Thursday, February 25, 2010

My “Spiritual Day” and Thoughts on the Sabbath


Today is my monthly “personal spiritual development day”. This is a policy that was implemented by our bosses, the Globalscope Steering Committee, a year or so ago, and it is one of the best things they have ever done for us. They know that we tend to burn the candle at both ends, and so one week day (Mon.-Fri.) per month, each member of our staff is required to dedicate an entire day to, as we like to say, “filling his/her tank”. The spiritual/emotional tank, that is. On these days we are not allowed to work, we are instructed only to do things that refresh us and help us to rest and reconnect with God and with ourselves. And we can do anything we want if it helps to accomplish that goal. Sleep all day, go to the mall, read, skydive … whatever floats your spiritual boat. Overall our team has taken this seriously and done a pretty good job of actually carrying out this assignment, staggering the days so that El Pozo never suffers. I admit that we’ve only done a fair job of sharing with each other how we have been spending these days and what we’ve learned; I hope we can improve in that area.

These days have come to be known as our “spiritual days”, which I don’t like because it sounds like every other day is somehow not spiritual – but I know what people mean and until I can come up with another good, short way to refer to these days I won’t complain. Anyway, today is my “spiritual day” for February, and boy did I need it. Things have been crazy around here and I’m pretty tired. So without further ado here is a little bit about my day, followed by some more general thoughts on the concept of Sabbath…

My day started the way I wish every day could start – without an alarm clock. These days Elsa Lynne is sleeping through the night for the most part, or if she wakes up it’s only once, and her mama takes care of her when she does. (Seeing as how breast feeding continues, rendering me fairly useless, Erin graciously lets me sleep on through.) Today I awoke to baby noises as usual, but it was nice to know that I could return to bed soon if I so desired without the impending beep beep beep hanging over me. Today I thought I would sleep really late, but I actually woke up quite refreshed and went ahead and climbed out of bed around … well I don’t remember what time it was because for once I didn’t look at the clock!

After some quality family time snuggling and laughing and catching the end of the most recent episode of LOST (We fell asleep during the show last night…), I showered and headed out the door on foot toward one of my favorite breakfast spots. Most days lately on my walk to work I prefer to just think and pray and listen to the street sounds, but today I was feeling the music. So I popped on my headphones and headed out. My mp3 player is filled with favorite songs of all types and always on “shuffle”, and before hitting play I asked God to start me off with some really good stuff this morning. He didn’t disappoint. The first song to come up was “Original of the Species” by U2, about which I have written before. Though she doesn’t know it, I consider this to be “our song” for Elsita and me. It was written by U2 for their own daughters and it made me get all emotional once again this morning. Song #2 was “Everything Glorious” by David Crowder, another all-time favorite of mine that brings the tears. I listened to those words as I looked up at a snow-capped volcano, walked next to a campus full of students who need Jesus, and reflected on some trials and temptations I’m currently facing. It reminded me that God is good and in control and framed my day for me nicely.

Upon arriving at my favorite local restaurant (Flavor), I ordered the waffles with compote of “red fruits” and “nougatine” of pecan. Whoa baby. And as with every meal at Flavor I sipped alternately on very good coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice. While there I read my daily devo (which doesn’t always happen), prepped for my small group later tonight (technically working – oops), and, inspired by my wife, read through part of Ephesians. Erin has been having all of her girls read this great letter because it so powerfully communicates our identity as beloved, treasured children of God. I figured it couldn’t hurt for me to hear that again today, either. At the end of the meal I even made the clutch move of purchasing Erin’s favorite chocolate-filled pastry to go. Booyah! I’m usually the husband who remembers things like this five to thirty minutes too late. Not today, oh yeah!

After a leisurely breakfast, I strolled one block away to our friend Elsa’s (yes, the same one) salon / hair cut place. One of my favorite things in the world is getting my hair cut, and I was way overdue. So for about an hour I had a nice combination of silence and conversation with Elsa while one of her employees cut my hair. It was glorious, and the hair cut turned out nicely. And oh yeah all of this for the grand total of 30 pesos! I gave 50 and still felt like I was stealing from them.

After the haircut was a nice 30-minute walk back home, complete with sunshine, more music, and some smiles and waves from several neighborhood friends along the way. At home I played with Elsa (in the middle of the day!), helped Erin put her into her dress (It’s finally warm enough for her to wear dresses!), and then took my girls to the Casa Verde for Pozomida, the Thursday devotional lunch that is our most highly-attended event each week (averaging just under 100 people). It was weird to drop them off and drive away as I looked at so many of the students I love milling around. But I was planning to head to Starbucks to hide out and do some writing.

That plan quickly changed when I realized I was hungry and possibly more tired than I realized and had leftover hamburgers from last night at home. I love leftovers. And hamburgers. So I headed back home, heated up some beef with onion and cheese, and ate a tasty lunch while I caught the end of The Bourne Identity on TV followed by two episodes of Seinfeld on DVD. From there the beef in my stomach convinced me that I was indeed sleepy and I took a wonderful, guilt-free nap mid-day on a Thursday! Then I woke up and finally continued with the original, pre-lunch plan. Now I’m here at what I like to call “my tree house” – a Starbucks across town where I don’t run into anyone from our ministry and there is an upstairs area with comfy seating where I can kind of hide out and hunker down.

Overall, today I have done a below-average job of totally unplugging from work. I got on email early in the day and wrote to some friends – something I have been really wanting and needing to do – but this also kind of sucked me into the work world. That plus the fact that we leave for our beach retreat tomorrow, plus a couple of ministry situations, etc., etc., and I have been a little more connected than I’d have liked. So today has not exactly been a Sabbath. It has, however, been largely spiritually filling and refreshing. It has definitely been just … nice. And I almost certainly wouldn’t have done it if not given the permission/directive to do so by my superiors.

If you are worried about the irony of me posting this blog on this particular day, please know that writing/blogging is therapeutic for me, so I’m glad to get the chance to pound the keys a little bit, too. Later I plan to perhaps watch a DVD talk on leadership (I love that stuff), read some of the biography I’m working on (Buckminster Fuller’s Universe), and maybe take another walk. Dinner is still up in the air – maybe some tacos or Costco pizza? I also confess that I’ll be meeting with my Thursday night small group, which I couldn’t bring myself to cancel. But meeting and talking about the Bible with this particular group fills me more than it drains me, anyway, so it’s all good!

All of that said, here are my favorite thoughts summing up what I believe about the concept and practice of Sabbath:

* God has said pretty clearly “DO IT” all throughout Scripture, from the creation story to the ten commandments to the life of Jesus to the practices of the early Church. There’s really no debate as to the command or the meaning, only the semantics of when and how.

* It just makes so much sense to my heart and soul – and this is partly because it makes so little sense to the world around me and to my own nature. My tendency to control control control do do do go go go more more more spirals out of control without Something causes/calls/challenges me to just … STOP. REST. CEASE. (That’s what the word literally means, by the way – oh yeah biblical Hebrew class!!!)

* Something I read a couple of years ago (by Rob Bell – I think it was in Velvet Elvis) about Sabbath has really stuck with me and helped me to improve my Sabbath rest. Bell said something along the lines of “Sabbath is a day when I ACCOMPLISH NOTHING”. That simple thought, repeated like a swing thought on the golf course, has helped me tremendously. I say it to myself when I’m tempted to drift into work mode during periods of time I’ve dedicated to Sabbath rest, and it reminds me that IT’S OKAY not to constantly be “productive”. This may be easy for some of you; it is certainly not so for me. This thought has allowed me to spend several Saturdays and/or Sunday afternoons recently just enjoying my wife and daughter, resting my mind and body, and just … BEING. (Another helpful thought that I remember hearing from my friend Ben is that we are called human beings, not human doings, for a reason.) For example last Saturday pretty much all we did was watch several episodes of Friday Night Lights, take a walk, and … that was about it. And afterward I was actually okay with that. I am now much more capable than ever before of just sometimes allowing the to-do list to get longer and the work to pile up. Partly because I have come to understand that, especially in ministry, the work ALWAYS piles up! In ministry, there is not nor will there ever be an end in sight, and understanding this, in a strange way, frees me up to observe the Sabbath. I will never “finish” my ministry work, and this is actually the opposite of a defeatist attitude because it calls me to trust in God, the only One who has the power to accomplish the life changes I set out to see in those around me anyway!!!

* My mentor Dr. Jim Donovan once taught me to think of Sabbath in terms of something done daily, weekly, monthly, and annually. This has been tremendously helpful to me. He said we should, of course, have our weekly Sabbath – which, for him, is really Friday. On a typical Friday he plays golf with his buddies, relaxes, reads, and has a date with his wife. Sundays are one of his busiest work days and Saturdays, at least the second half, often include sermon preparation and last-minute things for Sunday and his share of the pastoral duties such as hospital visits, etc. So Friday works for him. It’s when he communes with God and gets his “tank filled”. But we should also consider a daily Sabbath. Donovan encouraged me to look for those Sabbath moments in each day when we just stop, cease, and rest in God. Maybe five minutes of silence while driving. Maybe during a morning devo time. Maybe creating space between arriving at home and hitting the pillow to sleep. Likewise there is the idea of a monthly two-day Sabbath. For most people this would look something like a weekend away. Or maybe a weekend actually spent at home! Donovan, unable to take Sundays off very often, tries about once a month to take both Friday and Saturday to get away or do “tank-filling” things alone or just with his wife. This means some thinking and planning ahead to make sure the sermon is done and elders are taking care of the flock. Finally, there’s the annual Sabbath, also known as “vacation”. Too many Christians, especially leaders, simply don’t take advantage of vacation and/or don’t use those days wisely! Often, driven by fine motives, we simply let our vacation days go unused in the name of our mission and calling. Other times we use 100% of our vacation days for travel and tourism and such without ever actually RESTING in the process. I’m ashamed to admit that I more often than not return from a “vacation” or a “retreat” more tired than when I left. We see anything else as either selfish or a waste of time, but these are lies that fly in the face of the Sabbath concept. To package it nicely for a sermon series, I once heard this concept described by some other friends as “Devote Daily”, “Withdraw Weekly”, “Meditate Monthly”, “Abscond Annually” (or something like that). It’s a great concept, and really helps me understand how to practice the Sabbath in my life.

* Above I mentioned that Donovan considers Friday his weekly Sabbath. I wonder if that doesn’t offend some folks… At the risk of further offending, I must say that on which particular day of the week one observes the Sabbath is just not that important to me. Maybe it should be – I’m still learning. Some say it should be Saturday. In Spanish, for example, it’s the same word – “Sábado”. So at times one has to explain which “Sábado” to which he/she is referring – the biblical concept or just the day of the week. Saturday is, of course, the Jewish Sabbath and always has been. Others say it should be Sunday. That the early followers of Christ distinguished themselves by changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Others, though, argue that Sunday is the “Lord’s day” and actually different from the Sabbath. For example, anyone who works for a local church, or even volunteers to teach Sunday school or help out with parking or whatever, may find it very difficult to consider Sunday a day of rest. I had a friend growing up who was a Seventh-Day Adventist, and his parents kept their family very true to the doctrine of no strenuous activity from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. This is, in a way, honorable and impressive. It was also very hard on my friend who, as the tallest and fastest kid in our class, was never able to play in any of the rec sports leagues. We are kind of out of touch but I’d love to hear what he says today about that experience. I don’t think he’s involved in the Church today, but I hope I’m wrong about that. When all is said and done, it seems to me that the important thing is to DO IT, whenever possible – with the understanding that it IS and SHOULD BE an interruption, an inconvenience to our lives. Maybe keeping your kids out of Saturday sports leagues isn’t the answer. Surely the answer also is not to fill Saturday with social activities, Sunday with church activities (Think about the word: ACTIVITIES…), and end up never resting at all. One thing is for sure; Sabbath was not intended to be something we schedule into our calendars at our convenience, defeating the purpose. It is something we are to schedule around.

I’ll end with some questions for you, Mr. or Mrs. Reader: Do you need to take a “personal spiritual development day” once a month? If so, how can you arrange for that? And how are you doing on honoring and observing the Sabbath in your life? Food for thought that I hope leads to rest for your body and soul, rest that I suspect you need just like I do, and probably more than you know.

Now if you will excuse me I have some more chai to sip and a few more hours of tank-filling to knock off of my to-do list … I mean … well you know what I mean.

No comments:

Post a Comment