I’m so tired!
On the last night that I spent in Puerto Rico, I was hanging around with a group of younger people that are very important in my life. They were speaking about how tired they were and how working and adulting felt like a burden. They wanted to have more time to enjoy life and to take care of themselves.
I understood. After all, these are not your typical Gen Xers and Millennials that go on Tic Toc to complain about having to be adults. They’ve gone through a catastrophic hurricane, earthquakes, economic recession, and a global pandemic. They are due to be tired. They are tired of the word resiliency and are still questioning why all these things are happening to them.
But, when I paid closer attention to what they were complaining about, they were talking about church. They had spent all their youth in church activities. They had to be at church to deal with the minute details of what happens there: sound, music, equipment, leading. They had to arrive earlier than everyone else. They had to go to meetings on Saturday. They were in leadership. They felt like the church had used them and spit them out! They were tired! Therefore, they had the right to go on Sundays and not do anything else. They had earned the right to complain! They did not have to go every Sunday. And they thought that you did not have to go to church to be a good Christian! Gasp!
I confess that as an early Gen X that still has impacts of the generational aspects of Boomers, I reacted like a termagant (if you are curious, a harsh tempered old woman or the female version of a better-known term: curmudgeon.) I heard myself saying something like this:
What the heck? You are complaining about being tired of the church in front of a pastor? You are complaining of being burned out in front of a church professional? Well, bu hu for you! You don’t know what that means! I have been working for the church in some type of leadership since I was 21 and I’m still here!!!! I have not given up! Wrath! Pestilence!! Sulffer!!
But, as I’ve been sitting on that conversation, I’ve been wondering if they feel tired… or if they are weary. Weary of dealing with all the circumstances that surround them inside and outside the church building and circles. Weary of seeing the good but also experiencing the harshness and the demands of some of the people that surrounded them in church. Weary of the rigorousness that sometimes it’s imposed on the younger generations when they decide to follow God’s calling. And in that weariness, they have expressed the doubts, fears and uncertainties that have overtaken generations before them.
I am Weary
One of the people that is preaching about this passage, decided to do a word study about the word “weary”. Apparently, it comes from a Middle English wery, from Old English wērig; akin to Old High German wuorag which means intoxicated and perhaps from the Greek aōros to sleep. It means “exhausted in strength, endurance, vigor, or freshness. It also means having one's patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted.
The interesting thing is when you look at the word "cansado" which is used to translate the word “weary” in English. Those who know think the word comes from the Latin campsare which means to bend or divert from a path. They also think that word comes from the Greek kámptein, from bend or fold, probably based on the idea of ceasing from doing something. Apparently, it is a maritime term, where you divert the vessel because you are exhausted from the journey.
Rev. Cece Armstrong, the writer for the materials we are using during Advent says that we can be weary in various ways. We can be weary because of our age, because of our waiting, because we have faced the same routine for years or maybe for other reasons.
Could we say, then, that Zechariah was weary? He was getting on in years. He had been waiting for the coming of the Messiah and for things to change in the current condition of colonized Israel. And he had been chosen, probably before being born, to be a priest (note that he belonged to the priestly order of Abijah, meaning that what he was doing in the temple, even though to us might have been exciting and a privilege, to him it was part of his routine, and maybe even something that caused him boredom or anxiety about what his life had become.
If we think about Zechariah as weary, would that change the way that we’ve seen him and sometimes judged him throughout the years? Rev. Armstrong states that “when we are weary, we tend to seek clarity instead of insisting on God’s grace to provide for us during the weariness.” Therefore, we find that a way to deal with the lack of clarity and our weariness for not getting the answers or attention we need is silence. Notice that silent Zechariah steps out of the temple to find silence. We have no inkling about how the people that were waiting reacted beyond knowing that he had seen a vision. There are no questions, or conversation among them. In this case then, weariness can cause silence. It can cause disengagement. It can lead us to lose patience. Tolerance is in small supply. We need to sit aside and wait in silence to see if there’s a glimmer of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.
But there is another way to deal with weariness found in Scripture. Some of the people that write the psalms are also weary. They are weary of seeing their enemies win and laugh at them. They are weary of God’s anger. They want restoration. They want salvation because they remember God’s good deeds for God’s people. But their response is not silence. It is to stubbornly shout, as in Psalm 80: “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity, the artist behind this representation of Psalm 80 says something very interesting: Politeness is not the language of the weary, and sometimes we want to scream: “Wake up your power, God! Save us! How long?!"
These are two responses. And I won’t say that one is right, and one is wrong. They’re both part of the natural way that we deal with life, and with church as well. We need breaks. We need moments of silence, and sometimes we need to scream. We need to confront, but sometimes we need to divert, and come to a safe harbor where we can gather ourselves and recover our strength.
Can We Exchange Our Weariness for Hope?
Rev. Armstrong, at the end of her commentary asks this question: Can we exchange our weariness for hope? I believe that, as I grow older, I cannot find a simple answer to that question. I believe that you cannot exchange one for the other, in the same way that I don’t believe that lament can’t be exchanged for joy. These two things coexist in the same way that the sun coexists with the clouds. We’ve had cloudy days lately, but the sun is still there, even when we cannot see it. It is the same thing that I feel about the metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel: I’ve always believed that the light is there, with me, through the tunnel, even when the darkness hides it from me.
We need to recognize the difference between being tired and being weary, because, at least in the way I understand it, weariness goes deeper. In Spanish making this distinction is harder. When you try to find ways to deal with the word “cansado” you find that weary can also be translated to “harto” (fed up or sick of something). And if you go to that maritime image again and think about life as a road trip, it is not the same to recognize that you are tired and need to stop at a rest stop… than you been weary and stopping, without wanting to get on the freeway ever again.
Both Zechariah and the Psalmist are living in between these two extremes, between tiredness and weariness, between weariness and hope… but both recognized that amid their doubts, pains, and sorrow there is restoration. John is born and Zechariah speaks again. The Psalmist places his hope in that he will call on God’s name again. There are glimpses of hope intertwined with the weariness and the tiredness… always. So there’s always the chance of sailing to sea once again.
Yesterday I watched the memorial service of a woman named Simone. She was an elder at Grace Hope Presbyterian Church, and a candidate for ministry for Mid-KY presbytery.
She had been dealing with a deadly disease for some time, something that somebody her age should never have to face. But… our bodies are all different and life and death coexist in ways that we cannot comprehend. As I heard the testimony of different family members and coworkers, I thought about the weariness that she must have felt while dealing with this disease. But every story shared pointed out her desire to serve others, the importance of the church in her life, and of her empathy toward others, even when she was in what would be the bed of her passing.
One of her coworkers shared that, in the whiteboard she had in her office, she kept important work data, but also had Bible passages written in it and he shared one of passages, found in Philippians 4:4-8:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This is a good truth to remember, while we live in the in-between weariness and hope. May the peace that God gave Simone during her pain, may the hope that God gave her in the middle of her weariness and tiredness, be with us all. And may her life inspire everyone to set sail once again, knowing that the sun is always there, through the clouds.