Summary: Like Jeremiah, we get bone weary when we feel abandoned, when we are living out of tune with the times, and when we suppress the desire to live in integrity. But In Christ we see one who experienced all this but lives to give us new life.
Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, January 31, 1982; Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC September 22, 1985
There was a time when I did not really know what it meant to be tired. I still cherish the image of myself as tireless, limitless in energy, able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, the whole bit. I’ll bet you thought the big red “S” on my shirt stood for Smith, didn’t you?
And I guess lots of us harbor fantasies like that. Others may fall, others may falter, but I will prevail. I will manage. The lady in the TV commercial used to say, “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself,” and we all suspected that was not only her headache talking; that was also her ego talking, that was her invincible self saying, “Don’t tell me I’m weak, don’t tell me I need help. I can do it, I’m Superwoman.
There was a time, I say, when I did not really know what it was to be tired. All sass and vinegar, I thought I could tackle just about anything and handle it. But then something happened.
I don't know quite what it was, but it seemed to have something or another to do with the inexorable march forward of the calendar. I used not to know what it was to be weary, but now there is the forward movement of the calendar and there is too much work to do and there are fast-approaching deadlines to meet and there are scores of meetings to attend at lots and lots of universities, and I am beginning to understand what it is to be tired, so tired I’d call it bone weary. Are you with me?
But of course being bone weary is not special to me, nor is it just a matter of physical endurance. There is a weariness of the spirit, too, there is a groaning tiredness in the spirit which affects not just me, not just church members, but in fact affects the whole culture. In some sense ours is a bone weary world; it has had to grow up too fast, it has had to accomplish too much in too little time. Our world itself is bone weary.
Consider for example how we think of work. Despite the problems of unemployment, despite the acid remarks cast on the poor by the privileged, we are a people who want to work, a people who do work and who work hard. And yet there is ample evidence that we do not find our work satisfying, but rather that we are bone weary about our work. We speak of the fellow who labors in the factory, turning the same nut on the same place on each automobile that comes past him, turning that same nut so long until he becomes a nut himself.
We office worker types face mounting in-baskets, and struggle to move all that paper over into the out-basket, but find ourselves bone weary when we cannot really grasp what difference another ream or two of paper work has made. Bone weary, exhausted, uncertain.
Or there is the world of education. Believe me, I am familiar with bone weary students, not only the ones who have pulled all-nighters to get through their exams, but more important, those who are in school because there is no other place to be, and they are bored, utterly bored, with the whole business. Bone weary.
In fact, we have even invented a new name for the malady. We call it burnout. Have you heard that term? Burnout; we speak of executives burning out, like the electric motor on my furnace just as heating season began -- too tired to turn, to pooped to percolate, burnt out. And isn't it interesting, by the way, that we can refer to ourselves now in mechanical terms? We speak of being burned out, we speak of having our wires crossed, we complain that our circuits are overloaded; in some ways we think of ourselves as complex machines, wearing out and in need of repair or replacement. Bone weary.
But, you know, we do need to see that bone-weariness, weariness of the spirit, was not invented in the 20th Century. It is not simply a contemporary malaise. This powerful sickness at the heart is, I suppose, as old as human nature, and certainly as old as our familiar friend Jeremiah. You see, Jeremiah is that prophet who more than any other pulls back the veil of privacy and lets us see into his own soul. He permits us to watch something of his own struggle with his God and with his own heart. Listen: There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Even God's man becomes bone weary. Why? And what do we learn from him? More important, is there a cure for it? To use Jeremiah's own language, “Is there a balm in Gilead, is there healing there?” Let's take a closer look at the weeping and weary prophet, whose mixed and tortured feelings are so profound and yet so much like ours.