When I told my wife that I was asked to write an article about rest and was suggested the title: ‘How not to live like a zombie,’ she laughed. It wasn’t a polite ‘that’s a funny title’ laugh, it was a deeper ‘you can’t possibly write an article about that’ kind of laugh.
My wife found this funny because she knows that I am notoriously bad at finding rest and being disciplined to take time off to relax and recharge. Sure I could make all the excuses about being a husband, a father to an almost two-year old, and a solo pastor, or I could talk about how many late evenings were filled doing a degree while working in ministry, or how many hours were taken up writing papers and studying for my ordination.
But no matter how many excuses I could make, it still comes down to the truth that I’m bad at resting. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read over the last eight years of ministry about time management, creating margins in your life, taking time for a sabbath rest, and so on, but I still haven’t learned this lesson. There’s hundreds—if not thousands—of well-written articles on the internet about those topics, so if you want to read about that, head over to Google and go find some.
Instead, I want to take a different approach to this topic. Rather than repeating that God designed us to rest and giving you a pretty seven-step plan for how to instantly make margins in your life, I’d rather talk about the effects of living like a zombie and let all those other articles give you the steps for how to move forward. Because when we turn into a zombie it is damaging. It’s harmful to you, it’s harmful to your family, harmful to your friends, harmful to your workplace, and it’s harmful to your relationship with God.
Regardless of which franchise’s zombies are being used as the example, zombies have a few common characteristics that we will start to see in our own lives when we turn into one of the walking dead.
First up is every zombie’s ultimate goal: Brains. Big juicy brains that (I assume) must also be rather tasty given the way that zombies go for them. A zombie will stop at nothing to get what they desire, continually pushing for their prize even if it means their own downfall. When we start becoming a zombie in our lives, this determination isn’t focused on consuming brains, but it means that one area of our lives will become magnified and consume more of our attention than everything else.
It’s important to have priorities in life, but when the first thing comes at the expense of all others, then we’ve gone too far.
For me, this was a focus on getting results. I created certain benchmarks that I wanted to see get achieved, and subconsciously started filtering all my decisions through the question: “Will this help me get the result I want?”
The insidious part is that this type of focus is usually appreciated or even rewarded by our society. We look at the people who are determined to reach their goals and we often reward people for exhibiting this behavior instead of recognizing the damage it is doing to the rest of their life. The employee who always stays late to burn the midnight oil, and the entrepreneur that lets the rest of their life fall to shambles get rewarded for this characteristic when in reality they need someone to sit them down and say: “What are you doing to yourself?”
For me, the downfall of getting desperate for results was that I couldn’t see the big picture anymore. Even though there were some amazing things happening in our church, I was too consumed with one specific area that wasn’t showing results at the pace I wanted. I missed out on recognizing places where God was doing some amazing things in people’s lives because my focus was elsewhere. That’s a mistake I don’t want to repeat.
One more thing about sheer determination, when a zombie wants to get their next meal, they don’t care about the other zombies that get stepped on, clawed, kicked, or punched in their quest for brains.
Think about this for a moment: Is your sheer determination causing you to trample over other people?
Secondly, most zombies in movies are portrayed as being sluggish and slow. I know there is the exception of the ‘fast zombie’ archetype, but overwhelmingly zombies are slow and plodding as they go about their quest for brains. When we become zombies the same thing happens. Despite our sheer determination toward goals or results, we tend to get less effective at everything else.
The simple tasks of just going through life become more and more draining and exhausting. Sometimes this can feel like you’re looking at the world through hazy glasses or moving through the day with lead boots on your feet. This sort of feeling might even indicate that there’s something even bigger under the surface that needs to be addressed in your life.
Let me summarize it this way: You might be on the path to becoming a zombie if it takes more work and effort to achieve smaller and smaller results.
Now for the last point: In movies and TV shows, it takes a lot to kill a zombie. You can hit it, beat it, slash it, or even shoot it, but unless that bullet goes through the brain the zombie is going to keep coming at you. It will crawl at you on stumps for arms and legs until you sever its spine and put it down for good.
When we start to become a zombie, the same thing happens. The sheer determination and slow plodding nature of the growing zombie within us make us brush off smaller wounds and warning signs that otherwise would have made us stop and pay attention to what’s going on.
When a mentor or colleague tries to show us ways we could improve, we brush off their comments and push ourselves to keep going on the path we’ve already picked. We keep driving forward when all the warning signs are flashing. Usually, this leads to us compromising on the things that we said to ourselves we would never compromise. Sometimes we even make the choice to compromise our own morals without realizing how far we’ve made it down this path. Sooner or later those choices will catch up to you, and usually, they end with burning wreckage strewn everywhere.
Living as a zombie does not have to be an inevitable part of leadership. Being in a leadership position (whether this is in the home, workplace, or somewhere else), does have a natural inclination toward becoming a zombie.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can learn to recognize these signs in your life before they become full-blown and get out of control. You can build support systems with friends, mentors, colleagues, or your spouse that will help you see what’s happening and apply an antidote before the bite from a zombie turns into an all-out infection.
The antidote for a zombie bite will have to be tailor-made for each one of us. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. So remember this, when there’s a tiny growl that comes from deep inside you and hungers for brains, you don’t have to become a zombie. You can choose to do something about it before it gets too late.
Do you feel like you’re just plodding along? Where can you create space for rest and relaxation? What are you doing that you can let someone else do?