Wearing his pajama bottoms with a bowl of ice cream in hand, my husband curiously tiptoed onto our back porch and called out to me in the grass, “What in the world are you doing?”
It was 10:00 p.m. With my headlamp tightly secured around my forehead, I was catching my breath after a round of burpees and sprints in the grassy hills of my back yard. I unplugged my ears from the sound of my early 2000’s playlist and responded.
“I’m getting my second workout in! This is what mentally tough people do!” I said as I reinserted the sound of Christina Aguilera singing, “thanks for making me a fighter.”
“Mentally tough or not, you are a human being and you were created to sleep!” He responded. Taking another bite of his ice cream, he turned back into the house. I was too busy doing my next round of burpees to hear a word he said.
It was August of 2020. Homeschooling, entrepreneurship, social justice issues, and isolation had left me burdened. I felt so much pressure, and I needed to cry out to God for peace and purpose in the chaos. I felt vulnerable and unsafe. So, naturally, I did what I had always done when it came to my stress management. I committed to a new diet and exercise plan.
In this season of uncertainty, I figured I could anchor my purpose in some rock-solid abs.
Fifteen years earlier, I sat in middle school detention with my best friend, Ashlee, and three of the “popular” boys in school. One of these boys had caught my eye early in the school year and it seemed like there wasn’t a moment that passed by when I wasn’t thinking about him.
The supervising teacher left to go to the bathroom and my crush turned around in his chair to face me.
“Let’s rate Tori on a scale from 1-10,” he said to the entire room.
The other boys eagerly shook their heads in response and encircled me like a flock of hungry vultures.
Nervously, I glanced down at a picture of myself and my three sisters taped to the front of my binder. I wore a pastel floral shirt and my hair had been freshly cut with layers. The confident smile across my face created subtle lines around my eyes made me look peaceful and content. I loved this picture and thought I looked beautiful in it. I shifted in my seat as I gazed down at the picture and wondered if they would call out the beauty in me that I saw in myself.
“I would rate you at a 5.5 right now but you have the potential to be an 8 if you shaved your arms, lost 10 pounds, plucked your eyebrows, wore more makeup, and grew your bra size by a cup,” one of the boys said with confidence.
I left the detention room offended but determined. Making a silent agreement with myself that I’d never be humiliated like that again; I got busy working toward the self-improvement list these boys handed me. Although I didn’t admit it out loud, their comments transformed into a mental list of standards to measure up to. This was the first time I believed the lie that my safety and worth were dependent on my ability to control what other people said and thought about me.
In the years following, I would live bound by my need to perform for worthiness and a place of belonging. This belief transformed my behavior in my relationships, education, church, family, and how I treated my physical body.
God has redeemed my life in so many ways since that conversation in middle school. But, much like the trauma of that detention room, I still felt encircled by the weight of the world around me and the lack of control I had. So, I searched for worth and security in the same way I did in the past by focusing on what I felt I could control – my physical body.
Sometimes we run to not so praiseworthy solutions when our identify and security is attacked. We numb on Netflix or social media, begin new projects we don’t finish, deep clean the garage, or pour a glass of wine or two. Although it appeared that I was doing something noble for my health, I was running from the deep heart work God desired to do in and through me.
Arriving to where God is calling us requires us to dive into the depths of our story to address the offences done against us first. Without naming the hurt that was caused, we will spend our lives pacifying the symptoms of a hurting heart and misplaced identity. However, when we name it, we can identify a place where we need the love of God to come and tend to our brokenness with specificity.
Three months into my diet and exercise plan, God met me through the words of a friend who was willing to hold my story, name my hurt, and open my eyes to the cycles of striving I had been running in since that moment in my detention room. This moment served as a fork in the road. I had a choice to make, to turn toward freedom or bondage.
Grieving the brokenness of the world and my own heartache, I re-surrendered this aspect of my life and asked God what it looked like for me to truly enter into physical freedom. Finally released from the burden I had been carrying for so long, I laid down my striving and wept in His presence.
Jesus offers us all this invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)
Rock hard abs, a thriving business, a healthy family, a natural solution for the world’s problems, or control over the perfection of others couldn’t offer my soul the rest it cried out for. This is a solution that is only found in the finished work of Jesus.
When you think of God, do you give Him the characteristic of gentleness and humility first? Or do you see Him as an angry judge who spends His time collecting tally marks to rate your performance?
Before God asks you to show up, He invites you to return to rest.
As it turns out, the burpees in my back yard only added to the burden. The heart work God desired to do in me required my willingness to trust him enough to enter His rest.
God has given you work to do but it doesn’t come with a heavy burden attached. When we align our lives with His way of working, God can do in a moment what we couldn’t do in a lifetime.
Come to God with the burden you carry.
Cast off the burden.
Rest is ready for you.