I asked a friend how he was doing the other day. He said he was tired, which he said was interesting because he was doing less than he had been doing this time last year.
But I acknowledged some large life events and changes that had recently occurred for him. And he replied with a thoughtful, “Yes.”
My next comment was that maybe he was experiencing soul fatigue. “Soul fatigue,” he repeated out loud, nodding slowly.
I suggested that thought to him because I know what soul fatigue feels like. I have experienced years of soul fatigue – a relentless ache that doesn’t seem to go away and a tiredness that is never cured.
This is a fatigue that goes through your muscles and bones, deep into your soul. It is a tiredness that isn’t refreshed even after a long night’s rest.
A week’s vacation creates no sense of rest. Moderate exercise and a healthy diet have no impact on this form of weariness.
A full set of routine labs at a physician’s visit reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Even a meticulous plan for an intentional slowing of life’s pace seems to make no difference.
How do we even get to a place where our soul is so fatigued that we cannot fathom what it means to feel rested? Can soul fatigue exist simply due to a life of never-ending busyness?
U.S. society certainly seems to value work over rest. Our culture is driven by productivity. We are often known by what we do rather than who we are.
Few people have the luxury of being able to take a week’s vacation followed by an intentional slowing of life’s pace. The busyness of our society rarely allows that opportunity.
Salaried careers may require more than 40 hours a week. Some individuals are working two and three jobs just to pay bills and keep up with the rising costs of goods and services.
Children have a myriad of activities that require parental transportation. Some middle-aged adults are caring for aging parents while balancing careers. And in a desire to give back to society, we involve ourselves in numerous charitable endeavors.
Each of these is necessary and good but leaves us with little time to fully rejuvenate.
For some, soul fatigue happens with the injustice of marginalization. If you cannot share and live your truth, then you cannot flourish as the person you were created to be.
When there are systemic barriers that keep you from living in freedom, or when large and powerful individuals and groups in society argue that you don’t even have a right to peacefully exist, it can lead to exhaustion.
It manifests as racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism. Feeling the need to prove personal worth or combat fragile egos can surely lead to soul fatigue.
For others, it is living with grief or trauma. It might be a significant loss, such as the death of a loved one or close friend, particularly if the loss was sudden and unexpected.
Sitting with a child through numerous chemo treatments will certainly take its toll. Chronic illness, a contentious divorce, experiencing sexual assault or being a crime victim can also lead to a soul-numbing weariness that exceeds common fatigue.
Prolonged grief doesn’t have a place in this busy society. We are given a short number of days or weeks to grieve and are then expected to bounce back to normal.
Someone experiencing incapacitating grief isn’t given the space to live into it, evidenced by the fact that Prolonged Grief Disorder was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for the first time in 2022.
For me, soul fatigue was the result of decades of domestic abuse. I was devalued by being told that I was worthless and stupid. I had no rights in that I was not allowed to make decisions or have an opinion or voice of my own.
Even leaving the abuse didn’t end the trauma. I was no longer hearing how much he hated me or wanted to send me to hell every day, but I was still being stalked and harassed to the point of paralyzing fear.
I enrolled in the state’s Address Confidentiality Program, but somehow he still managed to find me. I was afraid to be in my house, and I was afraid to leave my house.
I was on constant high alert, and this was exhausting. I don’t mean this flippantly at all, but it’s hard to “rest in the Lord” when your life is being threatened.
Scripture is filled with encouragement to find rest. To list only a few examples: God rested after creation, Levitical law prescribed rest for the land in which crops were grown, David was granted rest from his enemies, and Jesus slept through a storm as well as seeking solitude in the desert for prayer.
It is vital for faith communities to help us recognize soul fatigue and to constructively address it by encouraging rest, renewal and rejuvenation.
May the unfailing love of God (Psalm 33:22) be with us even as we hope for the restoration of our souls.