A lot of my friends gave up chocolate for Lent. Fine with me. That only means more chocolate at the snack table for moi. I did that one year a long time ago and it was enough for a lifetime. You have to draw the line somewhere.
Presbyterians aren’t really big on giving up things. We’re mostly encouraged to take on new spiritual activities like prayer and meditation. We’re offering weekly bible studies at church during the Lenten season.
As for myself this year, I'm not really sure but I think I gave up church for Lent.
I didn’t really plan to. It just happened that I haven’t made it into town on a Sunday for a while. There have been two retreats and then two glorious weekends of perfect weather. I may not have been in my usual pew in Garland but long walks outdoors in good weather is worship in my book.
When I wrote the Mary and Martha piece last week I got some concerned comments about needing the Marthas to serve on committees. After all, the church wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have worker bees on the sidelines doing the essential Martha things. I agree.
It isn't told in the story but somewhere in the story Mary had to pick up and walk out of the house with Jesus. She can't stay sitting on the floor at his feet. While Martha stays in the kitchen finishing up the dishes Mary must leave the house with Jesus to go feed the poor and heal the sick. That's the real end of the story, it just wasn't written down. But if you believe what Jesus taught and if you believe that Mary was really listening then you have to know that she left with him. Or set up a soup kitchen there in town. Whichever she did, Mary ended up with more work than Martha ever dreamed.
But a calendar that is too crowded or work without proper Sabbaths can kill any talent Mary or Martha either one ever pretended to have.
Taking a Sabbatical is good for you once in a while even if it's for one Sunday. I took a deliberate Sabbatical about 20 years ago. I think it lasted about four months if memory serves. I had been doing the committee thing for a solid 12 years without a break--far too long-- and I was getting burned out. I was setting my alarm for 6:30 on a Sunday morning and began dreading the day. This is your first clue that a Sabbatical might be a good idea. Now here’s the difference between Sabbaticals and just plain old being lazy and not going to church: I put a lot of thought into it and had a plan.
I was very intentional about my sabbatical. I had a time frame set aside and told enough folks so they wouldn't think I was mad or anything. I would end regular worship on Christmas Eve and resume on Easter Sunday. I would continue to worship but sometimes in other churches and sometimes in nature. I visited about five or six different churches and picked up some great ideas to take back to my home church. I spent some time sitting on the Big Rocks in Glen Rose, Texas. This is a spot in the middle of the Brazos river where there are huge boulders in the middle of the river, much like God had accidently dropped them while creating the earth. It has been the site of many a deep thought for my family for several generations.
So it wasn’t like I checked out on God. I just changed locations.
And it proved to be invaluable. I returned to regular worship on Easter morning that year refreshed and ready to roll. That was 20 years ago and I'm starting to think it might be time for another period of rest and rejuvenation.
It occurred to me that since we moved out here where it is a ninety minute drive into Garland that Beaven and I have been on more committees than we ever were on when we lived ten minutes away. I’m not sure how that came about but I think I’m ready to step back and rest for a while.
One pastor I know has done this a couple of times in his carreer and it has always been good for him. Some pastors even have it built into the terms of their call. I heartily endorse the idea. It's good for both the pastor and the congregation. Once in a while a church needs to remember who is the head of their church and it isn't the pastor.
As my friend Linda McCormick told me years ago, “God can use you but God doesn’t need you.” Another pastor also told me that nobody will step in to do what Jane does until Jane quits doing it. Part of a healthy and growing congregation is for duties to be constantly handed off to another person who brings fresh ideas to the task.
The church will survive. I’m not that egocentric.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking the labyrinth instead. I’ve done a little work on it and you can check that in my other blog:
The other thing that has put me in touch with the Creator is chickens.
We bought eight baby chicks on Friday and I swear we can see them growing. They seem to look a touch older in the evening than they looked in the morning. This morning I noticed tail feathers that weren’t there yesterday. When we got them they were little round balls of fluff. Now they are more oblong and have distinct wings and tails. Yesterday they had grown enough to be able to get out of the first box we put them in and I had to build a new one.
Emily and the girls came for the weekend. We cooked a lot of new things. We made mozzarella cheese, butter and a chocolate soufflé. The kids next door came over to play. We got to pet their new baby goats. Our lives were seasoned with rest, play and new things to try. I took Sarah to walk the lab with me. God was here. She always is.