I am tired. As I typed these words, it struck me that I have used this exact phrase in several previous post first-drafts from this past year. A reminder that I have been tired for a long time. Even as I type, I am resisting the urge to transition into an idealized post about all the things that I have done to find joy and energy to fuel me through this season of exhaustion; about how I have been able to focus solely on gratitude and unexpected moments of joy to ease my melancholy emotions and depleted energy levels. Because it is easier for me to write that. To paint myself in some superhero light as a person who is able to embrace all the positive and immediately shatter through every negative emotion and experience. However, the goal of The Unexpected Ever Afters is to offer an alternative to this easy-to-write reality and instead focus on truth, nuance, and vulnerability. So, in the spirit of vulnerability, I have been tired for months. And, although, of course, at times I have been swept into moments of joy and gratitude, I have also spent an inexplicable amount of time barely hanging on through the day-to-day expectations and responsibilities. As I have continued in this less than ideal reality, I found myself confronted with the idea of moving through rather than pushing away the negative emotions and experiences.
Recently, my church started a sermon series focused on the book Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge by Mark Batterson. As part of this series, our congregation is reading the book together throughout the next several weeks. In the first part of the book, Batterson wrote about the difference of “praying away versus praying through.” Although this is a relatively simple idea, it has caused me to think about all the things I don’t want to continue through; things I literally just want to be over, to simply wave a magic wand and wish it all away. For example, everything COVID. COVID fatigue is real and I am ready to be done with all of it, the masks, the social distancing, the restrictions on activities. But, we’re just not there yet. We are continuing to do our best to keep ourselves and others safe, we are continuing to live through it. Then there’s my emotionally draining job, which has, at times, demanded more from me than I have to give. School social work can be tough during a normal year, but this past year has been extreme; the level of stress circulating our communities doesn’t spare our children. But, here I am, continuing through it. I am not sure what it looks like to pray through each day, rather than pray away each day, but I have been contemplating this notion.
Shortly after reading about the concept of praying through, I went for an outdoor run and my experience during this particular outing helped shape my perspective on the idea of going through. For starters, considering I live in North Dakota, running outside in February is quite the accomplishment (another COVID consequence as I attempt to avoid gyms or indoor tracks). However, this particular run turned out to be extra cold. The sunshine streaming into my kitchen window was deceiving of the actual outside temperature, and even though I layered in running pants, shirts, jacket, hat, and gloves, I significantly underestimated the strength of the wind. Oh, good old North Dakota wind. It cut right through my layers and pierced my skin. I had planned on running for 2.5 miles but after about one mile, my legs stopped. As I stood on the sidewalk and looked down at the slightly snow covered ground, my eyes watering due to the cold, I thought to myself, “I wish I was not a mile from home.” I shook my legs and arms and tucked my face a little deeper into the turtle neck of my running jacket and started the trek home. I walked slowly, rewarming up my legs, then increased to a jog, and when I was within a couple of blocks of my house, I started to run. I made it inside, surprised by my own strength, and I treated myself to a warm cup of tea and a hot shower, the low point of the run already fading from my memory.
When I had started the mile back to my house, I began thinking about the idea of going through instead of wishing away. Could I have sat down on the ground and given up? Could I have started to flag down cars to bring me home? Called home and had my husband wake the kids from rest time and pack them in the van to rescue me? Sure. But, in the end, the way that was likely the safest, least disruptive, and most reliable was to go through it. To start by taking a step through the difficult, then another, and another, knowing that eventually the end would be visible. As I began my frigid journey home, I realized I was going to be able to make it through . The hardest part of the run (similar to the current exhausting season) wouldn’t last forever.
Of course, the negative emotions from COVID have already lasted much longer than the chill from a North Dakota winter run. The complexity of emotions that I feel daily at my job are still suffocating. I am still tired. However, I have started to remind myself to just keep moving through it. To pray through it. To know that sometimes the only safe, reliable, way is through. And, when I cross that finish line, back into the warmth of a new normal, I hope the sting of the low points will start to fade, and the strength and determination to make it through will be what I remember. To those of you who are feeling exhausted and over it, you are not alone. I, too, am figuring out how to move through.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.
*photo credit: Winter in North Dakota taken by Jessica’s Dad*