Fruitfulness of Exhaustion

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Judging by the longer lines at the coffee stands and the growing number of blank looks upon the faces of deputies and bishops, I would guess that General Convention is taking its toll on all of us—an assessment that should not surprise anyone. Today is the eighth legislative day of the convention. Add to that the two or more days spent organizing the legislative committees and the weeks of preparation spent pouring through the Blue Book and we find ourselves so far into this wilderness journey that we can barely recognize the path we took to get here (or our weary selves in the early-morning mirror).

Not all hope is lost, however, as the mood in the House of Deputies and in our legislative committees seems to change in response to that exhaustion. Although some groups might give up or pull back when worn down, we seem to recommit ourselves to the task at hand. Our legislative committees meet earlier. Floor amendments are quickly dispatched or disappear altogether. Procedural motions to extend debate or refer resolutions elsewhere are overwhelmingly defeated. The House knows that there is work to do, and, despite our fatigue, we are here to do that work. But from where does that resolve come?

In Mark 6:30-44, we read the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000-plus. The story, however, starts not as an occasion for a miraculous provision but as an opportunity for rest and relaxation. Recognizing that the disciples had just returned from their first missionary journey (a story that is the subject of this Sunday’s gospel lesson), Jesus sent them away “to a desolate place to rest for a while” (v. 30). But, before they had the chance to sneak away, they were swarmed by those who recognized them and craved their attention. Sympathetic to the needs of the multitude and those of his disciples, Jesus caught up with them and began to minister to the crowd. As it grew late—and the fatigue of the disciples approached its breaking point—the twelve asked Jesus if he would dismiss the crowd so that everyone could get something to eat. Seeming to ignore the disciples’ exhaustion, Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” And the disciples, overcome by their limited resources, pled with their master, saying, “What are we supposed to do–go buy 200 denarii worth of bread?”

Of course, we remember how the story ends. At their teacher’s request, the disciples brought forward what they could find–five loaves of bread and two fish–and Jesus took their scant offering and transformed it into a plentiful meal that satisfied the whole crowd, leaving twelve baskets full of leftovers. This is a story of God’s provision defeating humanity’s scarcity. In a moment of exhaustion, in a place of desolation, the Lord met his disciples’ emptiness and enabled abundance.

At this point in the convention, when my eyes are tired of staring at screens and my head feels like it will spin off my shoulders, it is that promise of God’s provision to which I cling. What else could keep me focused on the work ahead? I love this stuff, but even I am tired of talking about it. Plus, with only two legislative days remaining, I cannot comprehend how we will accomplish what needs to be done. Still, I believe that we will finish all that we have come here to do. Why do we keep working? Because we believe that this is important, godly work. How can we keep working? Always and forever with God’s help.

If we were here by ourselves, we should have given up a long time ago. Instead, as deep physical and spiritual exhaustion sets in, we discover that we are not alone–that God himself is with us. As I encounter my own inability to press on and do all that I want to do—the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak—I find myself in that place where I need help. The very state of exhaustion, therefore, becomes the means by which I find God’s provision.

How can we not be amazed at how hard everyone works at General Convention? Deputies, bishops, legislative aides, support staff, translators, media representatives, volunteers and countless others who labor behind the scenes give everything they have to make this work possible. Of course we are tired. Of course we need help. That we stare at the insurmountable challenges ahead and press on beyond the point of exhaustion is a testament to our collective faith. We are not in this alone, and that is the real success of our work–not merely the resolutions we pass or the decisions we reach but our belief that despite our limitations God will enable us to bear fruit.

The Rev. Evan Garner is a deputy from the Diocese of Alabama. He blogs at A long way from home.