New Normal

For a while those first few days of vacation, I didn’t know what to do with my phone or hands. 

I couldn’t check twitter. Couldn’t google that question that came to mind. Couldn’t color a picture first thing in the morning. Couldn’t snapchat my kids. Couldn’t mindlessly scroll instagram.

I couldn’t use my phone for anything at all but taking pictures. Slowly, my hands found they were relaxing their grip. So did my soul.

Burned

Truth is, I’ve been feeling on the cusp of burnout for a while. Pastoring through a pandemic is not the casual stroll some people seemed to think. (Oh, you don’t have to do anything but record a sermon. How great is that? You must have so much free time!)

Yep. Learning new technology, and having to change it every time we had a new iteration of church, was easy peasy. So was dealing with mental health crises in the community. Helping our little church cope in their own loneliness and fear. Working with people who couldn’t pay their rent. Purchasing our first church building and planning a major reno project on it. Not taking a Sunday off in over a year because you can zoom from anywhere and people needed me. 

The stuff of idle leisure, right?

And doing all this while never getting to hug my kids or even my husband, a man who spends all day in peoples’ respiratory systems, so not a good bet during COVID for immunocompromised me.

It was a lot. It was a lot for you, too. I know without asking that you went through and did a LOT. 

I don’t list those things for pity. I list them to explain why I, like a lot of you, teetered on the edge of wanting to chuck it all and move to New Zealand to become a hobbit village guide. (Still not a bad option. I’d consider it.) 

I was tired, cranky, physically weak, and weary to the bone of doing One. More. Thing.

So I went on our overdue, twice canceled trip of a lifetime last month with high hopes of rest and renewal.

I got those. It was the most glorious time of my life. Yet reentry created other problems I hadn’t anticipated. I’d planned for rest—but I’d put all my expectation on those two weeks. I’d assumed they would be a magical step away from reality that brought me back to earth somehow changed into a new me ready to take on anything in my path.

Pro tip: You cannot undo 14 months of overtime with two weeks of vacation. It does not correlate.

Sabbathing Well

I’d begun a sabbath with all the wrong beliefs about what it was for. Even though, given I’ve written and taught about sabbath as one of my favorite topics, I knew better. 

Sabbath isn’t meant to give us a rest from work or to bring us back to work ready to break new records.

Sabbath is intended to refresh us by rekindling our relationship with the One who knit together our souls. It’s meant to remind us that we done’t run the universe, and the world will turn on its axis without us giving it a nudge. 

I love Eugene Peterson’s work on this.

I hadn’t treated it like that.

Because I’m me, I crammed the time before and after our trip with ALL the things.

  • Of course I could send out an important, long email for a new group I was chairing.
  • Of course I could write the sermon for the day after we got back and deliver it even though we got into the airport AT 1AM Saturday.
  • Obviously, I could prep the June newsletter so it could go right out two days after we returned. (You know it didn’t.)
  • Clearly, I could run 25 errands, prep for a cat sitter, pack, and still do a normal week’s work. Also take the computer in for a complete wipe and reset.
  • Of course I could, given that computer wipe, start right up Monday morning after we got back with a full week of meetings, agendas, sermon writing, social media handling, and 3 doctor appointments.

Of course.

I set myself up for returning to the exact state I’d left rather than taking what I’d learned on the trip and putting it into practice. Fortunately, God stopped me in this nonsense before I could undo all the good.

I find myself asking the same questions post-vacation that I’ve pleaded with my congregation to ask themselves all year about life post-pandemic.

What kind of “normal” do you want to return to?

What are the best things you want to keep from this time?


How are you going to go about intentionally making sure you reboot life 2.0—the version you really want as an operating system?

New Normal

I want a normal that remembers—I matter, but I’m not indispensable.

The world can do without me for two weeks. Or longer.

Not that I don’t matter to my congregation and to others I interact with. However, I matter more to them whole and healthy, recognizing my role as facilitator and friend rather than savior or enabler. We’re partners—and that means free communal give and take, not one-sided offerings. 

It’s going back to relying on and respecting their God-given gifts. That’s taken a backseat during pandemic when stress was everyone’s worst passive aggressive friend. It’s time for a resurgence of trusting people and letting go the reins. If you, like me, have been grasping them a tad too tightly, slack up. Let people surprise you again with what God is giving them to share. 

I want to make available, not necessary, part of my new normal.

I want a normal that makes time for quiet wonder.

Snorkeling right in the face of penguins, sea lions, iguanas, and turtles does something to you. I’ve loved all of God’s wild creation since the day someone first put a book of ABC animals in my hands. That wonder tends to fade in our every day though, when we’re not close enough to a pelican to see its feathers ruffling in the moonlight.

Pandemic allowed my inner over-achiever to amp up the work level and ignore the rest of the world outside my home. I couldn’t leave the house anyway. Why not be more productive? 

Hiking and snorkeling every day required me to see with grateful eyes all the wonder of the world. Going face to face with a penguin or struggling up a volcano’s side reminded me that I’m part of a stunning creation. The author who set it in motion surely can give me what I need to do my work without me going at it 24/7. A grateful me surely will produce better work. 

I want to make awe, not achievement, part of my new normal.

In the future, I plan not to hyper-schedule the time around my full-on breaks. I’ll prepare with joyful anticipation rather than cramming all I can in the last few days. I’ll ease back in. I will refuse to feel guilty about that. It’s in the easing that we remember lessons learned and slowly apply them to a refreshed and possibly reoriented life. That takes time, and it’s equally as important as the vacation/sabbath itself. 

So no, I haven’t done all the things on the list in June. I’m going to enjoy the birds a little longer. Take a few more walks in my garden. Ease back into life so that maybe that easier way will become the pattern. Because you know what? Work isn’t life. All of life is life. I’d just forgotten. 

I want, plan, to make a whole, shalom life, not a piece by piece one, my new normal.

Minding My Business

Does it feel like a new year yet? I’m not sure. In some respects, we have hope this year we didn’t have a few months ago. A vaccine to end, or at least mitigate, our new reality hovers on the horizon. It trembles there, offering some measure of hope to what otherwise feels like a very old year already by February. My husband has received it, as a front line worker. I’m in group 3, and you can bet I’ll be in line.

On the other hand, January looked little different for many of us than did November or December or all the interminable months before them. We’re still here. Still isolating. Still waiting. The difference, of course, is that for those of us in the northern hinterlands, we can’t even go outside for a respite in January, and we have no holidays now for a looong time.

Left to our own devices, increasingly on our own, we develop coping skills or we wither, and personally, I’d much prefer to cope. One of the helpful things for me has been to learn a bit more mindfulness. I know—some of you have got this down like a pro. If you’re like me though, stopping to breathe isn’t really what you do.

We run from project to project, one checklist item to the next one. People like me are excited for the new year mostly because we get a new planner—a new place to write down all those ideas and goals. 

(Never underestimate the excitement of a new planner in my life. The perfect planner is akin to the holy grail for this 5.)

Mindfulness isn’t usually written in that planner. Neither is rest. Enter 2020. The year that finally (I hope) taught me that those things are not just good ideas—they’re survival. They’re also part of God’s perfect plan for us from the beginning.

We’re supposed to rest. We’re meant to breathe. God designed humans beings to sabbath—to STOP (literally, that’s what it means) and take time to notice our world.

So I have been learning to Stop. Pay attention. (Another very important word in the Bible–usually translated as “listen” or “hear.”.)

One of the things I’ve begun to do is sit in my chair in the morning and notice my senses. I take a few deep breaths and sink into the chair, closing my eyes, just paying attention to my small world. 

I notice the heat kick on. I give thanks for heat. 

I hear the tea kettle in the kitchen. I offer gratitude for a husband making me tea. That thought leads me to say a prayer for his patients that day, for their well-being and their families. 

I hear a cardinal chirp outside the window, and I am thankful God created birds, going so far as to create beautiful birds of vivid color and different design. Why? There was no need. But a creative God chose to give his people the gift of diversity on the wing.

Another day I might choose to focus on what I can smell. The licorice scent of Earl Grey steaming out of my tea mug. Oh, thank you for caffeine. And thank you for making it taste good in so many varieties. 

The smell of cat fur, as the little 7-pounder nestles into my lap, a place she finds comfort, and I find comfort and gratitude knowing a creature trusts me at that level. 

I can detect some lemongrass, so I give thanks for newly mopped floors. I think to pray for those living in refugee camps where keeping one’s home clean is a small comfort they had to leave behind, and concepts like “home” and “floor” now exist not as assumptions but hopes for the future.

These few moments of paying attention center me. They give me a morning “fix” of focus to begin a new day. After spending time quieting my mind and hearing my surroundings rather than my racing thoughts and ideas, I can hear the voice of God better. I’ve set aside my agenda long enough that God can get a word in edgewise.

I find this a good plan most days. My words are too many and too disjointed unless I’ve heard a word from God first. 

Science agrees. Mindfulness and centering give us mental focus for our day.

I’m offering this up not as a cure-all for 2021 but as one small thing I’ve found these last few months that help me center myself on where I need to be. Maybe you’re seeking some ways to focus yourself as well this new year. Small things. Baby steps. That’s all we may be able to handle right now, and thank you Lord, that’s often all we need.

Divine Reset

F4DA45A9-7124-4BB8-9EFE-B92B5D50C13A

I don’t have time.

I’m too busy.

I haven’t gotten enough done.

How are you doing on the sabbath rhythms we talked about a couple weeks ago?

I hope well, because it really is life changing.

But—not only for the person keeping the command.

Honor the Sabbath

This honoring of the sabbath because it’s our chance to slow down enough to remember God as our God and in charge of our lives is swings toward 1st 3 commands and Jesus’ great command—

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.”

But the second reason God gives for keeping the sabbath swings in the other direction—that of the last six command of Exodus 20.

Don’t murder, steal, commit adultery, want what others have, lie about others, dishonor elders.

It also reminds us of the other half of Jesus’ great command—

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And for that we have to look at the second reason God said to honor the Sabbath rest.

Deuteronomy 5.12-15 Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Last time, we read in Exodus that God told us to remember the Sabbath because of his acts in creation. This week, he has a completely different reason. It’s because they must remember they were once slaves in Egypt and God saved them. Did these two conflict? Not at all. One swings toward loving God and the other toward loving neighbor, and they meet in the middle perfectly.

Seamless

In Deuteronomy, this command has to do with how we allow others to celebrate and honor the sabbath.

The Sabbath wasn’t created just for me or you. The Israelites were to give rest to children, servants, foreigners–animals even.

God is telling them that he is the one who brought them out of slavery; it is his hand that saved and restored them. He gave them the very opportunity to rest of which they speak. If he had not done this, they would still be slaves and there would be no rest at all. 24/7 hard labor. This chance to enter into a life with rest involved is purely a gift of a God who makes redemption his #1 business.

Because of this, he commands them to remember those not as fortunate as they. They are not to allow their freedom to make them unaware of and uncaring about the freedom of others.

REMEMBER that you were once slaves—you know how it feels.

CAA0865A-7CE6-4AD4-BE57-1CBB08BD2D90

Keeping the Sabbath is to willingly interrupt our planned out life to remember it is our job to bring others into rest and freedom.

And if we don’t see the fallout of not keeping this command to remember those around us—the centuries of frustration and anger at the injustice and oppression of breaking this command right and left throughout history—we’re not looking too hard.

You were once slaves and I freed you. Do not treat others as you’ve been treated. Treat them as I treated you.

But it gets even better. After God’s people are commanded to rest every seven days, he also establishes a celebration every seven years. They are to let the land alone and trust him that there will be enough food to carry them throughout the year without planting or harvesting. They are to leave the extra grain and grapes for the poor.

Beyond this, God gets uber extreme.

He Commands what we call the Jubilee. This is one of my favorite things in the Bible. Every seven sets of seven years, not only are they to give themselves, their servants, and the land rest for a year, but they’re told to do it again for a second year—to celebrate a 50th Jubilee year. And this special year, everything lets loose.

They set their servants free. They return their land to its original owners. They forgive debts. It all basically resets. Everything returns to an even playing field. They all get a brand new start.

Feels like what should be happening right now, no? Don’t you kind of wish for a divine reset button right about now?

DF043534-0379-413D-AEFB-B33A70E633B2

Why? Same reasons. God wants to remind them that nothing they have really belongs to them, nothing they have done has been because they were in control, and they must always be thinking about those who have less. They must always be willing to relinquish what isn’t theirs for love of God and neighbor. This is the point of Sabbath.

If we don’t keep the rhythms, we forget. We start to trust ourselves. We start to forget other people and convince ourselves that if they only worked harder they would be doing better. It’s not our problem – we’ve earned what we have. That’s the opposite of what God wants when he makes this all important command.

If we don’t keep these rhythms of rest, reflection, and worship, we forget everything. Every important part of our relationship with God and neighbor.

He Doesn’t want his people entering a new land in a new community without that. He doesn’t want that for us either.

A Job Well Done

jordan-whitfield-sm3Ub_IJKQg-unsplash
Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I want to banish 2 phrases from my vocabulary:

  • “I don’t have time.”
  • “I didn’t get enough done today.”

Is it funny that, in preaching on the Sabbath the last few weeks, I’ve been preaching to myself?

I started preaching in Exodus in March. Planned a couple weeks on the 10 commandments. Moving right along to other things like golden calves and waterfalls sprouting from rocks.

I spent 4 weeks on the 4th commandment—

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

I came away absolutely convinced that if we don’t get this rhythm of rest right, we get nothing right. We get nothing right in our relationship with God and with others if we miss this concept and practice.

D0FAB13C-7C44-45E5-8673-F81ABBC74CD0_1_201_a

Sabbath Rest

Most people, most Americans at least, have no idea how to rest. And we’re dying for it.

The unique time in our history we find ourselves in right now could also be an opportunity to re-learn the fourth commandment. Unintentionally and certainly against our wills, we are poised to reflect on what rest really is, why we need it, and how we’re going to return to whatever is reality on the other side of a global pandemic.

What do we want normal to be, and how does sabbath rest figure into it?

Sabbath and rest are one of the most important themes in the Bible. Rest interweaves throughout all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. In exodus at the 10 Commandments, we get the first absolute mention of Sabbath rest as a command.

Exodus 20.8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

But that doesn’t mean it was unheard of before. We know this, because the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings were told to recognize the Sabbath rest by not collecting manna on the seventh day.

Let’s take this command apart a little.

5EE952D4-7D31-4950-9FEC-CAE008B8A9E4

Remember—zakar—means to call something to mind in such a way that we act on it in the present.

Sabbath-shabbat = Rest. Stopping. To cease activity.

Holy=set apart—given over for a special purpose, consecrated, dedicated, separate

46D0B722-524C-487A-AA28-A819350AD986

So putting this all together, the commandment means:

Remember—in such a way that you do something about it right now—the stopping of everything and the separate, dedicated purpose for this day.

Remember

What are we remembering?

For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested.

It’s an intentional echo of Genesis 2.3—“Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

The first reason for the sabbath rest is all tied up in creation. I say first, because there is another, but we’ll get to that next week. This first reason is set right after the first three commandments—and there’s beautiful, intentional order to that.

FDEF508F-7CC2-476C-9AE6-73EF96C25EE0

The first three commands have to do with loving God. (Have no other gods but me, make and worship no idols, don’t take my name in vain.) These three commands and the creation—relatedness of the fourth one also neatly coincide with Jesus statement of the most important command – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. That’s what the first three are all about. And that’s what the first reason to keep the sabbath rest is about.

The reminder to rest is set there to make us focus on the fact that he keeps the world rolling on a daily basis, and we do not. God created in six days—he did it all. We had zero hands in it. The first reason to keep the Sabbath is to give us a constant reminder, because we do tend to forget, that we are not the ones in charge of the universe. He is the one who created us and gives us breath.

If we don’t stop and keep our regular rhythm of rest, we start to believe the lie that we not only can keep our agenda running smoothly but we must. If we don’t keep working, it will all fall apart. This is a lie, and it’s right there in the heart of our faith.

We tell ourselves that one day it will be done and we will get a rest. If we worked as a little bit harder and a little bit longer, we can take a break. If we create at least a Plan B, and probably a C and a D, we don’t have to keep spinning our wheels quite as much. We all know how that ends. One day never comes.

This thinking leads straight to breaking the first 3 commandments.

  • We have other gods before the one God. Our bank accounts, our jobs, our own daily planners end up getting our real worship in terms of time and priorities.
  • We create idols out of productivity and security—those are the things we really trust in.
  • And we attach his name, taking it in vain, to things like bigger and better and more. We decide that it’s a godly virtue to work harder and make others do the same—and that’s edging quite close breaking all 3 at once.

D515B355-B9D5-47F4-8620-FA691712ABA0

Every 7th day we’re reminded to:

  • Renounce dominion over our time and our autonomy
  • Step off throne we think we’re on
  • Recognize God’s dominion over everything
  • Interrupt our time, plan, agenda, and god of productivity
  • Intentionally be inconvenienced.

The Sabbath rest is instituted to teach us a rhythm of meditating and appreciating God’s constant, active creating and sustaining. It is intended for us to sit back and accept our own inability to sustain our world. It keeps us humble. If we allow it to.

And it truly leads to peace and joy.

Learning more about Sabbath rest has changed me. I have come to understand that a rhythm of ending my day, not only my week, with stepping back as God did, looking at my work, and saying “that was a job well done,” changes the day’s schedule from stressful to peaceful. And it doesn’t depend on how much of that agenda gets done. It depends on whether or not it was a day in which I honored God and did good work. The amount of it makes zero difference. The peace and wholeness God offers from this simple rhythm is beautiful.

Word, 2019 Version

insert fabulous word here

So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.

screen shot 2019-01-17 at 11.39.33 am

Except February is just around the river bend.

I Do Love Words

I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.

What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.

Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)

It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.

Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.

We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.

Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.

toxic

There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.

And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,

“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.” 

We will end up being what we fight against.

I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.

So what words have I considered top define this longing?

Candidates have included:

  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Return
  • Restore
  • Simple
  • Me

(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)

More Than a Feeling

What am I longing for this year?

  • A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
  • A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
  • A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
  • A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
  • A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
  • A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.

A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.

. . . . . .

thomas-jorn-461490-unsplash
She appears skeptical. Photo by Thomas Jörn on Unsplash

I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.

Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.

(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)

kenny-krosky-777937-unsplash
Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.

Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.

jack-anstey-578596-unsplash
Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

In defiance of her words (you really should listen):

  • I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
  • Striving is sometimes my middle name.
  • I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
  • I always feel I have something to prove.

“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???

This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.

Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.

I want to be gobsmacked.

(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)

What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.