The Holiness of Napping [Excerpt]

olive chan —  August 19, 2013 — 9 Comments

“As the people stood in the distance, Moses entered into the
deep darkness where God was.” (Exodus 20:21, NLT)

When I was 27 years old, I walked into the darkest time of my life. I didn’t know at the time that in this darkness I would also meet God.

the holiness of napping

I was a young missionary, exhausted from living. My stomach constantly ached. Taking a shower left me feeling so depleted I needed a nap to recover from it. Deciding what to make for supper was harder than a calculus exam. I could barely concentrate on work. Suppressing my tears became futile and I often cried for no reason.

I was a missionary who didn’t want to see people. Frankly, I was too tired to really care about them. I felt adrift and alone. I couldn’t see anything beyond myself.

God felt distant and terribly silent.

Initially, I thought these were symptoms of depression. But as I consulted with colleagues and medical professionals, I realized that I had burnt out.

From a very young age, I felt an acute sense of responsibility to do all things with excellence. My parents were entrepreneurs. They taught me the value of hard work and productivity. Words like “excellent” and “conscientious,” scrawled on my report card, propelled my deeper need to justify my existence in the world. I strived to do my best in everything.

My parents also taught me about effective time management. In grade school, my mother made me extensive schedules broken down into half-hour increments. She’d list everything I had to do, from the moment I got home until bedtime.

I continued this practice in university. There were no smartphones or online calendars yet, so my day-planner was my second Bible. I would use extra fine point pens to cram as much writing as I could into each tiny square, taking pride in seeing all my appointments and deadlines colour-coded.

I wanted my life to count. I’d learned in church that Jesus had paid for it with His blood. And I felt like I owed Him back. Big time. So I taught myself to say, “Yes.”

Yes, I’ll join the youth group committee…
Yes, I can lead the worship team this month…
Yes, the meeting can be at my place…
Yes, I’ll take part in starting the campus fellowship…

I wanted to prove my love for Jesus. So I also said “Yes” to going to China for two years to be a missionary. This meant cramming the last three courses of my undergraduate degree into six weeks. No breaks. No rest days. No holidays. And barely any bathroom breaks!

I figured I would rest when I got to Heaven…

[Click here to read the rest of this post at SheLoves Magazine.]


  • dee

    thank you so much for writing this article. i think we need to hear more about this .. because many christians suffer from burnout (especially in ministry!). I can completely relate to what you are going through right now.

    Thank you. :)

    And praise God.. even though burnout is a terrible thing, He is present through it whether we feel it or not.

  • “My soul was slowly suffocating–but I didn’t feel like I had permission to step back.” That’s how I felt, too, and unfortunately the lie so many of us believe.

  • Vitaly

    Was extended medical leave from work paid or unpaid?

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  • Laura T.

    This is beautifully written, and as a perfectionist college student, so what I needed to hear right now: God’s love for me is not, and never could be, based on my performance. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this blog. Thank you.

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  • Frank Lin

    Hi Olive (and Tim),

    Thanks for all your posts on this blog. I recently stumbled upon it and have been reading a lot of it and learning some things, feeling like I’m reading from an older brother and sister. Olive, it seems like the kind of missionary life you had before you burned out is incompatible with your introverted nature. But the Bible still calls us to reach out to non-Christians, which I think means being friendly and welcoming and trying to build relationships with them… There’s also this passage in Acts 2 that depicts the early church meeting every day and having deep fellowship together. I’m just wondering what you think about this?

    • olivechan

      Hi Frank,

      Thanks for your question. These are good things to think about.

      Here are some of my thoughts: Being introverted means that I gain energy from being alone, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t actively build relationships with other people. I love people and I try to share the love of Christ with as many as I can. The way I go about doing it may look different than an extrovert’s way. I thrive better meeting with people one-on-one and corresponding through writing as opposed to meeting in large groups. It also means that I have to pace myself and allot sufficient time by myself in addition to being with others.

      As for the Acts 2 passage, I hadn’t considered it before – but I’m guessing that there were probably some people who did not show up every single day for every single meeting and were still able to build and sustain deep fellowship with the other believers. What I’ve realized is that the key to the Christian life (including Christian witness) is to move in step with the Holy Spirit’s leading. What the Spirit may lead me to do might look different from what He leads others to do. And when we stand in front of God at the end of the age, He will judge us based on how attentive and obedient we were to HIM – not how many people we lead to Christ, or how well we followed the Bible.

      Being an introvert and a missionary are not mutually exclusive. It just might not look the way we usually think missionary work is done. Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

      • Frank Lin

        I see…hopefully I will understand this more deeply as I continue living as a Christian (I’m still fairly new). Thanks for your reply and continuing to bless people with this blog.