A retired friend and pastor once confided in me that his “get up and go” had “gotten up and left.” We can all relate to him from time to time, regardless of our age. There are moments when we feel like we can leap tall buildings in a single bound, while at others we just feel plumb out of gas.
Pastors and community organizers are known to experience this ebb and flow of energy with more volatility than the rest us because their work involves steep surges of adrenaline followed by solitude. Anyone who engages in public speaking for a living or is required to meet regular writing deadlines understands the emotional rollercoaster that goes with those pursuits. If one is not careful, they can find themselves like my elderly friend who’s “get up and go had gotten up and left.”
I’m writing on this topic for a couple of reasons. The first is because August is typically a month when church leaders try to take some time off. It is an “in-between time” that paradoxically may be the most important time of the year. After all, one can’t catch one’s breath without first exhaling. “Out with the old and in with the new,” as they say.
But it is important for another reason. Rest, or Sabbath—ceasing one’s normal toils—is the birthplace of all creativity and elasticity. Without proper rest, we find ourselves merely going through the motions or doing the minimum that is required of us to get by. Without proper rest, we lack the inner spaciousness to do anything special or beautiful or awe-inspiring.
“Inner spaciousness,” as Eckhart Tolle has named it (and, yes, I will borrow from anyone who has something helpful to say), is the canvas on which we paint our lives, the dance floor on which we stretch and pirouette and reach for each other with grace and beauty. It is also the place where we meet God in prayer and listen to the Spirit’s voice. It is the reason Jesus would regularly withdraw from pressing crowds for hours and even days of quiet and solitude.
You might be reading this and thinking, “I know this already,” and I can appreciate that you do, but I’m wondering if you can help others practice it as well. Can you help your elders, your pastor, and your other colleagues in ministry?
Which brings me to the other reason I’m writing on the topic of energy and rest.
While on retreat recently with members of our Presbytery’s Communications Team, we were meditating on the values that make our Presbytery who we are. One team member called these values the “load-bearing walls that hold up our identity as a Presbytery.” What emerged from that time was a renewed focus on our ordination vows and specifically on one vow in particular. It goes like this: “Will you pray for and seek to serve God’s people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?”
Every elder and deacon in our wider church family wears this vow, but it dawned on those gathered at the retreat that none of us had ever actually stopped and reflected on it for very long. We hadn’t drilled down, for example, on what it means in real life, in the trenches of ministry, to serve with energy. So we began to wonder what it would look like if our whole Presbytery unpacked the elements of this vow together at our Gatherings over the coming year.
So I ask you now, What gives you and your church energy? What robs you of it? And perhaps, more basically, What does it even mean to serve God’s people with energy? What does that look like?
I’ve begun this column with some musings of my own, namely that energy comes from rested minds, hearts and bodies, and that we need to do everything we can to encourage each other to get regular rest and times away. Without them, we won’t have the space in our souls from which the joy of life springs forth and then flows abundantly into the lives of others. It’s just a start to our communal musing, but we’re on our way.
I look forward to seeing where this leads, but for now, I’m going to put my pen down and recharge.