of social media? Maybe, we woke up slowly with the sun, read more great books, lingered over the dinner table, dug our hands into fresh dirt more often, took long walks, invited more people into our homes, laid under the stars, played family games. In our tech-crazed world, we have irresponsibly allowed technology to enter into so much of our white spaces, our in-between times, our margin. Those quiet moments during the day. Those empty minutes. What if we claimed those back? What if we looked each other in the eyes more often, and our kids saw our faces gazing at them? Several months ago, one of my daughters articulated this, painfully, when she said, “why are you looking at your phone so much, Mom?” From my experience, it is so helpful to create boundaries around social media, and really, all of technology. Put it away at an early hour in the evening, or during the day if you’re home with kids. Be in charge of your social media usage, rather than letting it control you.

Take regular Sabbaths

In a related way, make a plan to take longer breaks from social media. Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family, recommends taking a break from technology one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. How hard would this be? How life-giving might this be?

Personally, we are working on “low-tech” Sundays in our family, which we hope will eventually be “no-tech” after these pandemic days when our church services are online. It requires discipline, but it’s also become a sweet rest from the noise of online life, and we are finding more time to read, to reflect, to just be together.

That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us?

Consider what you are “all about”

Many people, though not most of us, use social media for marketing purposes. Any social media platform will show only the smallest fraction of our lives, our thoughts, our opinions, our values. That fraction, that glimpse into our lives that we’ve chosen to expose to the world, what does it communicate about what’s most important to us? If Jesus were following our Twitter feed or Instagram, would we be embarrassed by what he might see, or might not see? If we only have a small fraction of our lives to show on social media, ought we not carefully and intentionally choose what glimpse we are giving? Think about it this way… if someone had to describe you, what you cared about, in five words based upon your social media account only, what words would they use?

Do not let social media distract you

In the same discussion of the discipline of simplicity, Foster says, “shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.” Ultimately, social media platforms are a tool, an optional add-on to our lives. They are something we have each decided to opt into at some point. But if these platforms become a distraction from our walk with God, or our God-given responsibilities, then perhaps it’s time to be take a break, or delete an account. Instead, we actively “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33)

Or put another way, “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

If, after all, social media is causing our gaze to stray from Jesus, and distracting us from seeking first God and his kingdom, then it is essential that we either learn wisdom for using it or reject it altogether.

It is possible for us to use social media wisely, so that we are not controlled by it. It is a beautiful way to stay in touch with people, particularly for us, in our transient, overseas life. And even more so, it can be great tool for proclaiming the goodness of God and the transformative power of the gospel in our everyday lives, if we choose to use it in such a way.

Our Suffering is not Unique

We are several months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of us have been “staying at home,” or in some form of lockdown for over a month now, some longer. These are strange times, difficult times, and we all know people who have suffered greatly because of this pandemic. We have suffered too: there are many losses, financial strain, anxiety and fear.

But our suffering is not unique.

We hear that these are unprecedented times, that our world will change forever, that things will never be the same. We read an over-abundance of information about our present day circumstances. We struggle to understand whom to trust, what information is accurate and unbiased, whose agenda we agreed with most. We deliberate over many judgment calls.

My point is not to undermine our suffering; my aim is to remind us that we join arms with many before us who have suffered greatly too. We would do well to think on the suffering of others throughout the course of history, to find encouragement in their stories of faithfulness; to limit our media intake, which promotes negativity and an obsession with our current time and crisis; and to continue pursuing Christian community in a time when it’s especially challenging.

My point is not to undermine our suffering; my aim is to remind us that we join arms with many before us who have suffered greatly too.

If we are consumed with our current day suffering, we cannot fix our eyes on Christ. If we are convinced that our suffering is unique, we are collectively self-centered. There are many reasons why we should choose to focus our minds on faith in Christ, on the faithfulness of God as he fulfills his promises, and not on the fear that we are tempted to experience during a worldwide pandemic. If we are to remain faithful as believers, and if our witness as a church is to proclaim peace and hope in a mighty God, we must actively live in faith rather than fear.

But… how?

Practically speaking, how do we choose faith over fear? How to we reject the narrative that our suffering is unique? Here are some suggestions that have been helping me lately.

+ take a spiritual, emotional, mental assessment

Let’s slow down, turn off all the “noise” and ask God to reveal to us what we are battling with. Why are you afraid? What is it that is making me fearful? Is it my health, or the health of my loved ones? Is it the financial strain that has hit, or is inevitably coming? Is it that people have said “life will never be the same” and the unknown is scary? Is it that I’m not sure I can do one more day with my kids at home running crazy, and yet I have a whole summer in front of me?

I encourage you to dust off the journal, and pour out your heart before God. Ask him to make plain your fears, your anxieties, your disappointments, your griefs. Jesus is our friend in grief, a lesson I have been learning for a few years. Pour out your heart to him, sit at his feet and rest in his love. It will do wonders for your weary, fearful soul.

+ reflect on history, and God’s faithfulness over the course of time

I’m sure many of you have seen this article reminding us of C.S. Lewis’ wise words written during a time when the threat of an atomic bomb was emerging. While the COVID-19 pandemic is a unique trial of our time, it is certainly not the first, nor likely the last, of it’s kind. Whether it be past pandemics, wars, economic or social strife, natural disasters, or any other crisis, our faith in an eternal God transcends the current event of 2020. Christians throughout history have sought to be faithful through hardships to a faithful God.

There are so many examples. Reread the stories of Noah, of Moses, of Joseph, of David, of the prophets. Many biblical characters experienced nationwide suffering on account of famine, war, persecution, enslavement. Many others experienced very difficult personal circumstances, and their stories have much to teach us too. Read Corrie ten Boom and her story of living as Christian during the Holocaust. Or read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes, or something by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship is a classic). Choose a Puritan writer. There are many over the course of history who’ve written honestly and brutally about suffering and faithfulness. These stories would encourage us again now.

+ limit media

I’m not the only one saying this, but there’s an overwhelming amount of media, mostly relatively negative, on the current state of our world. While it is important to keep up on a basic level so that we are informed, know how to behave and pray, we would do well to limit our time reading the news and engaging in social media. When we are reading constantly about predictions based upon worst case scenarios or data, we fail to take into account that we serve a God who is greater than this pandemic. His power and authority are not factored into the major news sources and so we are tempted to think the results are left to human experts. It’s worth saying again: God is greater than this pandemic!

We have the ability to choose the amount of media we consume, and this choice will directly affect our overall mindset.

We have the ability to choose the amount of media we consume, and this choice will directly affect our overall mindset. Check in once a day, or less, to keep updated. Then turn off the “noise” and use your time toward more holistic pursuits.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is brett-wisdom_pyramid-freebies-white-full.png
source: https://www.brettmccracken.com/blog/2017/8/3/the-wisdom-pyramid

Brett McCracken developed this pyramid three years ago: in this time “where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, I think we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid. We need to think about what sorts of “knowledge groups,” and in what proportion, feed a healthy life of true wisdom and true joy” (read full article here). His whole article is worth a read, and it is a worthwhile use of our time to ask these questions of our knowledge sources.

+ do not neglect community

Churches have been amazingly resourceful on the fly during this pandemic, and have provided all sorts of virtual support through online services, opportunities for counseling, Zoom (or WhatsApp in our case) small group meetings, etc. Meeting together online at the same time on Sunday does not, however, replace real life fellowship with believers – the body of Christ. In this time when we cannot or do not often see people in our communities, we still need to be intentional about pursuing community.

What does that look like during a pandemic? Checking in on each other. Making real phone calls. Sending cards, or ecards. Dropping off a bag of groceries or a meal. Sending emails. Reaching out particularly to the lonely. Not just to say “hi,” but to ask the deeper questions of:

  • how are you coping?
  • are you sleeping at night?
  • are you in the Word?
  • how can I support you?

The body of Christ needs each other, and all the more during a worldwide crisis. We are purposed to “bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), and it just so happens that we collectively share a huge burden currently. If we neglect the fellowship of believers now, we will emerge from this weary, broken, and beaten down.

Look to Christ…and rejoice.

So, we reject that our suffering is unique, but look to the past, to the throngs of other faithful believers, and ultimately to Christ who experienced humanity’s deepest suffering on account of us. We choose to live in faith that God has got this, and not in fear. We are actively “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

And we cling to hope: “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Tidying Up in the Image of God

The new year is full of hope and expectancy for many people; a time to start afresh, to develop better habits, to become more disciplined. What’s more perfect than signing into your Netflix account, only to be greeted by the renowned Marie Kondo and the promise that tidying will bring you the happiness you were looking for.

While I love simplifying life and tidying as much as the next thirty-something millennial mom, from the first episode of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, my radar was on high alert. While Marie herself is friendly, sweet, and encouraging, elements and core beliefs of her method raised concerns for me.

During my time in seminary, I was introduced to the idea that, as Christians, we need to not only be doing biblical hermeneutics (the art of discerning what a particular biblical text is communicating) but also, importantly, cultural hermeneutics, which could be described as the art of discerning what a particular cultural “text” is communicating. Why is this important? Because we are participants in and partakers of culture, we need to be carefully considering what exactly it is that we are receiving through various cultural “texts.”*

Back to the “text” of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo: is there anything wrong intrinsically with the concept of paring down one’s material possessions, of organizing a closet, or keeping a tidy home? Of course not. But what should be raising red flags for Christians are the subtle (and not so subtle) messages throughout the show which are communicating a variety of anti-biblical philosophies.

Because we are participants in and partakers of culture, we need to be carefully considering what exactly it is that we are receiving through various cultural “texts.”

The Promise of Happiness

On the first episode, Marie Kondo says, “the ultimate goal of tidying is really to learn to cherish everything that you have, so that you can achieve happiness for your family.” (More thoughts on the concept of cherishing the things we own here.) While initially this confident promise for happiness sounds so very appealing, and well, attainable, we ought to be the first to recognize the subtle lie in this sentiment. Will it make you happy to let go of material possessions, to minimize your stuff? If you have ever spent time bringing order to an area of your home or garage or office that particularly needed it, you likely can resonate with this sentiment. It does feel good to tidy. What is it about tidying that brings such satisfaction? Kondo would say that when we free ourselves of the things that do not spark joy and cherish the things that do, we find happiness by prioritizing what is most important to us.

May I suggest, however, that what is responsible for that happy feeling of satisfaction when we bring order to disorder is actually the image of God in us. Who was the first to bring order to the world? God himself, in Genesis 1, where we read that he brought form to what was formless, and it was good. Following creation, the first task God gives to humankind is one of bringing order – Adam is to keep and cultivate the garden, and to classify the animals God created. God is an orderly God, and as his image-bearers, we reflect his orderliness in various aspects of our lives.

So when we experience that feeling of satisfaction or happiness for the good work of tidying that we have completed, rather than look to the clean closet or fewer possessions that we own for lasting joy and proper perspective in life, let us look to the Creator of both joy and order, and rejoice for his image in us.

The Animistic Element

In each episode, Marie begins her time in the home of her clients by finding a special spot, kneeling, and greeting the home in prayer-like fashion, “to thank it for protecting you.” Additionally, she encourages her clients to hold and thank each item after determining that it indeed, does not spark joy for them, and ought to be discarded. While nothing religious is specifically mentioned in the show, Kondo herself has said that her method is partly inspired by the traditional Japanese folk religion Shinto, where inanimate objects are actually believed to possess a divine spirit or energy (kami). In Shintoism, cleaning and organizing things can be a spiritual practice, both through recognizing kami and kannagara (right way to live).

What seem like gentle and harmless touches ought to bring to mind Romans 1:25 for Christians, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” How easy it is for us to turn our focus from the Giver of the good gifts to the gifts themselves! How important it is that we protect our hearts against worshipping things rather than God himself.

In some places I have lived, the animistic element was clear: idols in peoples’ homes, goat skin bracelets to venerate ancestors. In Western cultures, animism, which is the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects, plants, and natural phenomenon, is less obvious but still a dangerous and penetrating message. Marie Kondo’s show is a clear example of a cultural text which is promoting animism, and without careful attention, we can find ourselves sucked into this empty philosophy.

“Oh great, she’s going to tell me to quit watching the show.”

Christians often fall on two sides of culture: one large group chooses to withdraw from mainstream culture, in an effort to protect itself against the infiltration of anti-biblical messages. A second large group fully participates in and enjoys all varieties of culture, but without consideration for how the anti-biblical messages are likely affecting them. I would suggest that being a faithful Christian living in post-Christian times looks like engaging culture through a biblical lens. Engaging culture means that we must be participating in it, at least to some degree, and not withdrawing for our own self-preservation. Employing a biblical lens means that as we consume cultural texts, we are filtering the messages carefully against what we know to be true from God’s Word. At times, wisdom may dictate that we stop consuming a particular text, or avoid certain texts altogether. But it is essential that Christians engage with culture if we are to have a voice in the world for dialogue and for God’s truth.

Engaging culture means that we must be participating in it, at least to some degree, and not withdrawing for our own self-preservation. Employing a biblical lens means that as we consume cultural texts, we are filtering the messages carefully against what we know to be true from God’s Word.

In the end, God tells us to live wisely. Our time on earth is precious, and limited. If we decide to consume a text like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, let us be wary of the empty philosophies presented, and do so with a biblical lens, attributing our satisfaction from tidying to the treasure of God’s image in us and ensuring that our gratitude is focused toward the Giver himself.


*Much thinking and writing on this issue can be attributed to Kevin Vanhoozer. His book, Everyday Theology, is an excellent example of cultural hermeneutics in practice (find it here).

originally published on January 29, 2019