Tag Archives: work

Take Your Day Off. It Will Keep You Honest

13426114I’ve been doing the 2015 Reading Challenge this year, and I just finished my Book with Antonyms in the Title: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely. It’s a fun read, with a lot of studies to back up Ariely’s assertions, which are pretty intuitive: everybody cheats on various levels, and we have lots of ways to rationalize it.

I was especially interested in the final chapter, which addresses the role of religion in matters of honesty and integrity:

During one of our conversations, I asked Rabbi [Jonathan] Sacks to tell me which of the Ten Commandments I should keep, if I were going to focus on just one. It was another way of asking him which commandment is the most important one. What do you think his answer was? The one about not worshipping idols? The one about murder?

His answer wasn’t at all what I expected— he said that if I kept only one commandment, I should observe Shabbat. “If you keep Shabbat as a day of rest and reflection,” he said, “the rest of the commandments will most likely follow.” 

Shabbat affects those who observe it in a few ways. First, it offers an opportunity to stop and reflect. In observing this day, we can remind ourselves what we have done in the last week, what we want to do next week, and what our true values are. We can pay attention to our less-than-perfect behaviors that otherwise might go unnoticed, keeping ourselves from sliding accidentally into moral dangers.

This reflective work is exactly why so many of us resist it. Who wants to be confronted with all of our stuff!? But there’s more:

The second way Shabbat propels people to observe the other commandments is by restoring our moral energy. It’s no secret that at the end of a day or week, people often let loose (getting drunk and so on) by allowing themselves to do what their impulsive id-side has been screaming for while they were stuck in their cubicles. We saw this kind of moral exhaustion in the depletion experiment [described earlier in the book]. In that experiment, participant cheating increased after a more difficult writing task, suggesting that in daily life (even without hard writing assignments from social scientists) exhaustion can wear us right down to our ids. Ego depletion (as we call this draining effect), it turns out, affects not only whether we make good or bad decisions, but also whether we obey our consciences.

So having a time of rest gives us a spiritual reset, so our personal integrity and sense of self-control isn’t working out of deficit.

Ariely writes a lot about the financial meltdown from several years ago and scandals such as Enron, Madoff and the like. He talks about what makes it possible for someone to make catastrophic and downright dishonest decisions. He doesn’t make the connection in this chapter, but it seems clear that a culture of overwork creates a ripe environment for dishonesty.

Among industralized nations, the United States is notoriously bad on the scale of paid time off, family and sick leave and the like. This lack of policies doesn’t just make us sick, tired, less creative and less productive. It can also contribute to a sense of moral decay.

Rising to Your Level of Misery

dirty-jobs30They can’t pay you enough money to do a job you hate.

I have a lot of lasting memories of my grandfather–homegrown tomatoes, “Heart and Soul” duets on the piano–but that’s the primary piece of wisdom I remember him passing along to me. And it’s a good one.

I was thinking about Grandpa’s advice when I read a recent piece in the New York Times, Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work. In it Arthur Brooks talks about the tendency to get promoted past the place where you find joy and passion in your profession:

People generally have a “bliss zone,” a window of creative work and responsibility to match their skills and passions. But then the problems start. Those who love being part of teams and creative processes are promoted to management. Happy engineers become stressed-out supervisors. Writers find themselves in charge of other writers and haranguing them over deadlines. In my years in academia, I saw happy professors become bitter deans, constantly reminiscing about the old days doing cutting-edge research and teaching the classes they loved.

Brooks says many people respond to this happiness gap by drinking heavily. What he recommends instead is finding a way back to that bliss point. As my mother said recently, “Whenever I was feeling sad, I had a friend who told me to remember the last time I was happy and then return to what I was doing then.” I like it.

But it’s not easy. Maybe the last time you were happy was before the chronic illness struck, or during your marriage that has now ended. In the case of work, sometimes shifting things away from misery means lost income you’ve come to count on. More deeply, we’re conditioned to see success as a function of progress. Moving back is synonymous with failure.

This article was tugging at me for several days last week until I finally figured out why: both my husband and I have been in this situation in recent years. In his case, he revised his job description to better reflect his gifts and his value to his industry. In my case, I have been invited to apply for positions that would make sense on a certain assumed trajectory: You’ve been a pastor of a small church? How about a larger church? In one case, I got pretty far along in the process before realizing that the job, as wonderful as it was, was not mine to do. Of course, not every job is pure bliss–even the bliss zone has its headaches. But as I joked to a friend soon after taking myself out of the running, “That’s a good ulcer. It’s just not my ulcer.”

In my husband’s and my case, we didn’t make these moves because of some special cleverness on our part. It was the practice of Sabbath over the course of many years that showed us the way and helped us clarify what we love, what we value and what we want our lives to look like. That’s what makes it such an important practice. I’ve preached on the story of the Hebrew people as slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh heaped more and more work on them. And I said, “Sabbath isn’t about being well rested so you can go back to Pharaoh’s job site. Sabbath is about realizing that you don’t want to make those bricks anymore.”


Photo is Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs, whom I wrote about in a post awhile back called ‘Follow Your Bliss’ and Other Myths about Call.

Join my mailing list: twice-monthly updates on what’s inspiring me or kicking my butt, and usually both.

Thoughts from a Book Group: Some People Don’t Need Sabbath

Hey folks,

It’s Easter Monday, which means clergy catch-up, or rest, or both. I’m still getting over being sick. So today we have a guest post of sorts, a wrap-up email I received from a good friend who leads an adult Sunday School class at his church:

We finished our Lenten study of Sabbath in the Suburbs
this past Sunday. Your book was overwhelmingly well-received (we’re
ready for the next one – “Sabbath in the Suburbs with Teenagers”?) We
had lots of good discussion and your study questions provided good
jumping-off places, not that we always needed them. Our main
takeaways as a group were: (1) You can’t do and be everything, Sabbath
should be the time when you’re free to admit that and be your
authentic self; (2) No “J.O.Y.”; (3) God wants us to be rested and
happy. Everyone liked the Sabbath hacks.

We had a really good debate about abundance vs. scarcity in our last
session, that to me was one of the strongest ideas in the book. We
also talked about “play” in the Bible. Remember the cute video of the
Christmas story with the kids from New Zealand (“They woon’t be
ixpicting that”)? I used that as an example of the playfulness of the
Gospel. We really like the section about Moses as the overworked
manager who doesn’t know how delegate.

I’m actually not familiar with that Christmas video. I wonder, is this the one?

Not everyone embraced the idea of setting aside a block of Sabbath
time every week – a minority said their families weren’t overscheduled
all the time and didn’t necessarily need a weekly respite. They
didn’t seem to buy in to the idea of Sabbath as a time of rest and a
religious practice, not just the former. That may be due to my
limitations as a moderator, not the text.

I doubt it was him…

As I go around talking to groups, I meet folks who don’t struggle for Sabbath the way many of us do. They often don’t see a need because their lives have a natural balance of work and play (what’s their secret?).

But I also meet people who seem to love their jobs so much that they literally work every day. A pastor of a large church admitted to me recently that he hasn’t had a regular day off in several years. Vacations, yes, but not days off. And I met an imam several weeks ago who shared that Islam does not have a provision for the Sabbath like Judaism and Christianity do. In fact, he admitted he has not taken a vacation in three decades. I was astounded in both cases, but in talking to him it was clear that he was deeply committed to his work. Neither is on the verge of burnout. Both are functioning well in their jobs. Both seem to be perfectly healthy psychologically.

you-must-fall-in-love-with-your-work1And last night Robert and I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. (BTW: what sumptuous, simple pieces of sushi. Trip to Japan, anyone?) Here is a guy who’s 85 years old and who still pushes himself (and his apprentices) to new heights in the craft. He hates it when he’s not working. He only takes a day off when he has to. And as the title implies, when he’s not working, he’s thinking about work. Yet he’s kept this pace for 75 years (yes, he started young).

What makes the difference? Are people like that just wired differently? Or have they found such a perfect intersection between their deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger (thank you Buechner) that rest is not needed?

What do you think?


Friday Link Love: Maurice Sendak, Bracket Madness, and What, Me Worry?

Bit of a weird assortment this week. Lots of links related to women and gender issues, probably because I’m still pondering Lean In, the Steubenville verdict, and the connections between them.

But first: March Madness! That’s right:

Public Radio Bracket Madness! — Poll

As I’m putting this post together on Thursday morning, they’re accepting votes for the sweet 16. Some are a slam dunk: Radiolab beats Morning Edition—sorry Steve Inskeep. Some are impossible: Fresh Air v. Prairie Home Companion? What if you find them equally irritating?

Speaking of NPR, Radiolab’s Speed episode was excellent as usual, and my kids and I continue to monitor the pitch drop experiment. Any week/month/year now…


NEXT Church — Liturgy, Music and More

I’m humbled to be the co-chair of NEXT Church for the next two years. NEXT is a conversation within the Presbyterian Church that’s seeking to find areas of health and innovation in the church so they can be nurtured and propagated. You can access the music, liturgy and “ribbon ritual” we did at the conference from our resources page. Or watch the presentations here. And here’s our video. You might recognize a familiar voice:


Imagine a World without Hate — Anti-Defamation League (via Upworthy)

This 1-minute video was spammed widely on Facebook this week. But in case you scrolled by without watching, as I did repeatedly—stop now and click the link above. It’s powerful.


Five Questions Every Woman Should Ask Herself — Positively Positive

This came from a Facebook friend:

The big question remains: Can women really “have it all?” I tend to categorize myself in the “something’s got to give” camp—multi-tasking and juggling can take us just so far.

…It seems like we are feeling more exhausted and guilty than ever before because we are constantly reaching for the unreachable. And research seems to back this idea. Studies show that women today are less happy relative to where they were forty years ago and relative to men.

So, where do we go from here? The answer may be in the way we are defining a fulfilling life or “having it all.”

I could write about this tension between ambition and balance for the rest of my life. Suffice to say that there’s a reason that this E.B. White quote is so beloved to me:

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.


Choosing to Stay Home — Andrew Sullivan, The Dish

Sully’s had a lot of discussion lately on gender differences, work-life balance, wives taking their husbands’ names, etc. Was especially interested in this graph in this post:


Women are doing more child care than they were in the 1960s, even though their work outside the home has almost tripled. ??


How Not To Worry: A 1934 Guide to Mastering Life — Brain Pickings

How can you not love a book called You Can Master Life? Adorable. Anyway:

Gilkey [the author] cites a “Worry Table” created by one of the era’s humorists — most likely Mark Twain, who is often quoted, though never with a specific source, as having said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” The table was designed to distinguish between justified and unjustified worries:

On studying his chronic fears this man found they fell into five fairly distinct classifications:

  1. Worries about disasters which, as later events proved, never happened. About 40% of my anxieties.
  2. Worries about decisions I had made in the past, decisions about which I could now of course do nothing. About 30% of my anxieties.
  3. Worries about possible sickness and a possible nervous breakdown, neither of which materialized. About 12% of my worries.
  4. Worries about my children and my friends, worries arising from the fact I forgot these people have an ordinary amount of common sense. About 10% of my worries.
  5. Worries that have a real foundation. Possibly 8% of the total.

Gilkey then prescribes:

What, of this man, is the first step in the conquest of anxiety? It is to limit his worrying to the few perils in his fifth group. This simple act will eliminate 92% of his fears. Or, to figure the matter differently, it will leave him free from worry 92% of the time.

Unfortunately Gilkey doesn’t understand that worry abhors a vacuum. Eliminating 1-4 will mean that we worry the same amount, just with greater focus… 😉


When Do Good Deeds Lead to More Good Deeds? — Science and Religion Today

Sometimes good deeds make us feel good, so we do more. Other times we feel we’ve “done our share” so the good deed excuses us from goodness the next time. A brief discussion about the current research on this topic, which is scant, unfortunately.


“We Are Inseparable!”: On Maurice Sendak’s Last Book — New Yorker

Blake-233Sendak continues to fascinate, even after his death:

Sendak made this book for those adults who had grown up with his stories.

This is a melancholy thought. In dedicating this last story to us, his once-children readers, he is marking the passage of time in our lives. He’s dated us. When I pick up this new book, I am reminded, as if I needed to be reminded, that I am no longer the ferocious, hyper-absorbed, small wonder of a Sendak reader I once was—nor, I’m guessing, are you. Had Sendak created another “Where the Wild Things Are” for us, would we even be able to appreciate it? For us obsolete children, as Theodor Geisel dubbed adults, it would be beside the point.

What makes this last book special is that Sendak is willing to meet his former-children readers where they are now in their lives—on the condition that they meet him where he was at the end of his. Kushner told me that he saw Sendak, toward the end of his life, eyes dimmed, hunched over his studio desk, pressing his face so close to the drafts that his dear nose was almost touching them. For his devoted readers, this tender proximity—this intimacy—may be the most affecting part of “My Brother’s Book.” The supple details are Sendak’s way of physically drawing us in, closer and closer, until we tap the page with our own noses: one last kiss goodnight.


And finally, some perspective. This was posted to Facebook this week:



I’m in Massachusetts until tomorrow, officiating a wedding for a high school friend. Congrats to D and D! (Hey, that’s handy for monogramming…)

How Men Can Help Women Lean In

urlI wrote a post Friday afternoon about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In and said in part:

There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)

My friend Andrew Taylor-Troutman commented on Facebook:

I appreciate (and am convicted by) your point about men lamenting sexism while benefitting from it. As an ally, I wonder what the image for privilege would be. Leaning back? Or, as you point out, support is key. Leaning in together? Lean, mean fighting machine?

If my comment convicted him, then his sincere question convicted me: What would I ask of my brothers who are in positions of influence and privilege? That is an excellent question. Here are the first things that come to mind:

Don’t be a jerk. I guess that’s not very useful advice, because jerks either don’t know or don’t care that they are. But basic kindness and empathy go a long way. If you see a woman “leaning in,” don’t push her over. But don’t hover around, ready to catch her if she falls either. That’s annoying. And patronizing.

Name it when you see it. That thing where a woman makes a suggestion and it gets ignored, and then a man suggests it and people fall over themselves to praise it? It’s happened to me. It’s happened to virtually every woman I know. It’s nice when women aren’t the ones to point it out.

Advocate for decent parental leave, even if you don’t need it. Maybe you aren’t planning to have kids, or maybe your kids are grown. All the more reason for you to get into the game—it’s not personal. When I was pregnant with my second child, I helped the church I was serving put together a good parental leave policy, which they didn’t have. They were great about it. There was not a lot of pushback. Even so, it’s an awkward process. Help a gal out.

Cut the macho stuff. If you are eligible for parental leave and the situation arises, take it. See also: vacation, study leave and for heaven’s sake, days off!

Recommend us for stuff, and mean it. I’m not looking to move into a new call, but I appreciate that people put my name in for pastoral positions that open up. And don’t give up just because it’s not the right time. Someday it could be. (Don’t freak out, Tiny Church. I ain’t going anywhere.)

What have I missed?