It’s been one of those weeks. You know the type; two funerals of friends to speak at; three talks at a conference to speak at; a half-day evangelism presentation to host at; an interstate conference next week to attend (but not to speak at, thankfully). Oh, and school lunches, school runs, find some time for my wife Jill, and the usual round of meetings etc. Fall into bed late, get up early to organise running sessions, get new tyres on the car, see Dad in his locked ward for a “hi-bye” visit.
One of those weeks.
To be honest, my life is generally more mundane than that, thankfully so. Two funerals within a seven day period can be pretty draining, whether or not they were fine Christian men. But somehow you feel spat out at the end of one of those weeks, thinking that if we get to the end of it it will all be fine and dandy and it will never happen like that again.
My experience is that this is often when the danger period sets in. A week of rushed life, rushed prayer, rushed (ok, virtually NO Bible reading), and relentless output, output, output, is often followed by a serene, but slightly dangerous calm.
Recently I’ve been learning to put a check list in place to counter the idea that somehow, after “one of those weeks”, that I’ve earned some spiritual, relational, and emotional downtime. For what it’s worth, here are just three of warning signs in my life for which I must keep guard after one of those weeks. Here are the lies and half-truths they throw up, though this all may be different for you in your setting.
1. Envy of Others: This comes in all shapes and sizes. Often, as a paid ministry person, it’s along the lines of “I have to do so much emotionally taxing work, and blah, blah, blah”. I then compare myself to other workers, you know the kind, those who serenely catch the train to the office, do their job for a decent wage, then leave it all behind, before catching the train home and never letting their home life and work life bleed in to each other.
I need to remind myself that these are mythic beasts – they don’t exist. My congregation, fellow brothers and sisters, in the work-a-day world, are facing the grind of exacting modernity, with all its secular expectations and lack of grace. Instead of resenting their compartmentalised lives, I should be praying for them to live joined up lives even in those most difficult settings.
Ok, so they’re not getting up in the morning and thinking about ecclesiology like I am, but what it means to be the church still informs them in everything they do, and it’s my job to get alongside them as a fellow worker in the gospel, not stand to the side envying their lives.
2. Misplaced Desires: This flows on from the first, but has deeper roots. I find that the serene waters following a fingernail-clinging white water ride, is a deceptive place. My misplaced desires, more pointedly my lusts, come to the surface at these points.
The thinking (or lack of it), goes like this: “I’ve done my time this week. I’ve been the good boy. Now to let my hair down.”
That can result in plain laziness: I do the emotional equivalent of eating pizza and slobbing on the couch for a weekend. I shut myself off from Jill. I am short. Highly critical of things, of others.
Or it can result in high-handed sin: Follow that click bait. A second look at the fit young thing approaching me on the running track.
A third look.
It’s a constant reminder of the need to run back to Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fulness of joy. At your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Do I always get it right first time? No! That’s why, as Luther said, the Christian life is a life of repentance. And in my case, a life of repenting from misplaced desires.
3. Zealotry: This sounds counter-intuitive. But after a week of give, give, give; and in light of what I just said about slobbing on the emotional couch, where does zeal fit?
For me as an OCD perpetrator (I’d say “victim”, but that would absolve me of responsibility), it’s about stalking around the house looking at all of the things that need done. More to the point: haven’t been done whilst I was slaving away for you! It’s elder brother right there.
And why are the kids not taking up some slack? And why hasn’t our new house been finished yet, meaning I have to mow yet another lawn that I no longer own for yet another week?
All I need is some brutalist lock-and-leave minimalist architecture that is easy to keep clean, and can free me up to do ministry better, right? A clean, tidy house that permits us to be the amazing people we have not been right up to now. That would be my heaven, my OCD nirvana.
And why isn’t Jill exercising more? And why did we have two lots of junk food this week: Don’t we watch the warning ads with the flabby guts on them? Come to think of it, why aren’t I exercising more? Perhaps I should ramp it up another twenty kms this week.
Those are the signals that I have lost sight of the rest that we have in God through the gospel. Those are the signals that I could be about to hit the rollercoaster ride of self-justifying and self-loathing.
And these things usually creep up on me after one of those weeks. I’ve been doing paid ministry work long enough to see the deep ingrained patterns.
It’s at this point I must stare them down with a counter narrative. And my counter narrative includes these two things at least:
First, that God’s call on my life is a gift of his grace and not of my merits. One of those weeks never caught God by surprise, and he knows how many more of them I will have in my life, and how many weeks following one of those weeks I will have. His grace is sufficient for me in the midst of them, to resist temptation, to find joy in Jesus, to love others responsibly and responsively.
And second, and in light of it, being thankful for God’s grace that permits me to share his gospel love at a funeral (or two), to showcase his wisdom at a conference, to host a fantastic apologist/evangelist at another conference; to get to make lunches and meals for my busy family; to drive the kids around and pray and chat with them in the car; to even have a car! To visit my ailing father, and demonstrate the love of Christ. And after all that, to fall into bed of a night next to my wife and remember these words from Psalm 127:
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
For even the very sleep I soon snore into after “one of those weeks” is a gift for our gracious God who loves me and gave his Son for me.