You quote E.B.White at the beginning of the book on the struggle between improving and enjoying the world. How have you made peace with this struggle, or have you?
I love this question, because I love the E.B. White quote! Here it is, for those who aren’t familiar with it:
“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
There’s a perception that Sabbath is a selfish pursuit, and that spirituality in general is self-indulgent. I share that perception, to some extent… or at least, I understand how our culture can take gifts such as Sabbath, prayer, retreat, solitude, and worship, and twist them into sentimental escapism. The E.B. White quote illustrates this tension. At its best, though, Sabbath draws us more faithfully into the world. It connects us with the God who is Creator of all that is, and who desires the wholeness—the shalom—of this creation. And Sabbath gives us energy and vitality for the work to which we have been called.
That said, I have come to a peace with this tension, because I no longer see it as a struggle.
Do college students still mess with the margins in order to make their papers appear longer? Or has that practice fallen away in the age of email and word counts?
(And how dumb did we think our profs were to fall for that?)
My family’s yearning for Sabbath began several years ago when we realized that our lives hummed along perfectly well, so long as nothing went wrong. We jam-packed our days and worked to exhaustion, which was fine so long as nobody got sick or the basement never flooded. Regular periods of rest gave us some emotional decompression time and also helped us think about the rest of our week differently.
What we were doing was minding our margins. I prefer “margins” to boundaries, which feels too unyielding to be helpful amid the complexity of life. But even with the looser language, margins are hard for me.
After James was born, I went to a half-time schedule and became very good at efficient scheduling. I suspect it was hard on some of the folks I worked with, whose model for ministry was more “be open to what comes and savor the interruptions.” Yes, ministry is about relationships. And interruptions are a part of the package. But as an associate pastor in a programmatic position with 20-25 hours on the clock each week, there were certain things that needed to get done each day.
I still like back to back meetings—random 25 minute blocks of time between appointments make me a little batty. Like many of you, a lot of my work involves thinking and writing, and I can barely get my metaphorical pencils sharpened in 25 minutes.
That said, it’s important to build adequate margin between appointments, especially if those meetings have a heavy emotional undercurrent to them—or you think they might.
Plus, you know… traffic.
The goal for me, as always, is flow: an effortlessness and mindfulness to what I’m doing. In those moments I am neither rushed nor languishing. I am just… in time.
Yesterday was a tight-margin day in which I moved in and out of flow, and even had to cancel something because I’d packed things in too tightly. First up was a coffee appointment with someone to plan an event I’m doing in January. We met at the Starbucks, because right after that a church member and I were doing some de-cluttering, to get ready for some high school band students whom we’d hired to do some schlepping to the dumpster. That took longer than I’d expected, which led to the cancellation. After lunch and some emails and phone calls, I had a quick run, which had to be cut short (another too-tight margin). Then it was a hospital visit and home with the kids.
As I type it, it seems frenetic, like a lot of chopped up experiences and harried distraction. And given the need to cancel stuff, clearly I’d planned too much. But I didn’t feel harried at all. The Starbucks conversation meandered and flowed and ended when it needed to. I was not checking my watch at the hospital; there was sufficient time, and I had prearranged with my neighbor to get the kids at the bus stop so I could take my time.
So yesterday was good, on the whole. But there are just as many jam-packed days in which I feel like I’m all elbows and stubbed toes. I’m hard-pressed to figure out what makes the difference. In the meantime, I’ll chalk it up to the work of that mysterious Holy Spirit.
Several months ago a pastor friend gave my book to a gal who’d been visiting his church. She really liked it, and for this self-proclaimed seeker, a major point in its favor was “It’s very Buddhist!”
She has a point. I write about living Sabbathly, which means that whether we are at work or play, we strive to be fully present: neither hurried nor sluggish, but awake and alive. This kind of Sabbath mindset is connected to mindfulness and attentiveness, both of which are traditionally associated with Eastern religion and philosophy.
But Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, wrote that Sabbath is not just a date, but an atmosphere. And as I told the group last weekend at the Oasis, you don’t have to stray far from the Christian tradition to see mindfulness and attentiveness in play. In fact, Jesus strikes me as a very mindful dude.
This is the guy who told distracted but well-intentioned Martha to focus on the “one thing needful.” I’m convinced he was not telling her to drop her work in the kitchen; after all, he relied on the hospitality of his friends for his itinerant ministry. Rather he wanted her to live with intention. Jesus demonstrates and offers an abundant life, but his abundance is not about sheer copiousness. Rather it flows out of simplicity, and a sense of depth.
This all seems to be an argument against multitasking, which research tells us isn’t really possible anyway. When we are multitasking, we are really switching quickly between tasks, with a loss of effectiveness each time we make the switch.
And yet, it is possible to be in a state of flow, which we might call multitasking at its best. Sometimes people call it being “in the zone.” Those moments don’t happen often for me, but when they do, it’s such a joy, even when the work is hard or feels like “too much.”
Here’s what flow looks like: In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’s daughter when he has an encounter with the so-called hemorrhaging woman. (Lord love the Baptist church of my childhood, how did I not know what the heck was the matter with her until I got to the Presbyterian Church?)
There’s a great little line, after the woman is healed of her twelve-year period, when Jesus calls her “daughter” and bids her to go in peace and healing. While he was still speaking, Mark says, Jairus’s associates come up and tell him that the little girl has died. Jesus overhears them and is able to respond. Did you catch that? He is speaking words of grace to one person even as he feels the pain of someone else.
That’s what true attentiveness looks like. Is there any doubt that Jesus was fully present with the woman? And yet his senses are so heightened that he is equally tuned in to a completely different situation.
Amazing. And such hard work.
Whether you call it mindfulness, flow, or living Sabbathly, when have you experienced this feeling? What helps create that sense in your own life?
The title of this post comes from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song “Conversation with the Devil”:
I said, “Hotshot tell me this: which religion is the truest?”
He said, “There all about the same; Buddha was not a Christian, but Jesus woulda made a good Buddist.”
This weekend I led the Family Conference at Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center, where we enjoyed “Sabbath at the Springs.” It was a drizzly but very full and fruitful weekend. Many worlds collided there: in addition to having my writer and retreat leader hat on, there were folks from the church I currently serve and the one I used to serve, plus their new pastors, who are friends of mine for many years. And of course my family was there.
Happy and grateful.
Among other things, we talked about the Sabbath Manifesto, which are 10 principles for Sabbath-keeping, such as light candles, drink wine, get outside, give back, etc. Sponsored by Reboot, a group of Jewish artists, the project and manifesto try to make the Sabbath more accessible (and even hip).
I had groups write their own Sabbath Manifestos, which we shared aloud. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to have someone write them all down, but one group took their notes on an iPad and emailed them to me. Here is part of their list:
Get outside : smell, feel, look at the earth
Feel alive/passionate about something: Laugh, Cry, Think
Share with someone: happy or other feelings
Rest in Quiet: pray & prepare by expanding awareness of others around me
Find sanctuary in community: sabbath is about more than ourselves
“Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary”
Do something creative to elicit/use the brain
Repetitive family/personal Patterns & pathways change our life
Use car time to talk/connect with those on the journey with you-put yourself in another’s shoes/
BE MINDFUL OF YOUR BODY
What would your Sabbath manifesto include?
Image is the Cell Phone Sleeping Bag, sponsored by Reboot.
My friend Ashley Goff is a part-time pastor with three kids, just as I am. When her youngest entered school last year, a friend suggested that she try to spend 15 uninterrupted minutes with each kid when they get home. Let the child decide what she wants to do—talk, read a book, play a game. The point is time together without distractions, smartphones, dinner preparation, etc. This puts a bit of structure around the afternoon chaos of snacks/homework/activities/plaintive requests to play on the iPad.
I filed that suggestion away for this year, with all three kids in school. Count me a fan of the 15 minute kid check-in.
OK, we’ve done it twice since school started.
But both times were great!
James has a little trouble when it’s not his turn, but he’s learning. I’m also learning how to deal with three kids at home in the afternoons, often while I’m trying to finish up the day’s work. I realized that when the kids get home I’m often hurriedly trying to finish one more email, etc., and I end up putting them off with a “just a minute, just a minute.” But by focusing on them as soon as they get home, it gives them a “shot of mommy” so that if I need to, I can go back to the home office and tie up any loose ends more easily.
Ashley’s parenting hack would work as a way of approaching Sabbath too. Sometimes, an uninterrupted day of rest is not possible. (Our Sabbath this weekend was about four hours on Saturday morning). But how about carving out a little time for each person in your family (or spouse, or group of friends) during a weekend? In this way Sabbath becomes a series of intentional encounters—free of phones and other distractions, driven by connection, mutual fun and delight—that weave into a busy weekend.
Reminder: Have you entered the contest for a Sabbath Book Group Study Pack yet? Deadline is Wednesday. Here are details.