Monday, August 23, 2010

Saturdays as Sabbath

I used to hate Saturdays. The day before Sunday, a pastor’s busiest and often most stressful day, it quickly became for me the day of dread, the day of hard mental and spiritual labor preparing for what was to come. Those difficult days have consisted of every emotional outburst from tears to anger. There have even been a few panic attacks. I anguished that I was not ready or worthy to preach or lead worship on Sunday mornings and I would weep and stress or just feel awful for the entire day. Throughout my eleven years of parish ministry I discovered Saturdays have exhausted me.

I finally decided I was either going to have to change how I spent my Saturdays or I was going to die from a heart attack with all the emotional upheaval. So, I prayed and I made changes. I became intentional with what I would do during that day before Sunday. I began to make sure that there were certain events built into every Saturday, events that raised my spirits, encouraged me, rested me, energized me. Now, as a parish minister still doing the same work on Sundays I have done for years, Saturdays have become my one day of the week that has been set aside as the designated “day of goodness.”

There is to be yoga or stretching of my body, breathing exercises, and some part of an hour spent outside. Some days I take a long walk. Other Saturdays I just sit in the back yard. Some days I ride my bike. I only allow myself to take in good things, both in my body and in my mind. This generally means no television, no trashy magazines or negative websites, and no junk food. I drink water and juice (a switch from my Monday through Friday usual diet sodas); I eat fruit and fresh vegetables; I talk to friends who have a positive effect on me and try to stay away from those who bring me down. I read passages that inspire me. I make sure the pace of the day is slow and easy. I allow for enough time to practice my sermon and go over the other events of worship so I don’t feel anxious or unprepared. I listen to or create my own music. I dance. I make sure that my Saturdays are restful and healthy and include taking notice of beauty.

After a year of my designated “Good Saturdays”, I am happy to report that this once-dreaded day has now become my favorite day of the week. I look forward to what has become a day of Sabbath instead a day of stress. I enjoy my easy Saturdays so much, the content, the activities, the beauty, that my Sundays are much lighter and more worshipful. I have even decided that I love my Saturdays so much that I choose to spend all my days in goodness. And with that decision, I have become intentional about filling all my days with good things, healthy things, beautiful things. And the result is that I feel better. I feel happier and more at peace and more balanced. And I now feel this way all week long. My cursed day has become my blessed day, my teaching day, and has led me to change everything about how I live my life.

“You must hate your job,” a person recently said when they found out I was a minister, “because you have to work every weekend.” I smiled, remembering how I used to think that way, how those two days were such a burden. “It’s not so bad,” I reply. “In fact, it’s not bad at all. My weekend work is actually the best work I do.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Unfulfilled Garden

Last year we had a garden growing in Albuquerque. Facing a number of difficulties in previous years when we lived about an hour north of there, I wasn’t expecting too much. After all, desert life isn’t known for its flourishing vegetable gardens. Last summer however, we lived in a section of the town known as the “North Valley,” an agricultural area situated near the Rio Grande. There are many horse farms, several fields of hay and lavender, a couple of wineries, and that summer, a garden growing in my back yard that far exceeded my expectations. There were tomato plants taller than I am and the leaves on the zucchini plants were as big as the tobacco leaves I remember from my grandfather’s farm in eastern North Carolina. Neither my husband nor I added any fertilizer. We didn’t do anything special other than turn the soil and build a little rabbit fence around the plants. We watered daily, pulled weeds as needed, but the plants went crazy and overran the plot, stretching across the fences. It should come as no surprise therefore, that every day in the month of August last summer I walked around our little garden expecting to find an amazing harvest. And here’s the thing, there never was much of one.

Those tall and full tomato plants only had a few tomatoes growing. Those oversized zucchini leaves with lots of blooms and thick stems actually bore only a few zucchini. And once I had gotten beyond my frustration and disappointment, I found myself saying something the folks in my profession like to say a lot. “That’ll preach.”

A church I heard about once wanted to raise three million dollars for a renovation project. They paid an architect to design their dream building which included an open and appealing narthex where visitors and members could relax and mingle before going into the newly furnished and technologically enhanced sanctuary. There would be new education facilities, a tiered music room, a larger and updated kitchen, roomy offices, and all kinds of architectural extras and landscaping possibilities to create a beautiful and modern church building and campus.

The only thing is that there is no way this church could raise three million dollars since a few years ago there was a split and half of the congregation left and they have never completely rebounded from the loss. Within the congregation there remain lots of unresolved issues, a good deal of tension, not a lot of support for the pastor, and no real mission outside of themselves. Still, several members think a newly renovated building, a good sound and light system, a big kitchen, and new furniture is the answer.

I don’t fault the church for wanting the change. At least members recognize there are problems to address. At least they are paying attention and making some attempt to improve their situation. At least they haven’t lost hope. And yet, I have to wonder, if they do manage to raise the money and build the “dream church” they are hoping for, will it ever really amount to anything? Will there ever be much of a “harvest” or any growth in the community to show or share if they fail to work on their deeper issues of identity and mission? Can they bear fruit if they aren’t healthy?

And yet, what do I know? Even after I had no harvest, I continued taking pictures of my beautiful tomato plants and sending them home to my family of farmers and gardeners in southeastern North Carolina. “Can you believe how big they’ve grown?” I wrote, always in hopes that no one wrote back asking to see a picture of an actual tomato.