While I was in Luang Prabang, I got the news that there were more changes coming to the centre in Jakarta. There was already 1 person being reassigned to another centre; I now learned that the other person was also being reassigned. This would leave the bulk of the administrative work that needs to be done around here resting squarely on my shoulders. Sure, 2 other persons were assigned to the Jakarta centre with me but they were brand new to the organisation, so no matter how I looked at it, I would need to bear the responsibility of keeping things running as they should be. Suddenly, after months of staying in the background, I was the senior person in charge. This meant that I would basically be involved in everything until my 2 new colleagues got the hang of things, which would take a few weeks.
Not only were there 2 brand new people here, but 1 of them would be moving on in a few weeks to her real assigned centre; she was just filling a gap here for a little while. So at the point where she would have become really valuable in terms of her organisational knowledge, she would be replaced by a brand new person, thereby creating more work for me again.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it: the first 2 weeks back from my vacation were rough. I knew when I was still in Luang Prabang that it would be, but it was still hard. Of course, being exhausted from poor sleep for that entire first week didn’t help. But even if I had been sleeping like a baby, it still would have been rough.
A person who works 5 days a week usually puts in about 40 hours at their job, which is 8 hours per day. Let’s extrapolate those 8 hours per day over a 6-day work week, like I work here. This means that I would work 48 hours in a week, or 96 hours in 2 weeks, all things being equal.
That’s not what happened. Over those 2 weeks, I worked a total of 110 hours. I know because we’re required to keep track of our hours everyday and I always do. That’s an average of 11 hours a day. One day in particular, I worked from 8 am straight through until 4 am the next day; that’s 20 hours of non-stop work. Then I got 3 hours sleep and was up working again.
This experience put me back in touch with my yuppie roots when I’d work 10 or 12 hours at the office then go home and continue working for another 4 or 5 hours. I did that for years. In comparison, my daily routine over the past 2 years since that all came to a screeching halt has been wonderfully relaxed. Of course, I have very busy days sometimes but, generally speaking, my schedule has been much slower and I’ve been loving and appreciating it.
This changed abruptly when I got back from my vacation, and to be perfectly honest, I felt a kernel of satisfaction from the ceaseless striving that I did during those first 2 weeks. You see, I used to be addicted to exhaustion. I used to sleep about 4 or 5 hours each night, not because I couldn’t sleep longer, but because I was always striving to accomplish more and please other people. I bought into the lie that if I wasn’t exhausted then I wasn’t trying hard enough. So I would sleep less and work more and continue to be exhausted. I was both a people pleaser and a hard worker, so it was a natural development for me.
Not only would I sleep less, but my sleep would also be less restful because I had more on my mind. This perpetuated the cycle of exhaustion that I was caught up in and I genuinely didn’t even know that something was wrong with living like this.
Then God ejected me from the rat race. I started sleeping for as long as my body needed it, and I came to value rest. Not just sleep – rest.
So here I was, back in Jakarta after a wonderful 2 weeks, caught up in that exhaustion cycle again because I felt so responsible for keeping things going here. I felt like I had to do everything possible to keep the centre running smoothly; my sense of responsibility was so great, and my re-awakened addiction so compelling, that I just couldn’t leave things undone. Then, deep in my heart, I felt that little kernel of satisfaction in the unending exhaustion and it shocked me out of the madness.
I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get back on that treadmill and stay there. I honestly don’t think God for meant us to work like that. How does such ceaseless striving leave us with time to appreciate the life that we actually have before us to live? What quality of life can we have when all we do is work from before the sun is up until way after it goes down? I don’t want that for myself and I know God doesn’t want that for me. Of course He wants me to work hard and to work well, but I don’t think He wants me to work to the exclusion of all else, and I certainly don’t think he wants me to work unto exhaustion.
So I stopped. I stopped and I took a deep breath and I put things into perspective as I tried to find my balance again. Around here, di wuk cyaan done (translation: the work is unending). There’s always something to do, and after that there’s always something else to do. Long before I arrived, this place was here, and long after I’m gone it will remain, and somehow it will survive without me killing myself because of a misplaced sense of responsibility and my own glory-seeking.
Yes, I am the most senior person here and that means I will be more involved in things. But it also means I need to be smart about how I ensure that things get done. After all, what sense is there in burning myself out? So, thank God, my ceaseless striving has ceased.
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to his beloved sleep. Psalm 127:1-2 (ESV)