Sabbath

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

My senior pastor asked me a very, very difficult question last week.

“So, what day are you picking for your sabbath?”

He’s right to ask it: he has Fridays as his day off, and I’m trying to make sure to not disturb him then. He wants to return the favor, and know when I’m off as well. Pastoral ministry is hard work, I’m coming to learn, and it’s essential that a pastor not burn out. Especially, perhaps, ahem, one known to always be on the go and doing something, like I am. And I know he’s asking in love: “I don’t want you to burn out, I need you here!”

The trick is, I don’t have a very good answer for that. If–and correctly so, I believe–the purpose of a sabbath is to be at rest, so as to reconnect and recharge in God for what’s in store next, then a day at rest is certainly called for.

But remember, I still work a full-time Federal job, one that (this month especially) is not known for being reliably only a 40-hours-a-week commitment. So that rules out Monday through Friday. Sunday, of course, is a workday as a pastor, and while I lead services once a month, it would look very, very “off” to declare Sunday as my Sabbath. That leaves Saturday–but Saturday is my day for doing all the stuff around the house, the errands, the things that don’t get done during the week.

Somewhere around now in my chain of reasoning I start rationalizing…maybe what I need is just a sabbath from church work, and I could pick that almost any weekday.  Or, that a sabbath is just a rest from paid work, and so Saturdays could still count because only rarely do I need to work a Saturday.

But somewhere around then the Spirit reminds me that that’s not the point at all. The point is to find rest, to not burn out–and to find that rest, as Augustine memorably wrote, in God. And yes, that includes Type-A people like me who are always on the go and doing something. Rest, God says.

So the search for a meaningful sabbath continues. It’d be easy if they’d just add an eighth day to the calendar…

Advent: Anxiety?

So how has the Sabbath been going, has Advent remained somewhat peaceful?

Yes? And…no?

I’ve been blessed with a fairly stress-free December at work. And with one week to go in the current Continuing Resolution, it’s anyone’s guess whether the Department will be shut in a week (and me with it!), or…not. So there’s a little touch of anxiety there, but perhaps for a reason you might not expect.

You see, if we’re shut, I’m not terribly worried about surviving. Most likely I’ll be paid for the inconvenience in the end. And even if not, we can carry ourselves for a bit here. It’s not like we live paycheck to paycheck like we did when we were just starting out.

No, it’s more an anxiety over, What will I do with myself? My last paper is due Monday, so I won’t have classes hanging over me until February (which will be a wonderful and welcome break). And being bored is…well, it’s terrible for me. I might get some reading done. Maybe tidy the basement. And part of me wonders what’s going on at church that week that I could maybe help out with?

I just know that if I spin down from the pace of classes into a pace of watching whatever the heck I want on Netflix, it’ll be difficult to spin back up again. I need something to occupy me. At least for about ten days before Mary and I go on our vacation to the UK.

Again, I can feel the nudge. Yep, spin down. That’s exactly what I need you to learn how to do. Rest in Me. Then you can do anything.

Advent: Taking a Breath

Advent is a season of anticipation. There’s the anticipation of Christ’s birth, and with it, the anticipation of his Second Coming. And all the more, there’s the anticipation of everything that the holiday season brings with it–the food, the shopping, the errands, the food, the cards, the food…

Often, the holidays are an insane time for us. Well, sure, isn’t it for everyone? There’s all the holiday parties, the shopping, the various church services, all the obligations of the season. And for me at work, layered on top of that is the fact that OMB’s passback of the next President’s Budget always occurs the week after Thanksgiving, and can linger well into December as we work towards final settlement. Late nights, stress, unpredictable days… And this year, of course, I’m taking two classes at seminary, both of which will wrap up in the middle of the month, with all that entails.

And yet? The early part of Advent 2018 has been surprisingly…calm.

In one of our classes, we’ve been talking about (and I’ve been convicted by) keeping a Sabbath, creating a dedicated time of rest in God. Sabbath?!? Are you KIDDING?!? Have you SEEN my to-do list?

But yet, I feel God is breaking through with a word of rest, a word that reminds me that my to-love list had better be more important than my to-do list. Case in point: We reached settlement with OMB in a surprisingly early, and easy, fashion this year. We didn’t have any ridiculously late nights at the office during passback week itself, and since then things have gone fairly smoothly. I might not have to stress at work this year!

And! The two classes I have are pretty well in hand at this point. For Old Testament, I have an essay due Sunday, and a discussion board posting to make. For Vocation of Ministry, I have a final paper, an essay that just became optional (!), and a quiz, but all those will be done by the 14th. I might not have to stress over classes this year!

And! With the unfortunate passing of President Bush, I even have an extra day off to  do things, yes–but perhaps to rest a little too! As I did: Starbucks in the morning, Christmas decorating in the afternoon, and smoking, slowly, a rack of ribs for dinner tonight. A leisurely pace.

Now, I know all this can be knocked aside in an instant. Work can get crazy again, or it’s harder to finish classwork than I anticipate, or any of a hundred other things could crop up. But y’know, for today, I’m able to rest. I’m able to be at peace, and I can see God’s hand at work in teeing up a wee bit of Sabbath for me.

Thank you Lord. Come into your Sabbath. Come into your world. Just…come. Amen.

Take Time to Give Thanks

It is an absolutely. Gorgeous. June. Day. And yes, since it’s the weekend, I have a ton of chores to do. It’s also still the busy season at work, and it won’t take much for my mind to wander to all I haven’t done yet there, as well. But you know where I am right now?

20170604_155713Yep: my backyard hammock, enjoying the soft breeze, the high-80s warmth, and a chance to reflect on what’s going right, instead of obsess (as I always do) about what’s not. A partial list:

  • There’s two racks of ribs in the smoker that will be absolutely delicious later this afternoon.
  • It’s Pentecost, and we had a spirit-filled service this morning, welcoming Tim back off the mountain and celebrating his Emmaus walk.
  • My high-school daughter passed her state Chemistry test, despite much angst, and she says her first SAT this weekend felt good too.
  • Both the kids participated in the (school-)year-end lock-in at church last night, reconnecting with people of Christ.
  • Twenty-four years of marriage–to the same wonderful woman, no less.
  • Being done with the lawn earlier than I’d feared it would take.
  • Making plans with my college roommate for a guys’ weekend golfing and etc. together this September, to mark our respective birthdays, and being able to grace him with free airfare (yeah, I had a ridiculous amount of miles).
  • My own connection with the Emmaus community, which I got to celebrate yesterday.
  • A roof, food, and love…what more, really, do I need?

And yet, how often do we actually stop to thank God for all that’s going right in our world, instead of just bringing to him our concerns? As Garrison Keillor wrote: “Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

Jesus, you are amazing, awesome in power and love, and I start by celebrating you. But I also celebrate all that’s going right in my life, and I thank you for your hand behind me every day. Forgive me for the times I overlook your grace and your bounty. Free my heart to rest in those times that your love surrounds me, those times that things are going well, and leave me reminders often of how to turn back to you. In you precious name…Amen.