Giving myself grace to "just go home"

A dear friend (and really wise pastor) just put up a blog post about our society's fixation on work and success that you should read right now. I mean it. Open it in a new tab, read it, and then come back here. I'll be waiting.


Ok, pretty great stuff, right?

The prophet Isaiah asking, "Why do you spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?" Pretty convicting.

And then these lines, which made me nod along vehemently:
I don’t want to cultivate a society that expects full time work for part time pay, and I don’t want to cultivate an individual who accepts that they aren’t valuable enough to not be defined by their job.

It’s a spiritual issue. In my work I can “work for God” so much that I lose sight of God altogether because I’m so busy. In our work we can lose sight of ourselves, of our God-given identities, because we take on the identity of “success.”

But it was these words that really made me stop in my tracks:
How can we have spiritually healthy people if we have spiritual leaders and spiritual homes who are in the same rhythm as the mega-firm and the mega-business?

By and large, I just want you to go home. And I want me to go home more. As a Christian, as a pastor, as someone who cares about the health and souls of my people, just go home.

I think, that more than anything else, these lines describe part of my own journey to leave the Chicago suburbs - my home! - and to head off to small-town Iowa, leaving behind one thriving congregation to go serve a different thriving congregation.

It's a pretty quiet day here in Decorah. I woke up, stopped by the co-op to grab some sweet treats for the office and a cup of coffee to de-fuzz my morning brain, and then landed in my office. I spent the morning being productive. All manner of small tasks, from answering email to planning worship ideas for tonight's healing service at the high school leadership camp I'm co-chaplaining at Luther College. I worked through the noon hour, and then about one o'clock, went home to eat some lunch.

After lunch, I drove out to the hospital to see whether there were any members in need of a visit. I stopped by the store to pick up a few supplies for tonight's healing service. And then made my way back to the office to finish off a few tasks before going home.

As I was driving back to church, I had a strange, questioning moment. I wondered to myself whether such a relaxed, free work day should feel as normal as today felt.

See, previously, I lived and served in big, bustling suburban Chicago. My home turf, mind you, and an area of the country that I dearly love. But for as much as I love about Chicagoland, as I served there, I grew increasingly unsettled by the pace. I commuted twenty minutes to church, which meant I never went home for lunch...and often didn't go home at a regular dinner hour, either. The bustle of the area, people's busy work schedules, and parents' desires to give their kids a wide range of extra-curricular experiences spilled over into the character of the church. We ran program after program. We as a staff took on the bulk of planning and execution of these programs, because our volunteers were already too busy. So I worked long and full days, working through the afternoons to my evening meetings. I was busy. It felt normal, because I really knew no other. And it worked. I was tired a lot, I ate a lot of dinners at 9:30pm, but somehow it worked.

But now I'm living the opposite life. I'm a mere two-minute commute from church. I eat lunches and dinners at home. I do more visits and reading than I do project planning. I spend time in the office when there are office things to do, and spend time elsewhere when there are elsewhere things to do. My time is more flexible...and there's a lot more elbow room.

On slow or quiet days, I get anxious, I admit. I'm still in a bit of that mindset where if I'm not busy, I feel like I'm not doing my job. Except that my congregation doesn't expect me to be busy for the sake of being busy. They expect me to write sermons and plan worship, to do visits and to check in at the hospital, to attend meetings as I am able, to empower volunteers instead of taking everything on myself. And yes, I have some project that I'm working on, and there are always those busy weeks where there are more things to do than there are hands and hours to do them. But for the most part, the expectation is that I ebb and flow with my weeks. And it takes work for me to appreciate the quiet weeks instead of feeling guilty. It takes work for me to realize that a four or six hour day here and there make up for the ten hour days that show up here and there. And it takes work for me to remember that ministry is about the care of souls and not about the hours I log.

Which is why Tim's blog post hit me particularly hard. Because I'm still finding my rhythm here. And when I don't know what else to do, I do "just go home." And sometimes I need reminding that my time and my energy and my own personal spiritual health are more valuable than I think they are. And that the slower rhythm to my days doesn't mean I'm doing anything wrong. And that it will take some time for me to outgrow my learned behavior of measuring myself by "success" and "busy-ness."

Yes, I need to keep learning how to give myself the grace to "just go home." And figure out how to help other people find that same grace.

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