What would you do with up to three months off work? Does that sound like a dream?
Well, I have almost three months off, combining annual leave, some long service leave, and a slow taper back into two roles in March. And it sounds like a dream. Sounds like it. I just don’t want it to turn into a nightmare wasteland of missed opportunities.
Missed opportunities for what?
Well a number of things, but funnily enough, a missed opportunity to rest. I find holidays hard work. That sounds crazy. Three months off? Of course you’re going to rest. Well not so fast. Actually, not so fast. I’ve noticed that with many people, and pastors such as I seem to be the worst offenders, our theology of rest in Jesus – in other words our locus of justification – means we fail to rest properly.
Not that that means we get stuff done. It just means we get nothing done in an agitated, restless manner, always angsting or cruising around for something to do that will distract us.
Fortunately we didn’t have the money to go away for any of this time, as we’ve built a house this year. But to be honest the thought of packing up, or flying away didn’t thrill us, and Perth’s summer being what it is – long warm days and cooler nights, with plenty of sun and sea, there were enough places here to just chill.
Before this break I set myself some goals, and as I look at them, integral to some of them is the idea of true rest. Resting from performance or self-justifying works.
What goals did I set myself? First a spiritual goal. To ensure that during this break I did not become spiritually lazy; that I did not allow myself a break from the struggle for a holy life, as if somehow, in some arcane, toxic way, I’d earned myself a break from the fight for holiness.
If you know me, then it went without saying that I would set myself a physical goal, and I had that box duly ticked a long time ago. I saw the sign below in a secondhand store today and it just about covers it:
450km a month for the next two to three months. Sorted. A sub three marathon in April. Done and dusted (apart from the doing of it).
Or is it sorted? I was reading through 1 Timothy and was struck again by these words from ch4:
7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
What good will seven to eight hours running be every week if I neglect the training of godliness? And that could be all too easy in these next few months, given my tendency to hang out less with other people on holidays. And even if my time off goes amazing, and I’m refreshed and relaxed, it’s still part of this present life. There’s a life to come that needs to be attended to – here and now – and our true sabbatical from the temptations trials of this age do not begin until the life to come.
Third, I have a relational goal. My dear wife has had a busy year also in her clinical psychology practice. And then as her weeks wind down, the weekend, and the attendant church things and people and meals with others kicks in. Jill has a month off from this week. In the past we’ve not tended to start those kind of holidays well; us grumpy, kids grumpy, tired, less enamoured with each other than we’d imagined we’d be given we have a month off together.
But we’re learning to let the first few days of a long break slide. We don’t want to invest all of our hopes and dream in this time off. We want to work on loving each other well, spend time talking and praying, and looking for opportunities to address some of the things that we didn’t exactly knock out of the park the year before.
I also have a writing goal. I find it very hard not to blog. I’m always going to do that, even if it’s at half pace for a few weeks. People often ask me how much energy it takes to output a one thousand word blog every other day, and I have to say, not hard at all. For me it’s a bit like running. There’s a certain agitation to the keen runner if they don’t get their daily run done and then rule a line under it and get on with the day.
Blogging is like that for me. I have to write to clear my head of the ideas as much as anything. Sometimes I write with an intense purpose, sometimes with just the aim of getting something out there as a discipline.
But I’ve also got some other writing work to do, and a book proposal to put together. For me that’s when February will come into the equation, when Jill is back at work and my son is at school. Early run, read and pray, two hours of writing. That will bring me to late morning. Then, remember those “No Men” I told you that I surround myself with? I’ll try to have lunch with one of them every week. Just to check in. Just to test the spiritual barometer. Just to run ideas by.
Of course an extended break gives you the opportunity to reflect on how the previous year went, all its attendant joys and sorrows, trials and temptations, victories and struggles.
We moved house this year, always a biggie; and just three days ago it was the second anniversary of my father’s death, which continues to be a major theme that runs through my head. I thought one year would do it, turns out that was a little optimistic! I return to his death while I’m running, driving, praying, eating, whenever. And then thoughts turn to my own need to be ready for my death. Could it be 2019? Why could it not? This photo popped up on Facebook just now, nine years ago today , a reminder from Christmas nine years ago when I was diagnosed (mistakenly) with pancreatic cancer and told to put my house in order (I’m the most ordered guy I know, but you know what I mean):
Upon that diagnosis the pain of the illness paled beside the thought that I would leave my family. My son Declan was just two. My daughter nine. And my lovely wife! Surely we realise that death is not natural and that our hope is resurrection. Surely the Incarnation we have just celebrated convinces us that God loves his creation and is going to renew, not destroy, it.
All those thoughts coming flooding back as I sit in my chair in the sun, writing this, thanks to the power of Facebook! How would my son grow up without me? What would become of them all? Was that it? Was that the point God said “You’ve done what I’ve called you to do?”
Turns out eventually, thank the Lord, it was an extreme case of pancreatitis, not pancreatic cancer, but it still wiped me out for about six months and required major surgery, and a period of enforced rest. I well remember thinking about how helpless I felt, but also how intensely God was with us.
And my son? Well here I am baptising him last Sunday, my very last act at Providence Church before having three months off:
It was a great way to end a long year, and to finish up six years at our church as the Senior Pastor, making way for the dude in the black, while I work as Preaching Pastor part time and take on another role nationally that will involve speaking, writing, blogging and training in evangelism.
And a reminder too, that God is always at work. No matter how much rest we need – or take – he is always at work in our world. And one day he will bring us to our eternal rest, a rest not devoid of work, but one in which our work will never be thwarted or stymied or exhausting, and it will all be done to His glory.