I'm writing this post for myself. Last fall, I was a guest in a class of future pastors at Concordia Seminary. The topic of self-care came up and I rattled off a list of things I've instituted to stay grounded and healthy. But now it's spring, and I'm straying from my own advice.
With the strains and demands of my vocations, I can slip into unhealthy habits. I know my limitations. I need healthy boundaries and habits to maintain balance. So here's my list - and personal reminder - of how to stay grounded.
Last week I was with pastors from around the St. Louis metro area. While talking about our people, we discovered one of the greatest challenges people face is busyness.
"People's schedules are horrendous."
"Everyone is over-committed."
"No one has extra time."
Being too busy is a major issue in our fast-paced society. There are more demands on people than ever before. And it's leading to stress, depression, divorce, burnout, and health issues.
So what do you do if you're too busy? Martin Luther's theology of vocation is all about setting priorities. Here's how you can begin to set clear priorities and defend against unhealthy busyness.
We have returned from a family vacation, a tour of the Great Lakes - Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. One fifth of the world's fresh water is contained in the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, and coldest of the lakes. Time away on family vacation reminded me of two things:
1.) We work from our rest. We can't work effectively or faithfully without adequate rest. Exhaustion stifles creativity, skill, and the capacity to care. We may come back to a full e-mail inbox (I had 2,400), but we return with clearer perspective and renewed energy.
2.) Vacations create lasting memories. Do you remember a family vacation as a child? The long car ride? The flat tire? The laughter on a roller coaster ride? Our oldest child is 9, and we've had the realization that she's halfway through her time at home (if she leaves at 18). These days are precious and fleeting. Vacations do come at a cost. But the memories of the experience will be imprinted on us and our children for decades. We pass on to our children an appreciation for rest, an awe of created beauty, and a delight in each other's company (even after 24 total hours of driving).
Now back to work . . .
Vacations are good, and I hope you get to take one this summer. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular. In fact, it's better if it's not. I am recently off a vacation with my folks in Minnesota. What did I do?
Here's a great post on solitude.
A sermon on a Christian ethic of work. Preached June 16th, 2013. II Thessalonians 1:10-12.
There’s a difference between what you want to do and what you’re called to do. As a boy, I wanted to be a pro basketball player. I was in 8th grade when I realized I would not make the NBA. I remember the day. It was crushing. I really believed I would grow, improve, win, get signed, and follow in the footsteps of my athletic idols. It was devastating for a tall, gangly, awkward 8th grade boy to realize that he wouldn’t be able to do what he wanted to do. I imagine what would happen if 34-year-old Jeff would have visited 14-year-old Jeff. The older Jeff comes to the adolescent and says, “I know you want to be a pro basketball player, but let me tell you what God will call you do to. You will be a husband, a father of four, a pastor, and own a house.” And to that, junior high Jeff says, “Ewe, gross.”
We all struggle against a human propensity to worry about the future. I know very few people who are completely content with the present and have no qualms about what is to come.
Will I have a job?
Will I complete the project?
Will my family be OK?
Will I be successful?
Will I have enough?
Will I find a spouse?
Will we have children?
Will my dad get better?
Will the pain ever go away?
We worry because uncertainty exists. The past may be factual, but the future is always speculative. While it's prudent to prepare for the future, it's too easy for healthy planning to slip into worry. Then we find ourselves living in the future, consumed with what will be instead of what is. We miss life in the present tense because we're rushing ahead to live in the future.
In his poem "A Prayer in Spring," Robert Frost writes:
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here.
There was a church in Roman Macedonia in the first century. A city called Thessalonica. They were concerned that maybe they missed the future already and Jesus had returned for the Last Day. Had they missed it? And they were so concerned with the Last Day (certainly a noble concern) that they began to release their present duties. Idleness and apathy set in.
So Paul wrote a couple letters in which he exhorts them to present work. He says, "That our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power" (II Thess. 1:11-12). God is working in you presently, to do good things now. Worrying about the future strips us of the capacity to truly be attentive to our present calling. When we recognize this, we release the obession with "what could be," and we live where we are now.
God will work the harvest. Now is the time for tilling and planting. Concern yourself with the present tasks and trust that future results fall within the governance of the Living God. What has God given you to do today? Take joy in the work set before you presently.
From a summer of studying the concept of Sabbath, excerpts from a sermon preached July 29th, 2012.
How often do you describe your day as "a joy?" Do you consider your life to be full of delight? These aren't words we typically use to describe our hectic lives. The biblical concept of Sabbath inherently carries with it a sense of deep joy and delight. On the seventh day, God doesn't simply take a nap. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom is personified and recounts the creation days: "I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man" (Prov. 8:30-31).
Norman Wirzba, in his book Living the Sabbath, notes that God did not fully complete his creation in six days. The seventh day, the Sabbath day, his time of rest, was actually the crowning completion of creation. He refers to a medieval rabbi named Rashi who suggested that on the seventh day, God created the capacity for joy and delight. He called it menuha – which is the rest, tranquility, serenity, and peace of God. Menuha is closely related to shalom, genuine peace, or the sense that things are as they ought to be. Just as we take joy and delight in a mountain top view, a child’s play, or a lover’s beauty, God takes joy and delight in all that he has made. And the great thing about being human, being made in his image, is that we also get to see the world in this way. We are given the same capacity for joy and delight, awe, wonder, and celebration.
In a world scrambled by sin, we often – maybe even mostly – miss out on joy and delight. What we have is never good enough. Want we want never comes soon enough. Two components of Sabbath that can orient us to God’s joy and delight:
Attentiveness: To take joy in the world that God created, you have to first pay attention to it. Attentiveness has it’s eyes wide open. It wants to see everything that’s around. The spider web’s intricate design. The veins on a leaf. Wispy clouds forming a hazy ring around the moon.
Often, we are rushing through life way too quickly. We are not genuinely present. Our eyes are looking at screens. Our minds are possessed by" to-do" lists. Our hearts are worried about things out of our control. With such distractions, the Sabbath calls us to STOP . . . and be attentive. What’s around me? What has God been doing? Who is around me? How has God blessed me through them? Sabbath calls us to be attentive, so that we can take joy in what God has done.
Recognizing the Gift: Joy sees life as a gift. All the things that God has made good, joy receives them as gift. Such blessings are a gift and NOT a wage or a result of my deserving work. Yesterday we took our youngest to the zoo and rode the carousel. My wife accompanied her as I watched. Right behind them was a boy with special needs. He was about 10 years old. He was holding tight to the zebra. A smile took residence on his face and didn’t leave. You could hear his giddy laugh. And at every rotation, he saw me waving to my daughter and waved back to me. Such simple ride, such wonder and awe.
Life can be seen as burden or as gift. With the handicapped, life is often seen as burden. The cost of raising a handicapped child is great. There are medical bills. There is the disruption and hardship on family life. The divorce rate is high among parents with disabled children. There’s the reality that they will be caregivers for a lifetime.
In contrast to burden, joy sees life as a gift. The same child who’s seen as a burden could be seen as a gift from God. "This child is a gift from God, precious and loved." Those with special needs have a way of teaching us joy and delight, faith and love. Joy takes circumstances and situations, and it sees them as gift when they could be seen as burden. Is there something that you’ve been seeing only as a burden, that might really be a gift? Your job. Your parents. Your spouse. Your home. It’s gift. This is what God has given to you.
In Genesis 6:6, it says, “The LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” The God who took such joy and delight in the beauty of his creation was now sick in his heart. The creation has now become a burden. It is tainted, deranged, rebellious, ungrateful, egotistical and yet God still takes delight in its redemption.
Jesus told a story about a herd of 100 sheep. One stupid animal wandered from the rest and got tangled in the wilderness. So the shepherd abandoned the 99 to track down the one. And after bringing home the wanderer, covered with dirt, burrs, and thistles, the shepherd throws a party with his friends and neighbors. All because he got the one back. Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous who need no repentance.”
In God’s inexpressible love, he takes joy and delight in you. You are precious and prized. You are valuable and delightful. He made you. In Jesus, he redeemed you. We delight in his restoration of all creation, joyfully anticipating the fullness of Sabbath on a great and .
I continue my thought and study on biblical Sabbath. The following is from a sermon preached July 22nd, 2012.
At around two or three years old, a child learns the phrase, “I do it.” They are developing independence and individualism. So you go to mow the lawn and he says, “I do it.” The blade starts spinning, he grabs the handle and starts pushing it through the yard. All the while, mom or dad’s hand is gripping the handle and pushing and steering. Or you go to sweep the floor and she says, “I do it.” She goes around, not so much sweeping, but scattering dust bunnies and crumbs. All the while, mom or dad follows to catch all the dirt that was missed. You go to drive, and he says, “I do it.” So he grabs the wheel and steers around the parking lot, squealing through left and right turns. All the while, mom or dad quietly grip the bottom of the steering wheel, braking and accelerating along the way. The child says, “I do it,” but all the while it was really mom or dad.
Regardless of age, a human tendency is to say “I do it.” It’s a question of who’s in charge and who’s doing the work. As Lutherans, we have a solid belief that in terms of salvation, it’s all God’s work – not “I do it.” But we leave God’s work there – strictly to the realm of salvation and spiritual things. “God is in charge of my salvation, but everything else is mine.” In doing this, we clearly separate our work and God’s work.
The result is an increasingly busy, frantic, exhausted society. The pace of life is blistering. I’ve observed an epidemic of people who work too much and rest too little. People who are: Over-committed. Over-programmed. Over-worked. Stressed out. Burned out. Strung out. You have trouble saying “no.” You feel you have to do more or you’ll left behind. Your kids have to do more sports, more camps, more classes or they’ll be a failure. You have to keep busy or you’ll feel lazy. I see a people oppressed by their frantic pace, and over-crammed schedules, and unrelenting work. Oppressive calendars, oppressive to-do lists, oppressive gushes of information and media. I do it.
In such a franticly overworked society, the third commandment is increasingly radical. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” The word Sabbath means “to cease” or “stop.” The significance of observing the Sabbath is that it forces us to see the limits of “I do it.” Work is not bad. But Sabbath tells us, “Your work has limits.” You can work hard six days throughout the week, but on seventh day, you stop. You rest. And you realize that the world goes on without you. Sabbath says, “Your work has limits. Stop for a day, and see that God has been working all along. HE has been creating. HE has been providing. You thought it was ‘I do it,’ when all the while, HE did it.”
We often separate God’s work and our work. “He does the salvation and spiritual stuff. I do everything else.” This attitude dismisses God’s work in our everyday life. There is a mysterious intersection with God’s work and ours; where we work, and strive, and toil, and at the same time God is at work in us and through us. He gives us the work, and guides the work.
It’s like gardening. You till and fertilize and water. You sweat as you pull the weeds. And then you go to bed, and when you wake up, the bean plants are flowering. The lettuce got a little bigger. The tomatoes turned green to orange to red. And you had nothing to do with it. Wendell Berry writes of this phenomenon. He says, “Great work is done while we’re asleep.”
Or it’s like pregnancy. We all know how babies are made. Certainly two people are involved. And yet, God mysteriously goes about his work. Fingernails are formed. A brain develops. Little feet with little toes. And mother and father have nothing to do with how the child forms. It’s left to grace. Great work is done while we’re asleep. Great work, because GOD DOES IT.
In Mark 6:31, Jesus told his disciples, “Come away to a desolate place and rest a while.” They needed rest from their work, but the crowds of people would not leave them alone. When it was late, the disciples noticed a logistical problem. A small stadium full of people, and no concessions. Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” They recognized the limits of their ability. “I do it” won’t cut it. You’d need almost a years’ salary to buy enough food for all these people.
But when no work of ours will suffice, God’s work becomes evident. Jesus provides. Five loaves of bread. Two fish. 5 + 2 = 7. The Sabbath day is the seventh day. Seven is the number of completion, wholeness, fullness. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus refers to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath.” HE is Sabbath in a person. There is a limit to your work, to “I do it.” And when you recognize this, you see that he it’s not your work, but HIS work. HE is rest. He is relief. HE is power. HE is peace. He is provision. All of creation is HIS work. Under HIS rule. Subject to HIS Lordship.
And when the humans said, “I do it,” he didn’t say, “Well, you got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out. No, the Creator chose to redeem. He said “I will do it.” And HE invaded broken humanity. HE suffered the consequences of our bloated arrogance. HE has compassion because we are sheep without a shepherd. HE shackled death. HE stands as the King. Him, not me. HIS work, not mine. His control. His will. His love. His provision. His Sabbath. His rest. His work. In a person.
How do you live and work in a way that acknowledges God’s work? That trusts his control? How do you observe the Sabbath beyond simply “going to church”? Three suggestions (not laws):
A new post on the Regeneration Blog. My summer study on Sabbath, rest, and restart continues.
I am on vacation this week. So you won't hear from me. I'm resting. Here's why.