I had this nagging sense of exhaustion hanging over my head, walking in fog that I couldn’t quite define or explain. A persistent tiredness for which I didn’t have words, a thing I couldn’t sense, like walking with a pebble in my shoe.
But finally, it clicked for me while listening to a podcast from writer Annie F. Downs. She mentioned that at times we fall into a swamp: the mommy swamp, the book writing swamp, the seminary swamp.
At that moment, I knew exactly where I was.
I had fallen into a swamp.
Look, a swamp is not necessarily a terrible place to be. Sure, it’s messy and hard to navigate, but a swamp is also teeming with life and possesses its own kind of beauty.
Growing up, there was marshy bit of land next to our house. On hot summer days, I often escaped to the marsh, kicking off my shoes and wading out in the water. I loved squishing the mud between my toes, listening to the birds, and catching the minnows that swam around my feet. I usually wandered further than intended, inevitably discovering a particularly deep patch of mud, and suddenly find myself stuck knee-deep in mud and waist-deep in water. I would slosh and struggle, envisioning, of course, that I would probably die in this swamp, lost forever among the cattails. Eventually, slowly, inch by sloshy inch, I would emerge breathless, covered in mud and giddily exhausted.
So there I was – and to be perfectly honest, here I continue to be – in the middle of a swamp.
The new country, new job, new language swamp.
Ten months ago, I arrived in my country of service to study the language. Four months after that, with a basically functional level of Spanish, I had been given a small leadership position. Day after day, I have been trudging and sloshing through the mud and deep water of life transitions: living in a team and community in which I am still not quite sure where I fit, working in a job that seems bigger than my abilities, speaking a language that still feels like gravel in my mouth. Life and ministry are slow-going and exhausting, requiring three times the energy and intention than they would have in my former life.
There are many days where I am I am run down, exhausted and not sure I can take another step. On those days, I am convinced that my poor co-workers will find me collapsed under my desk, clutching my Spanish-English dictionary.
I know that this, of course, will not happen. I have been clinging recently to what Isaiah writes:
“When you pass through the waters, [he] will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you,” (43:2 ESV).
Maybe, like me, you also are passing through deep waters. Maybe you’ve fallen in the new country, new job, new language swamp. Or maybe you are in the middle of the mommy swamp, waist-high in cloth diapers or homeschool curriculum. (Or both! Bless you!) Are you in the swamp of chronic illness? Of international adoption? Of visa applications? Of running a non-profit? The swamp of language school?
Wherever you are at, into whatever swamp you have fallen, let me, as a person trudging along with you, affirm you in this:
What you are doing is difficult. You have a reason to be tired, exhausted, even.
While you think that you are stuck or lost or forgotten, you are not.
You think that your struggling, your tears, sacrifices, and late nights are not getting you anywhere.
But because God is with us in the deep waters and because we will not be overwhelmed or swept away (or collapsed beneath our desks), we don’t have to trudge on in our exhaustion like sad beasts of burden. We have time and space to be refreshed.
To gird our strength.
To simply enjoy the beauty that does exist in the swamp.
I still haven’t crossed this new country, new job, new language swamp, and as far as I can tell, I have a way to go before I finish. I am, however, giving myself permission to rest and find refreshment in the One who is walking with me.
I will keep walking, too, knowing that finally, when I cross this swamp, breathless and muddied, my feet finding dry land, I will look back and rejoice at all that God has brought me through.
Have you found yourself in a type of swamp lately? How can you pause and find refreshment today?