Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Slowing Down

Tonight I will be delivering the first sermon in my Lenten series entitled, "Slow Down."

This series is born out of observation and experience.

I've forced myself to slow down. 

I had to.

Last year, I went through a period of physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion.  Experts label it burnout.

It sucks.

In the midst of a growing congregation with many demands, I had to define what was most important--what deserved most of my attention.

And I had to let go of other things.

I had to slow things down in my own personal and professional life or risk consequences to my health and well being.

Furthermore, it would not only affect my health and well being, but the health and well being of my congregation.

The Biblical witness testifies to this.  It's one of my core stories that helps me form my pastoral identity:

13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ 15Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’ 17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good. 18You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.’  Exodus 18: 13-23
 Now, obviously, I didn't do such a good job of this earlier.  Sometimes, one must learn a difficult lesson the hard way.
I think I did.

I've slowed down and turned things over to those who are gifted to handle them within the midst of the congregation.

It's working well and changing how things are working. 

I no longer feel the weight of the congregation resting upon me.  It's a shared burden.

I no longer invent things to keep me busy.  If I have finished my required work, I go home, hunting, to work in my garden or other such activity.  I get plenty of interruptions by phone or text when I'm technically not on the clock.  I have learned to beat guilt back.

I have learned to have Sabbath moments throughout the week.  I'd love to devote a full day to God, family, and rest, but I generally don't get those opportunities.  I have to take them when I can, and if that means leaving the office for an afternoon to go and sit in the peace and quiet of a deer stand while reading a theological treatise on my Kindle--I do it.

Society seems to compel us to work and play and involve ourselves in activities until we are literally exhausted.  I do not believe this is healthy.  I do believe we cannot change society and therefore must change ourselves and how we operate.  I do believe if we get caught up in society's busy-ness, we will not hear or see God as often as we should.  I therefore believe it is up to us to make adjustments so that we can be aware of His presence in our lives.  I also believe we cannot stem the tide of what society does, and that if we try to swim upstream, we will only wear ourselves out.  Instead, I believe we can stand firm in our resolve to carve out time to slow down.

This Lent, I am giving up busy-ness.  It's actually something I've been trying to give up for quite some time, but now, it's a concerted effort.  One that I hope will not end at Easter.


Kathy said...

Caution: If anyone thinks he or she may have his or her feelings hurt by reading this, do not read further.

"Burnout." Baloney. What a crock. Once again, Lutherans in their misguided ignorance, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, have fallen victim to the secular culture and pop psychology.

If a pastor or layperson were to get good spiritual direction, this is what he or she would be told:

Burnout? My child, what you have is spiritual desolation brought on by a disordered life. Because of the lack of spiritual balance in your life, you are suffering from a condition that has now affected your body. Do not become a victim a second time by listening to secular advice about "burnout."

You must order your life according to your vocation.

If you are a married Protestant pastor, you have a complicated situation: you have 2 vocations: Priest and Married Man. Still, as difficult as this is (and it is not recommended by St Paul or the Church) it is not impossible to resolve.

An ordered life: 1) God. 2) The duties of your state in life, your vocation(s). 3) Service to others.

God is always first. Then, we use discipline -- self-discipline -- to order our lives.

It is as simple -- and as difficult -- as this. This is The Way.

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy, you have no clue what you are talking about.

Kathy said...

Oh, yes I do.

Kevin Haug said...

No. You really, really don't.

I received plenty of spiritual direction as well as "secular" counseling.

You are quite off base as I have listed the cause of my burnout before. Imbalance? Yes. But not as you describe it.

Go. Read the book of Acts so we can converse more.

Kathy said...

I just returned from a lunch date with my best friend. We've know each other since Kindergarten; she is Jewish. I told her what I wrote to you about burnout. She was completely shocked. She couldn't understand why you don't just tell me where to go.

Now, permit me to explain. I was not born yesterday. I've been around the block a few times. Even my dear friend who is very sweet and tolerant thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I agree.

I have heard and read a lot of b*llsh**. I will not add to the pile. In my humble opinion, all Lutherans and most Catholics don't know sh** about the Faith. What I presented to you this morning, and what I posted on my blog is classical spiritual direction. "Burnout" is b*llsh**. I told you the Truth -- in general terms, yes -- but the Truth.

Regarding Acts, of course we can discuss it. It completely proves the primacy of Peter among the Apostles. I also did a brief blog post on this -- we can go in depth if you wish.

By the way, when you tell me to "Go read the Book of Acts," I have to smile. I began reading Acts around 1953. My dad had a Bible study at home, and I found it very interesting. I'll bet a nickle your parents were just kids then.