As the end of my first year on staff at New Covenant approaches, I have been reflecting on the routines and habits that I have developed during this time. Many of these have been wonderful additions to my life – meeting with many of you over coffee or meals, meetings with my various mentors, preparing regular teachings, etc., but I want to focus on one particular practice that has been especially important for me. When I first came on staff, I hadn’t set aside any particular day for rest, renewal, and so forth. Initially, this did not seem like much of a problem, but over time, I began to realize how quickly days could fill up and how often things came up even when I was trying to take a break. I was by no means working 24/7, but there didn’t seem to be much “down time” built into my schedule, and I (and others) recognized that this was a dangerous pattern. In response, the Leadership Team and I decided that it would be appropriate to establish Monday as a regular day off for me, but in practice, this day has become more than that.
While every vocation has its own various temptations and pitfalls and while we are all prone to feelings of self-importance, the pastoral vocation seems to be especially vulnerable to developing an inflated sense of significance. As much as we preach about God’s work in the world, God’s initiative in relationship, too often we blur the lines between God’s activity and our own, thinking that perhaps just an extra few hours or one more evening at work will be enough to produce some desired effect. We begin to forget that God was at work long before we arrived on the scene (and will continue to work long after we are gone), and we wonder how anything would ever get done without us. As a result, many of us become tired, burned out, exhausted. We get frustrated when things don’t happen the way we wanted them to happen, and at our worst, we balk (in company with the disciples in Luke 9:49-50) at anyone who claims that God may be at work outside of our circle of influence.
In this regard, Sabbath deflates our overblown egos, forces us to face the fact that the world keeps spinning (and for the most part functioning as it should) even when we are not active. We learn to slow down and pay attention to how God is at work in ways that we don’t notice when we are busy – unexpected ways, quiet ways, hidden ways. We spend time doing “useless” things and combat the notion that our worth and our usefulness are dependent on one another. For me, this has meant that Mondays are a break from emails, meetings, and preparation and are spent instead (in my case) walking the dogs, working in our yard or going to the park when it’s nice out, reading for pure enjoyment, and even running errands, but at a more leisurely pace. I try not to approach these days with a rigid attitude, but instead, I want to cultivate a “Sabbath Sensibility” (an idea passed to us by Carolyn Vance from the work of Walter Brueggemann) – a keen awareness of God’s work in the world as primary, informing and sustaining and making possible any work that I might be called to do throughout the rest of the week. As a result, I can do this work from a place of peacefulness and prayerfulness rather than one of fear and anxiety.
On Sundays, you all depend on us, the paid staff, to provide an appropriate atmosphere for your “Sabbath Day” – a structure (albeit a loose one) for worship, prayer, and hopefully, rest. In the same way, I want to ask that on Mondays and any more extended time off that you all would help provide that same atmosphere for us by refraining from asking anything of us that can wait until another time. The rest of the week, I will always do my best to be available to you, to accommodate your various schedules in order to be able to be together, but in order to sustain that level of effort, I need at least one day to refrain from all of that. In the end, I hope that this practice gives us all a stronger sense that our fellowship is ultimately in God’s care and allows paid staff to carry out healthy, sustained ministries within it. Please pray for me as I carry out this practice, feel free to call me out if you catch me working when I shouldn’t be, and please consider how God might be calling you to cultivate this kind of “sensibility” in your own life.