While my daughters and I were on the drive for a spontaneous strawberry-picking trip we passed through Afton, MN, home of Selma’s Ice Cream Parlor and a perfect playground across the street. I was asked from the backseat, “Can we stop there on the way home?”
My answer was my default, “If we have time.” I don’t like to default to “No,” but often we are running on a tight schedule. Our kids aren’t so overly programmed that we can’t do any trips to parks, playgrounds, or berry farms. But at the same time, with five of us, each with our own activity or work schedules, our trips aren’t exactly spontaneous. They have to be carefully coordinated to fit into the right empty spot on the numerous Google calendars we maintain.
Well, today we stopped. I’m blessed to have been granted asabbatical this summer. Now I don’t use that word, “blessed,” too much because it often sounds silly or a bit like Christianese for “luckier-than-you,” but this sabbatical truly feels like a blessing – a gift and a responsibility. It is a privilege, I am so well aware, to have this kind of time away from the tasks I am paid to perform, the ministry I am called to carry out publicly. And I also carry a responsibility to use this time to care for myself, my family, and my vocation, all of which are ultimately a way to care for my congregation. It’s a “blessed to be a blessing” idea, like Abraham and Sarah.
On the responsibility side, one thing I am paying attention to is what gives me life, what makes me feel like a whole, sane, balanced person, pastor, spouse, mother, and friend. That feels like a responsibility because it is a way of living I don’t just want to experience every 6-10 years when I may get a sabbatical, but it’s something that will help me be more effective in my relationships and ministry year round.
Having time, she says on Day 3 of the sabbatical, already seems to be an important lesson of this experience. Having time to stop when it seems good to stop. Having time to play when play is needed. Having time to switch directions when a new idea comes up. Having time that isn’t scheduled to the max, even with things I love to do, is allowing me to be open to what feels good and right and faithful in the moment.
I have a hunch this isn’t a sabbatical lesson just for family life, but applies directly to my day to day and week to week ministry in the congregation. I’ve said, along with many other, that ministry happens in the interruptions. What if space was left for the interruptions? Would it be OK for a ministry model to include time when doing nothing is part of the job? It wouldn’t really be time for nothing. What if I schedule time that is purposely unscheduled so that there is space for those things, those visits, those conversations, those books, those phone calls, those cards, those prayers that just feel like the work that is faithful in the moment?
A few months ago I read about and started trying out a productivity process which encourages not only working from a “to do” but making such a list at the start of a week and assigning everything on the list an exact time on one’s schedule. I haven’t done it every single week since I read about it, but I have done it in the weeks that have felt most productive. I wish I could go back and see if those weeks also felt pastoral.
I don’t think I worship at the Altar of Busy, but I may worship at the Altar of the Schedule and Productivity.
How do you make space for the spontaneity of the Spirit?