I stood frozen at the windswept corner of 45th Street and 10th Avenue as life swirled around me in a blizzard of motion. New York City was always controlled chaos, and as I waited for the light to turn green, I closed my eyes for a moment to shut it out. I could hear the murmur of conversation in a dozens of languages, mingled with drilling at a nearby construction site. The smell of salty fried food from a halal cart met the fumes of countless taxis. A siren wailed, my eyes jolted open, and I saw the light turned green. Impatient New Yorkers brushed past me like a river bending around a boulder. For just a second more, I stood bolted to the ground like the trash can beside me, savoring stillness. Then, I stepped back into the current.
I’d moved to the city a month before, and my body felt frayed and exhausted. I learned I was experiencing what’s called “directed attention fatigue.” My brain was overwhelmed by the constant assault on my senses and the amount of stimuli it needed to filter out to stay focused. I was more stressed, worn out and irritable than I had ever been. I wondered, Would this get better?
“I was more stressed, worn out and irritable than I had ever been. I wondered, Would this get better?”
Well, sort of. I got used to the noise as I turned up the intensity of my life to match the energy of New York City.
Wherever you live, you can probably relate in some ways. Doesn’t it feel like the volume has been turned up for all of us? We share a kind of “modern life fatigue”: physically, mentally and spiritually stretched beyond our limits. We’re over-busy and under-rested, as Bilbo Baggins would say, we’re “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
Something about busyness is addictive and adrenalizing. It carries the promises of achievement and satisfaction, while slowly stealing our peace and draining our battery. We lament how busy we are, but we don’t know what “less” looks like. Author John Mark Comer writes, “The modern world is a virtual conspiracy against the interior life … hurry is a form of violence against the soul.”
Something began to feel off to me about this lifestyle. Reading the Gospels, I saw Jesus’ priorities and pace of life clashed with mine. I developed a haunting sense that this wasn’t the abundant life He talked about. He met constant interruption with compassion. I was defined by hyper-efficiency and irritability when I fell behind schedule. Living in the city that never sleeps, exhaustion is a badge of honor. But God says He “gives sleep to those He loves” (Psalm 127:2).
Whose values was I living from? One verse lodged in my heart like a splinter:
“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 11:28-30 (NIV)
The invitation of Lent
This verse says that when you are worn thin — carrying baggage you can’t seem to unload — Jesus will give you true rest.
He will give it as a gift, if you just come to Him. My challenge has been learning how to receive this gift. Lent can be a helpful beginning.
Lent is primarily a season of fasting, representing the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Fasting cultivates hunger for God by removing a regular activity in order to reveal and intensify spiritual longing and create new space to seek God. This alignment of physical and spiritual hunger can increase awareness of God and give more time to pursue intimacy with Him. Each costly moment of surrender represents dying to ourselves, leaving a vulnerable vacuum behind. In the ashes of our hurriedness, God wants to resurrect abundant life.
When I fill every last space in my life with relationships, activities and information, even these good things can drown out my heart’s hunger for God. Yet, when I release some things, I suddenly find that He wants to satisfy the longings left behind.
Hasn’t that been true every time we encountered the Lord in a significant way? We’ve had to turn from something we held onto to truly see Him. We released shame that defined us and were given a new identity. We gave up striving for acceptance, for the peace of being a part of God’s family. We’ve always had to trade something lesser for more of Him.
During Lent, God directs us to focus our attention on Him because attention sparks adoration. Like Mary in Luke 10:38-42, who was captivated by Jesus’ presence during the hubbub of dinner prep, can we resist the insistent demands of culture to make room for “what is better” — for Him?
Where can you make room for God? What can you release to focus on “what is better”?
Our Lenten devotional, which tells 40 stories of turning from something old to new life in Christ, can be a helpful companion as you slow down to seek God this season.