E is for “Exhaustion”

This is an entry in the “Acrostic Contemplation.” (Not coincidentally, this post is delayed due to the events recounted in the opening paragraph.)

ex·​haus·​tion | \ ig-ˈzȯs-chən \

  1. a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue.
  2. the action or state of using something up or of being used up completely.
Let sleeping dogs…

Two weeks ago we got a new puppy. We have had Lady, a miniature poodle for over 9 years now, but she was 6 months old when we got her. In spite of what everyone told me, I had no idea just how much work, how trying, and exhausting having a puppy would be. Beauregard is a very handsome standard poodle, what they call a “Parti” poodle, with a black and white coat. Like a toddler, he requires constant attention when loose and about the house. Unlike a toddler, he is crate trained and can be left to sleep quietly a good portion of the day. The truth is, being a middle aged man, I now get up more often in the night to go to the bathroom than the 11 week puppy does. The first few nights, however, we woke up devoid of energy and there was not enough coffee and tea to keep the fatigue from creeping into my brain.

There is a deep, penetrating exhaustion that we all feel from time to time and it is not simply physical fatigue. It comes with anxiety, depression, or grief. (And each of those is often in the company of the other.) When we first got married, very unexpectedly, we had the opportunity to go to the University of Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew and Jewish Studies (as it was then called, located on Yarnton Manor; it is now the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and is in the Clarendon Institute). We arrived on a rainy October morning with less than £100 to our name and, as gracious as everyone was, when I awoke in the middle of the night, Jetlag having caught up to me, I sat in the little bay window as tears came to my eyes, not weeping, but just so very, deeply tired, and afraid of what I had done, dragging my bride to a new country and a little flat with no money. And when Mack died, the weariness clung to me like heavy, wet clothes, smothering me.

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
(Psa. 6:6–7)

At some point in all our lives, and sometimes with more frequency than we feel we can bear, our reserves of energy, life, and spirit become exhausted. The physical weariness may be the most obvious, but the exhaustion of the spirit is the most debilitating. Throughout the Psalms we find expression of this same degradation of the soul, ground down by forces external and internal, the pressures of loss, rejection, and conflict bear down upon all of us at some point.

While physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists will all tell you that among other treatments, physical exercise is one of the most effective components of combating depression and fatigue (and it is a battle), the same is true for the Spirit. Most nights I wake up at some point and thoughts and worries threaten to lap over the protective walls of my brain and so I begin to pray. “I was glad when then said to me, ‘Come, let us go up to the House of the Lord.’” I recite from memory, as best I can, befuddled by sleep, the Morning Prayer. I used to simply pray extemporaneously, but I found that only gave room for more thoughts to flood in. Take it to the Lord in prayer, as the old song says, absolutely. But in that moment I need peace, reassurance, and refreshment. So I recite the Confession, I say the Creed, I utter prayers that somewhere else around the world, at that very moment, someone is also praying and affirming. I am not alone, I am strengthened, and I sleep.

V. Show us your mercy, O Lord;
R. And grant us your salvation.
V. Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R. Let your people sing with joy.
V. Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R. For only in you can we live in safety.
V. Lord, keep this nation under your care;
R. And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V. Let your way be known upon earth;
R. Your saving health among all nations.
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V. Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R. And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
Amen.

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