Physical Weariness versus Spiritual Weariness

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February 5, 2014 by lucieromarin

I know, I know – as I’ve experienced neither prolonged hospitalisation nor the dark night of the soul, I’m probably lacking in all kinds of necessary and valuable insight when it comes to both physical and spiritual weariness.

I’m going to write about them, anyway.

Physical weariness or spiritual weariness…which is worse? I’m not talking about the physical tiredness of a tough week at work or the dreariness of a forty-minute sermon in a two-hour liturgy followed by thirty minutes of devotions.

By physical weariness, I mean year after year of early rising for the sake of dispiriting, low-paid work, weekend after weekend spent on fruitless applications for better-paid work, weekend after weekend spent on fruitless applications for rented apartments or flats, second-hand clothing, groceries in your backpack because you can’t afford a car, insomnia, nightmares, migraines, and, if you’ve had the day at work that I had today, bleeding feet. Nothing on this list counts as a heavy cross, but, taken together, there’s an accumulated weight, that, over time, makes you tired. And, once you see that there may be no end to it, the mere thought of the future makes you tireder still.

By ‘spiritual weariness’ I don’t mean so much the worn-down-by-thwarted-vocation-hopes phenomenon; I mean that perpetual starting-over which follows particular incidents of destruction. It’s like having to rebuild a house burnt to the ground over and over again; it gets you down. When my poetically-labelled ‘incidents of destruction’ involve the loss of friends, mentors, or exemplars of faith, you can find yourself realising that, despite all the hours given to worship or apostolate, you actually have to get to know Our Lord all over again, and as though for the first time. And the very thought of it is exhausting.

Well, I don’t like getting up at 5:45am; I don’t like hunger, tiredness, or thirst; I don’t like budgeting or frugality; I don’t like the perpetual shadow of old-age homelessness that hangs over even the most joyful of present moments; physical weariness is definitely the most crushing. At the same time, it can be relieved by the simplest and least-expected things. Today, it was a red-and-yellow paper dragon, manipulated with straws; the child who made it dance in the air didn’t see the glue and sticky-tape; he saw something magical, and, because of him, I saw it, too.

Also, physical weariness can, sometimes, be relieved by a change of attitude. If I valued something other than a new house and clothes, perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much not having them!

Spiritual weariness is not so easily diverted, and the ache cannot always be compartmentalised. It’s similar, I suppose, to grief, the waves of which can rise within you pretty much anywhere and at anytime. And it goes deep; where your spiritual identity is your dominant identity and its works are your prioritised works…the weariness is like trudging for weeks to reach the mountain, only to find that it’s not the end, because ahead of you is another mountain, and, with each ascent, clarity becomes more like obscurity, and vice versa.

I suspect it’s easier to be overcome by spiritual weariness than by its physical counterpart, simply because the desire to eat and sleep in a bed prevents most of us from walking away from our lives and our jobs and into the night. To be overcome by physical weariness would be to be cold and hungry; so we keep going. But the reward for spiritual perseverence isn’t so immediate – and neither is the punishment for failure. I mean, obviously grace and the withdrawal of it happen immediately upon the good deed or the bad, but you don’t always feel that, and Heaven and Hell seem a long way away. A breakthrough in prayer could come tomorrow; or it could take ten years; you just don’t know – meanwhile you do know when to expect the next payslip.

How many times must the house burn down? How many times must we rebuild, knowing that the obligatory effort must, itself, one day, also be consumed? It will be different for everyone, I suppose.

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