Happy Exhaustion

I’m 42 years old and back in school. My son, age 4, leaps eagerly out of his bunk in the morning, dons a knapsack that dwarfs him, and I swing him onto the yellow bus for junior kindergarten. Then I, too, put on my knapsack and head out the door; only I go to the “big school.”

School comes with mixed feelings. It’s a rich privilege, a grace that opens new worlds. But it’s also a load of hard work, a trek through dense brush. You could say it’s a grand adventure that requires scaling some rough but lofty mountains. As I write, I’m thinking about my key comprehensive exam coming up in 12 days. Few things have rattled my confidence as much as this exam.

The home front is equally intense with my wife, Joy, back at work after a maternity leave, and our three children under age 5. If one child is not peeing on the couch, the other has tripped and landed on her face, decided to scribble with black marker on the white carpet, or accidentally smashed our glass coffee table while trying to lift a wooden stool.

“We have to lower our standards for cleanliness, meal plans, and sleep,” Joy and I tell each other, “and increase our tolerance for chaos.”

I have an older friend who laughs heartily when I recall the latest of our little family dramas. One Sunday in the fellowship hall he said something poignant: “Ah, I remember those intense days when the kids were young. I thought they were so hard. But I glanced back at some photographs the other day, and I was surprised. In all the photos I look quite happy.”

That reminds me of another friend whose home was a raging sea of plastic toys, cartoon videos, and children’s books. He put on considerable weight when his kids were small and demanding. Patting his rounded stomach, he looked at me with glad, bleary eyes and sighed: “It’s all happiness, Peter. This is all happiness.”

Today my son comes home from school in a state of blissful exhaustion. He crumples onto the stairs and begs for a drink. Beside his knapsack lies a large plastic bag. It’s full of construction-paper flowers, finger-painted trees, and an orange stick-man that has “Daddy” scrawled underneath.

Maybe his smaller life is a picture of ours. A work that is also a grace, one that comes with a happy fatigue and, though we can’t see it yet, will bring forth something beautiful for God’s kingdom. That is our prayer: we entrust our energies to its promise.

Reflection

All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. . . . The real hope then is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see.

—Thomas Merton

About the Author

Peter Schuurman, who is laboring toward a Ph.D. in religious studies, passed his comprehensive exam. He’s on the preaching team of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Guelph, Ontario. His youngest child, Grace, was born last Reformation Day.
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