Exhaustion Is Not a Prerequisite to Perfection


In my house hangs an imaginary blue ribbon. It is magnificent: two rows of ruffles and long, flowing streamers. In the center, in large letters, it reads, “First Place: Exhausted 87% of the Time.” It’s mine—I worked hard for it.

I can’t remember when I began to think my frequent fatigue was proof that I was diligently trying to do the will of the Lord, or proof that I had no time for anything else in my life. Second Nephi 2:25 [2 Ne. 2:25] says, “Men are, that they might have joy.” Somehow I twisted that scripture in my mind to read, “Men and women are that they might be exhausted—and the more the better.” In striving to do everything and to perfect myself, I came to the erroneous conclusion that I had so much to accomplish that I couldn’t afford the luxury of rest.

After repeatedly battling exhaustion, I realized how foolishly counterproductive my efforts were. What good did it do me to work at a racing pace for several days only to be flat in bed for the next day or two? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being rested is essential to having the energy necessary to reach perfection.

That’s when I began searching for solutions. First I tried time management, but in my misunderstanding of how to use its principles, I ended up with rigid schedules and never-ending lists. Then I tried exercising, but I pushed myself too hard and pulled a rusty muscle. I tried going to bed earlier, but over time I felt so guilty leaving projects undone that I couldn’t sleep.

Finding a solution was much more difficult than I had expected. I learned that there isn’t one all-time solution. Fatigue has multiple, interrelated facets, so I must find multiple, interrelated solutions. One solution might help in one area but make other areas worse. Also, too little application of a solution is ineffective; too obsessive a use of it only makes the so-called solution part of the problem. And the relationships between various areas on the continuum constantly shift and change—which is why something might work one day or at one period but not the next.

After years of trial and error, I have learned that I need to have many solutions available, then wisely choose the ones that work best for the situations I’m facing that day. I have learned that I need to follow King Benjamin’s counsel to “see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” (Mosiah 4:27; emphasis added.)

Following are some of the solutions I’ve found helpful. As you read through them, perhaps you can see ways to modify these ideas to fit into your life.

Prayers and scriptures. These are absolutely vital to overcoming fatigue. As I plead with Heavenly Father for help, the Spirit whispers ideas, helps me set priorities wisely, and comforts my weary soul. And studying the scriptures brings additional whispering of revelation and eternal perspectives that I can gain in no other way. Often the acts of studying the scriptures and praying are refreshing in and of themselves. I seem to gain energy by simply doing them. President Ezra Taft Benson has counseled us that “when we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” (Ensign, May 1988, p. 4.)

Adequate sleep. I know how much sleep I need, and if I don’t get it, my mind and body simply won’t function well. Not long ago, I sincerely asked my husband to give me some new insight that would help me to overcome this problem of exhaustion once and for all.

“Go to sleep,” was his disappointingly simple reply.

“I can’t sleep now!” I snapped. “I need to resolve this.”

He didn’t say another word, but just stood and looked at me. Fortunately, I realized how foolish I was being and went to bed.

I’ve since found that setting a specific “quitting time” an hour or so before a specific bedtime is quite helpful. I use the time in between to rest from physically and mentally demanding tasks. I read, relax, and visit with my husband.

I also have found I need to take naps. So I schedule two rest periods into my week. These can be two afternoons or an evening and a morning—whatever works well for me that week. I guard them carefully, because I have learned that even when every other area of my life is in order, I’m still tired if I’m not sleeping enough.

Proper nutrition and exercise. Junk food starves my brain and body of energy. Unfortunately it usually tastes wonderful. But I have learned I need to cut down on fats, sugar, and salt and to eat more complex carbohydrates like bread and potatoes—without the margarine and sour cream. I eat plenty of vegetables and have fruit for dessert.

Another truth I have learned is that exercising regularly makes a big difference. It seems illogical that using energy in exercise gives me more energy, but it does. I started out soft and easy and have slowly increased my exertion during workouts. I try to keep learning about staying in shape by reading books on physical fitness.

Medical help. Years ago I suffered from a biochemical depression and couldn’t sleep more than two or three hours a night for weeks on end. Some months ago, I suffered from mononucleosis and felt too weak to move. All of my positive thinking and determination couldn’t make it otherwise. In fact, depression stole my determination, and the mononucleosis got worse as I continued to push myself. But with my doctor’s help, I successfully overcame my depression. When the mononucleosis was diagnosed, my doctor reassured me that I wasn’t being lazy or imagining. He instructed me to rest as completely as possible to speed my recovery.

Priorities. Too often I find myself so wrapped up in the thick of thin things that I feel almost as though I can’t breathe, let alone rest. I drain my energy dry doing ten worthwhile activities—and neglect three eternally important ones. At times like this, I could learn from the counsel Moses’ father-in-law gave him: “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away … for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it.” (Ex. 18:17–18.) Several weeks ago I looked back over my daily schedules and realized I had wasted much energy and had worn myself out over things that were overdone or were in some ways unnecessary. So what if I baked several varieties of cookies for the party and found the best buys in town if I’m too tired to cuddle with my children or be with my husband or if I fall asleep while I’m trying to say my prayers?

Personal time. Even the busiest, most unselfish person needs to regularly spend some time on himself or herself. A few minutes here or an hour there refreshes my nerves and renews my spirit. A long, hot bath and a good book top my list of ways to pamper myself. I also enjoy creating something—when I write, tole paint, or do crafts, I feel recharged. Sometimes I make an appointment with myself to guarantee that I’ll have time to study my new book or read the newspaper. Other times I’ll simply stop whatever I’m doing and listen to a rainstorm or watch the sunset.

And I don’t always spend my personal time alone. Visiting with a friend or reading to a child can be relaxing and enjoyable.

Recreation. We have discovered that laughing and playing together rejuvenates our entire family—and that it is absolutely necessary for building strong relationships. Many recreational activities also overlap into other areas, thus doubling or tripling their benefits.

Several of my friends take the whole family hunting and enjoy the marshlands or mountains together. While they’re out, they are often able to find solitude, enjoy nature, and get exercise in the mountains.

Our children are involved in team sports. They love to participate, and my husband, my parents, and I enjoy watching them. We visit with each other and with fellow parents and have a great time. Our family also likes to camp, play board games, see movies, picnic, play basketball, and hike. These activities have given us treasured memories as they have refreshed us.

Organization. This is one area in which I have had a problem with obsessiveness. I have learned that the organizational form I give to my life should allow me to effectively nurture relationships and efficiently perform my labors. When I find myself constantly worn out and tense from trying to adapt myself and my family to some ideal routine, I adjust it in an effort to find a more realistic one. A daily plan exists to support me; I do not exist to support the daily plan.

Unresolved conflicts. These issues, whether they be a grudge I won’t get over or guilt I can’t put to rest, eat at my peace of mind and sap my strength.

I have a friend who is consumed with worry over presumed offenses. He frets about the slightest oversight, even innocent reactions. He makes himself depressed over conflicts that never occurred. From him, I have learned that if I need to repent or forgive, I must do it now. I quit keeping a mental scorecard to defend my position; it’s a waste of valuable energy.

Church callings. There have been times when I have lost a night’s sleep because I was cramming to complete a Church assignment I should have worked on days or even weeks before. At other times, I have invested so much time making sure my posters, handouts, and table arrangements were beautiful that I neglected to seek the Spirit to teach my lesson—and wore myself out in the process. Too often in the past I have been at one extreme or the other as I fulfilled my Church callings. For me, making a realistic preparation schedule and sticking to it and seeking the Spirit rather than the approval of others are much better ways to invest my time and energy in doing the Lord’s work.

I still struggle with fatigue; perhaps I always will. But I have managed to significantly minimize it since I realized that the Lord doesn’t expect me to be exhausted. (See D&C 10:4.) In fact, the Spirit has helped me realize that when I live in ways that cause me constant fatigue, this represents a mismanagement of my life and priorities. At first, I resisted this idea, saying that everything I was doing was for my family and husband. But the Spirit helped me see that though I was doing “everything” for them, they wanted and needed other things from me now—my time and my love. Further, the Spirit helped me see that they needed this when they needed it, not when I had completed my project, which was generally after they were asleep or after the golden moment had passed.

I gained new insight and application into the Lord’s kind yet pointed observation: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part.” (Luke 10:41–42.) All of the items I was focusing on were appropriate and were important. But relationships with a husband and children take time and require a freedom of spirit that is pushed out of one’s mind when priorities of importance but of lesser significance consume one’s attention.

How sad it was for me to learn that I can push myself into fatigue doing countless good things for my family because of my deep love for them, yet miss the “good part” that is of far greater impact in their lives.

I learned that when I live in ways that will not let me be available for my husband and children, I turn away from that which is my major priority as wife and mother. I recognize that when I have used all I have learned to care for and strengthen myself, I am then able to devote my energies to that which is my major priority as wife and mother. In contrast, when I expend my energies in a give-it-all effort on things that are not as important, I am less available to actually love and be loved by my family.

Through it all, I learned that there are many causes for my fatigue. Some are beyond my control. Thankfully, however, the Spirit helped me see that when I focus tough-mindedly on my major priorities, when I have sufficient self-discipline to attempt to accomplish only those priorities, then I have a mind-set that protects me from fatigue and exhaustion. Whatever else I am able to do after that I view as a bonus. But I take pleasure in what I am able to do, and I do not feel guilt and frustration over what I have not been able to do. For me, this overall orientation is a major key to living without fatigue.

I am happy to have learned that constant fatigue damages my body, clouds my mind, and limits my spiritual resources. When I’m exhausted, I simply am not capable of living a joyful life. And because I want to find the joy in life that the gospel promises, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal, always keeping in mind the great truth that “men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh; photo by Matt Reier

[photo] Photo by Matt Reier

Cindy K. Peterson serves as Relief Society secretary in the Conway Second Ward, Jacksonville Arkansas Stake.