COUNTDOWN

I have to have some surgery in the near future. All surgery is invasive and brings a variety of risks, some of them potentially serious, as the surgeon explained. However, the benefits of this particular surgery clearly outweigh the dangers and so I am waiting. Because of various factors beyond my and the surgeon’s control, the wait has been longer than either of us anticipated when we began this process.

Essentially, that means I have spent the past few months delaying and postponing and tentatively scheduling things, especially in my ministry. For a while, it looked like the date might fall around Easter, which meant I was tentatively planning our Easter services, half-expecting (and seriously hoping) someone else would be doing them. Then, it was winter vacation—we weren’t sure our winter trip to kids and grandkids would work out. Eventually, both Easter and the vacation happened.

And best of all, I got a date—as solid a date as one can get in any medical system. So now, I find myself dividing life and ministry into before and after surgery. When we talk about doing something in the churches, we need to decide if we can do it before or after my sick leave. Some stuff, like the ministry planning meeting for one pastorate, I would like to do before I am off, so that when I get back, we can jump right into work.

Some stuff, like the meeting at the other pastorate to discuss buildings and related stuff would be nice but can be put off—although the reality is that if we put it off, it likely won’t happen until fall because my sick leave likely ends at about the time most people stop wanting to have meetings because of the summer.

So, the churches and I find ourselves making ministry decisions based on the date of my surgery. For me, that is an interesting place to be in. Normally, my time and situation aren’t a big factor in the decisions we make as far as dates are concerned. As I jokingly tell church people, I am getting paid to be there and so unless the meeting falls on my previously scheduled vacation, I will be there. Many times, even my vacation has been scheduled around church events.

Decisions are made based on which deacon has to be away; how many regulars can’t make the meeting; who is going to have family visiting; which couple is having a significant celebration on the day we want to have a church picnic and so on. Those are all legitimate reasons to consider when scheduling a meeting or activity, at least as far as I am concerned. But as pastor, well, I am paid to work for the church and generally, that means my schedule flexes more than the church schedule.

I don’t have a problem with that—that’s why I get the big bucks. Well, actually, it is part of my calling. I committed to serving God through serving the churches and that involves a certain amount of flex in my planning. It is generally easier to make my plans flexible than it is to try and flex plans for half a dozen or more others.

But for now, everything seems to hang on my surgery and recovery. The churches aren’t going to be on hold for that period of time but we are dividing stuff up into before surgery and after surgery. Now, as a committed pastor, I should probably write that I feel guilty about that—but I actually don’t. I would prefer not to need the surgery but I do and that does affect the church.

But we are a church, a gathering of people who seek to work together to serve God, making allowances and flexing plans based on the needs of all our members. While I am generally one of the more flexible players in the process, this time I can’t be. The churches are comfortable with that, I am comfortable with that—and so we are all spending these days counting down to surgery day and working around this disruption in ministry. Right now, most stuff is being seen as pre- or post-surgery. That, for me, is part of the essence of a healthy church—we deal with the needs of our members, including the needs of the pastor.

May the peace of God be with you.

TWO FUNERALS

One of the pastorates I serve is in the midst of their winter shutdown. An aging congregation combine with old energy inefficient buildings and possible winter driving conditions is such a way as to suggest that I should have some extra time to myself in the winter. We have modified the winter plan just a bit and have one service a month but basically, we are closed for business for the first three months of the year.

Except that when it comes to anything involving people, it is pretty much impossible to be closed for business. The people who form the churches and the people who live in the communities served by the churches still require ministry. They get sick, have operations, get down, need a coffee, want to get married. They also die. And many of them want a representative of God available to help them deal with the realities of life.

So, I minister. One week recently, that ministry during the shutdown involved two funerals. Fortunately, they were on separate days. One funeral is a lot of work but two pretty much wipes out the week—nothing else gets done. So, when I got the notice about the first one, I was a bit frustrated, since I had plans for the week and wasn’t actually supposed to be working for that church anyway. But I am the pastor and so I went to see the family. In the process of the visit to plan the funeral, I discovered that here had been a another death—this in the family of the partner of the person I was meeting with.

That death had just occurred and so no one knew anything about arrangements or plans—but I, as the all knowing pastor of rural congregations, I knew that I would likely end up getting a call about that funeral as well. There are not a lot of options open to families in small communities when it comes to someone to conduct a funeral. We finished the planning session and I had prayer with the family, including a prayer for the family of the second person and headed home, pretty sure that before the end of the day, I would get another call.

When it came, I made my plans to visit the family, which was a bit complicated because the visit had to be arranged around my other worship services and between two winter storms. Having accomplished the visit, we made plans and I prayed and left, feeling sorry for myself for all the extra work this week would have because of the two funerals. I was also doing some major recalculating of my week so that I could get everything done that needed to be done. That recalculating involved cancelling my attendance at a meeting later in the week—given my dislike of meetings, that wasn’t a major inconvenience.

While I was somewhat upset with the extra work, I didn’t focus on that too much once I got a plan for the week developed. After that, I began to think more about the connections between the two funerals and all the people who would be affected by both. Families, friends, community members were all involved because of the tangled relationships that are a basic part of rural life. I anticipated seeing many of the same people at both services, which meant that I had to make sure that the services were different but offered the same level of hope and comfort that I try to bring to a funeral service.

Normally, funerals are separated by enough time that if I use the same Scriptures or the same reference, it isn’t a problem. But with the services following each other so closely and so many attending both, I had to work a bit harder to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself—I wanted people to have a sense that the service was designed for them and their needs and wasn’t just something I cut and pasted together.

Part of the reason I like rural living is the dense web of connections linking people. Sometimes, I don’t discover the connections until I get involved in ministry with the people. That network is a powerful part of rural living—and if it means that planning two funerals back to back is a bit more difficult, I will accept the difficulty because of the blessings that network provides.

May the peace of God be with you.

A STORM IS COMING!

According to the weather reports, we were in for another major storm. This one was coming on the weekend which meant that it had implications for me—worship might be cancelled, which would mean that instead of writing a sermon during the following week, I would be able to clear some of the accumulated “should get at” stuff off the desk. Each weather report kept emphasising and increasing the ferocity of the coming storm.

People began stocking up on essentials—winter storms in Nova Scotia can bring power outages which can last for longer than it takes to clear driveways. Even though it wasn’t the weekend yet, some people began talking about cancelling worship and other activities. I suspect that a friend or two in ministry jumped the gun on the “should get at” pile and skipped the sermon anticipating a cancellation. I began to hope that there might be at least one cross country ski outing in the winter for me. This was, we were told, going to be a major storm.

And then, well, the reality hits. For some reason, the major storm that was supposed to paralyze everything wimped out. We got some snow—almost enough to cover the unraked leaves from the fall and the evidence of the dog’s frequent trips outside. But the roads were basically clear, the power was unaffected—and worship went on, at least for those of us who prefer to wait and see what is actually coming before we panic and act rashly.

I have noticed the people react differently to bad weather than they used to. Now, this is not a “I remember the good old days” rant. I think that as we get better and more accurate information fed to us by media sources that feel it part of their duty to help us prepare for whatever is coming, we have changed our attitude to storms and severe weather.

I remember walking to school in a blizzard—a real blizzard, complete with deep snow, high winds, extreme cold and all the rest. We went to school because it wasn’t cancelled and our parents thought education was a priority. We knew that there was a storm coming but weather reporting back in those days was not as accurate or as pressing. We got up, got dressed in our warmest stuff and walked to school—this was, after all, Canada, where snow in winter is a reality of life.

But today, well, we have a pretty good indication that the coming storm is going to be severe—and so people choose to anticipate the worst. Perhaps it is because we live in a culture where you might get sued if you don’t warn people enough about the storm or maybe because the media works on the assumption that we can’t make decisions for ourselves or maybe for reasons that I haven’t figured out yet, we get told the worst and everyone anticipates and expects the worst.

And many times, the reports are right and it is a major storm and all the advanced planning is valuable and does keep people safe. But every now and then, we discover that we aren’t as advanced in our predicative ability as we think we are and the terrible storm becomes a skim of snow, a puff of wind and some cold that makes all our plans and worries and preparations look kind of silly. It also means that the pastors who believed the reports and didn’t write a sermon are scrambling to either prepare something for worship or justify an unnecessary cancellation.

Me—well, I prefer to wait and see what is coming. I like weather reports but I am still going to write the sermon and be ready for Sunday. I will enjoy the cancellation and use next week’s sermon time for other things if the storm really happens but I am also going to be prepared just in case the storm flops and the most significant aspect of the whole thing was the amount of hot air surrounding the reporting of the coming storm’s ferocity.

I think that now and then, God likes to remind us that while we are really good at a lot of stuff, we don’t actually know as much as we think we know.

May the peace of God be with you.

FREE TIME?

I have mentioned before that one of the places where I preach basically closes down during the winter. The combination of aging buildings, aging congregations, heating costs, winter driving conditions and winter anxiety mean that we close down except for one service a month. This has been our pattern since I have been there and I have learned a few things about the free time this arrangement gives me.

At the beginning, I had large plans for this time. It was unscheduled and uncommitted and so I could finally have time to do all the stuff that got shoved on the back shelf of the to do list: coffee with friends, some research into interesting topics, some woodworking, some cross country skiing, a bit of relaxing and doing nothing. In my mind, I pictures pleasant days of comfortably enjoying the potential of free time.

I soon discovered that free time for me really doesn’t exist. It kept getting eaten up. First, there were increasing requests from a congregation where I was supposed to be preaching only during the time—but as pastoral needs like funerals and hospitalizations piles up, they asked me to provide some pastoral care. It was only for this one thing but soon one more and one more and a junk of free time disappeared.

That was okay because there was still some free time. But then there was this request to see someone that I had helped a few years ago and who needed a booster shot of pastoral care. There was a meeting with denominational people that I had forgotten I volunteered for. And the mentoring process for the theology student was still ongoing. That first year, the small woodworking project that was going to be the beneficiary of all that free time did actually get done—well into the return to work time when I actually found the time to get it done.

After discovering the reality that free time seems to invite activity, I approached this year’s shut-down with a different mindset. I didn’t plan a woodworking project. I didn’t plan on writing that best-selling book that has been on my mind for a while. I didn’t plan on coffee with friends. I did have a few ideas of things that needed to be done but none of them were things that absolutely had to be done—and none of them were all that important. Sorting and organizing my file cabinet drawer of computer and media cables wasn’t a high priority and wouldn’t make much difference if it got done or not.

Interestingly enough, by not actually planning for my free time, I discovered a bit more free time. There were lots of unexpected things that kept popping up, a lot of them having to do with medical appointments connected with the surgery that is coming in the near future. But there were also the unexpected unexpected stuff like funerals and pastoral visits beyond my regular pastoral duties.

Because I didn’t have a long list of things that I wanted to get done, I am half way through this shut down with less frustration and anxiety. I am not actually trying to find spots in the less than free time to enjoy the free time. There are no projects that need to be done and no coffee times that must be arranged before the start up. And, interestingly enough, I have made better use of the actual free time.

I have read several books that have been sitting in my ebook accounts. I have coffied with friends. I even got the cables organized—now, when I or someone else needs a triple RCA connector, I know how many I have and where to find them. The fact that people rarely use triple RCA connectors these days is something I will ignore for now.

More importantly, I am finding and using time to relax and rest and look after myself. Because I don’t have a long list of things to accomplish during this break, I can relax a lot more because when I am sitting reading, I can actually read rather than think about what I should be doing to make the best use of my free time. I can actually enjoy the free time and will probably head back to work more rested, except of course for the surgery which promises more free time of s different and probably more frustrating kind.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHY AM I NOT ASLEEP?

I have been up for about a half an hour this morning. It is a seriously cold winter morning in Nova Scotia, which means that it is dark and windy outside and dark and cold inside, at least until the heat we turned down last night comes back up to comfortable levels. There is no real reason for me to get up and several suggesting that I not get up.

I don’t have to work today; I have no scheduled appointments; we have no major plans for today. It was warm and comfortable in bed. So, why, when the clock read 7:00 did I get out of bed, close the door behind me (my wife and her dog were sleeping in), turn on some lights and my computer, turn up the heat, get some breakfast and settle down in the living room chair that is my office?

I was pondering that question when I was looking at the outside temperature as I got my breakfast ready. And the answer I came up with is that I am not totally sure why I got up when I did. I am a morning person and do my best thinking (and writing, maybe) early in the morning. But all I really have to write today is a post for this blog, which won’t actually be posted until next week—with both sermons and blog posts, I like to be ahead of the due date so that I am prepared for emergencies like funerals or pastoral calls.

But being a morning person doesn’t seem to be a valid enough justification for getting up this morning. It isn’t because I am opposed to sleeping in. Saturday is sleep in day and on occasion when I am really tired, I decide not to get going as early as normal. As I have got older, I have discovered some real value in getting the proper amount of rest.

I have decided that the ultimate reason for getting up this morning was that it was time to get up. I am up at 7:00 six days a week and so it was time to get up so I got up. I got up because it is part of my personal discipline. Some things we do simply because it is good for us to have some discipline in our lives. I am not talking rigid, every minute scheduled, agenda anxiety producing, fear and trembling discipline. But I am talking about giving life some structure and organization that sometimes takes us in directions that we might not want to go in.

I could easily have stayed in bed this morning and the only real consequence would be that my post this morning would be a bit late and this post would be written some other time. But for me, there is value in having some discipline in my life—and one form that discipline takes is having some structure to my time. There may be some people who can function without such discipline but I realized a long time ago that I can’t actually live that way. I need some sense of what is coming.

Perhaps it was because I have been called to ministry, a vocation well known for its unpredictable twists and turns, that I discovered the need to manage what I could to be able to respond to the unmanageable. While that may have been part of the process, I think I also realized early that I function best with some sort of structure and schedule. I have a sense of how my days, weeks and months will go, which paradoxically means that I am more able to deal with the unexpected and unpredictable which is definitely a part of the vocation and life to which I have been called. I know that if I get called to help a family work through their grief/funeral process, there will be a spot to get everything displaced by that call taken care of.

So, the end result is that when 7:00am rolled around this morning, I go up. I didn’t have to but I choose to because it is part of my personal discipline necessary to help me keep my life and work on track. There is also something kind of peaceful being awake and active with my thoughts when everyone else is sleeping, even on a cold, wintery Nova Scotia morning.

May the peace of God be with you.

FREE TIME

The last few months in the churches have been hectic and stressed—church work can be that way, even in small congregations. The regular activities like worship and Bible study and pastoral care get supplemented by funerals, crises, special events and a variety of unpredictable things. While I try to find breaks and rest stops along the way, most of the time, I find myself hanging on, counting the days until the next break.

Because of my particular situation, I also look forward to the New Year because one of the pastorates I serve basically closes down for the winter months. The membership decided several years ago that the stress of winter travel, snow clearing and heating old buildings was too much for a small aging group of people. Better to shut down and wait out the winter. Since these congregations account for half my work week, the shut down means that I have some free time over the winter.

This year looked even better because the congregation I had been filling in for during the shutdown months has recently called a permanent pastor. In the past, I have made significant plans for the use of this free time. I have had woodworking projects, outdoor plans like skiing, plans to meet with friends for coffee and so on. But I didn’t actually get around to making any plans for this year. The fall was busier than normal for some reason and I didn’t have the time to give the break a lot of thought. I knew it was coming and was depending on it mentally but didn’t really give in much thought, beyond the occasional “I’ll get to that in the new year.”

Well, the New Year has arrived—and if the first few weeks are any indication, I was really wise not to plan anything major that depended on having that time free. The free time is turning out to be busier that I expected and probably busier than I want. Today, for example, should be relatively free—it’s a Monday, a day when I don’t normally work and it is a Monday during the down time of the year so it should be even freer. But instead of having a relaxed Monday where the most difficult decision is coffee or chocolate for my mid-morning break, I have three appointments. Two are related to ministry I am involved in beyond the churches and one is a health appointment.

So far, the month of January is pretty much filled with stuff like this. Some of the health stuff I am not all that fussy about but it does need to be taken care of. The ministry stuff is all stuff that I want to do—I either volunteered or didn’t resist being volunteered because it involves things I like or feel strongly that I should do. But January at least isn’t going to have the amount of free time that I anticipated.

I am sure that there will be some free time during this down time—and the reason I am sure of it is that I will make it happen. I need the break so that I am able to function at my best. And so I will decide just how busy I am during this time. I am not going to play the game that keeps me running and rushing all the time because it gives me some inner gratification to think that I am so important that I can’t actually slow down. I know that in the end, I am in charge of my schedule and my plans.

There are certainly some things that I can’t control: the various health related activities or the crises arising in the churches, for example. But ultimately, I decide how much I do and when I do it. If I let the whole three month shut down go by without getting some time and space for relaxation and restoration, I have no one to blame but myself. So, as busy as this time seems to be starting out, I will find the time I need to prepare myself physically, mentally and spiritually for the rest of the year. It will take some effort and work but it is my schedule and my life and I have no one to blame but myself if it doesn’t happen.

May the peace of God be with you.

SENSOR CHECK

It’s was about a week and a half before Christmas and I had to go to the town where everyone goes to do their Christmas shopping. Part of the reason for my trip was to finish my Christmas shopping—as much as I like online shopping, I need to check out the real stores because there are just some things I have to see before I know they are just what I want. Beside, the backlog from the mail strike was making delivery times sort of vague.

But the Christmas shopping was actually an add on to the real reason for the trip. I had to be fitted for my new hearing aids and get my eyes tested. I referred to it as a sensor check with a friend which led to an extended conversation about the bionic man and what his enhancements would look like today. But for me, there is something about going for both appointments on the same day that causes me to think and wonder.

On some levels, the reality of sensor enhancements is great. Eye glasses mean that I can read whatever I want whenever I want and enjoy the beauty of our area. Hearing aids mean that I can hear what people say to me without asking them to repeat stuff a million times. When I get around to having my aging knees replaced, I will be able to walk without as much pain and complaining. That part is all good for me and everyone else who makes use of the medical and technological enhancements.

But somehow, combining the two appointments with Christmas shopping made for a very difficult and tiring day. Now, it made perfect sense to join them all together—it is an hour drive one way to the shopping area and I try to be as ecologically sensitive as is possible for a rural pastor serving two different spread out pastorates.

The day didn’t start too badly—as usual, I was early and had time to check out one possible present before the first appointment. But then things started going bad—I used the wrong credit card to buy the present. That was only a minor problem—the real problem was that the five minutes it should have taken to get to the first appointment was taken up just getting out of the store parking lot—obviously, I wasn’t the only person shopping that day.

I did arrive at the appointment on time and had my eyes tested, including having drops which made everything look funny for a bit. But now, the rush was on. There was time for some quick reconnaissance and lunch before the second appointment—and I really don’t like being rushed. I am more of a contemplative, think things through, don’t rush personality which, when combined with my obsession for being early at everything means that I spend the next block of time checking my watch and running the time and travel calculations in my head. Ultimately, the calculations suggested I leave and have lunch at a less desirable spot that had the advantage of being near the second appointment—no need to find another parking space.

Anyway, in the end, I survived the day. I have new hearing aids which I am going to hate, at least until I get used to them at which point I will love them. I have new glasses coming—another trip up the Valley. And I got the Christmas shopping done and even managed to surprise myself with a couple of the selections. But when I got home, I was tired and borderline grumpy.

I realize that I don’t do rushed and stressed and over-scheduled all that well. Some of it is likely a function of age and some of it probably has to do with the fact that most of the time, I am rushed and stressed anyway and therefore don’t have the capacity to add the extra that comes from a day like this one—although, to be honest, I did cope with the day. Maybe most of the problem is my reaction to stress not so much the handling of the stress. Maybe my problem is that I forget I am capable of doing what I need to do and letting myself forget that allows room for counterfeit stress to thrive.

May the peace of God be with you.

LIFE IS GREAT!

I ran into a friend recently whom I haven’t really connected with since his retirement over a year ago. We were both involved in the same event so didn’t have a lot of time to talk but we did exchange the basic information pertinent to our relationship: my knees are worse, he is now serving a church quarter time, I am not retired, he is loving retirement. He sort of wondered why I wasn’t retired because he is finding retirement to be really great.

I could, I suppose, have questioned how great retirement is if he is back at work after such a short time—I think he had been retired only a few months before he started at his new position. He was also involved in the same inter-church program I was in that evening as well, which suggests that maybe his retirement isn’t as retiring as he wanted me to believe. I have no doubt that his life is great right now and that he is enjoying himself—but maybe retirement isn’t the whole reason why he is doing well.

Life needs purpose and direction and meaning, I think. For most people, that is found in the process of work and family and the normal stuff that we do along the way. I am aware that that is a significant over-generalization but I think it does contain a lot of truth as well. I do know that there are many people whose work and family and living situations don’t provide sufficient purpose and direction and meaning. But the truth is that most of us find enough in the realities of living and working to keep going, even if we have times when we want more.

And that is why for many people, retirement creates some serious problems. Suddenly, everything that provided meaning and purpose and hope is gone—and for some people, it is really hard to replace that. In one fishing village that I used to be the pastor for, the men used to have a way of expressing it: a fisher who retired and didn’t go back to the wharf regularly died within a year of retirement. I think they recognized the reality that losing work and not having anything to replace it produced a hopelessness that made life hard to continue.

While this has traditionally been a problem with men, it is becoming more and more a problem for all people. In a more traditional times in the past, men worked outside the home and women worked inside the home, meaning there was still a purpose and meaning for the woman since their job of cooking and cleaning and care giving as still needed. But with everyone needing to work, everyone faces the life dilemma of what gives meaning after retirement.

Some of my older friends in ministry approach this problem by having several retirements. They retire, accept a call to “interim” ministry, retire again, accept another call and so on. I like to joke that they just do this because they really like retirement parties. More likely, they don’t like the feelings that come from not doing what was so important and central to their lives.

So, why write about retirement aside from the fact that it was on my mind after talking with my happily “retired” friend? I suppose part of it is because I plan on retiring someday. I am not sure when—the ministry I am doing now isn’t done yet and I want to see where God is taking me and the churches I have been called to. But I am past retirement age, my pensions will provide a comfortable income, my aging process is producing more and more aches and pains and limits and I am beginning to think that it will be nice at some point to wake up on the morning and not have to get moving because the sermon isn’t done or there is that meeting or I need to lead worship.

So, I am planning on retiring someday—but I am also planning my retirement already. I have a list of things I would like to do and explore. Nothing is written down but I keep seeing and thinking of things I want to try when I have some time. I want to learn how to make chocolate croissants and built scale model Cape Island boats for example. Will that be enough? I don’t know—but if it isn’t, I guess I can try my friend’s part time retirement approach.

May the peace of God be with you.

TWO BLESSINGS

According to the schedule, this was going to be a really busy week. I had all the regular stuff to do: two sermons, two Bible studies and all the other associated stuff that comes from being a pastor. On top of that, there was an extra Bible study for our inter-church council, a part in the annual memorial service our funeral home sponsors plus added Advent/Christmas stuff. While I like being busy, I don’t actually like being too busy and I especially don’t like being in a position where I simply can’t do all that needs to be done—but that is what this week looked like when I began work on Tuesday morning.

I had to do some mental juggling, wondering what bits and pieces I could put off, which involves not just figuring out what isn’t as critical but also trying to find a spot to put it in later. I have found over the years that just postponing doing stuff without planning on when I will do them leads to even more stress down the road. It was a tough process but by the end of Tuesday, I had a sort of a plan that would allow me to get stuff done, sort of on time.

Wednesday arrives—and brings with it snow and wind and cold temperatures. I checked the local cancellation list and discovered there is no school. Since all our kids are grown and living too far away, I didn’t check it for them. I checked because the inter-church Bible study has a neat and effective rule—when school is cancelled, it is cancelled. Suddenly, I have a whole morning with nothing planned. And even more, one of the requirements for that day that wasn’t going to get done was to have a handout ready for the next study.

The cancellation pushed the coming studies a week down the line, giving me some breathing room to get the final study session ready. It also meant that rather than rush around and head for the study, I had some choices.

Among the possibilities were a significant session with some books that have been occupying memory space on my electronics. There is a small project sitting on my work bench in the basement, a set of Advent candle holders for a couple of the churches. There is always the option of doing almost nothing or even nothing.

I actually chose to focus on getting some of the stuff cluttering my need to do list out of the way. The extra time the cancellation gave me was a blessing. I probably wouldn’t have cancelled the study that day but since we had the rule in place, I chose to embrace the blessing the cancelation brought with it.

The next day, the morning weather was actually worse. There was more snow, more wind and even colder temperatures. I checked again and school was cancelled again. That wasn’t an automatic cancel for the church Bible study but it was a indication that I had better make some phone calls and discuss the situation, which resulted in another cancellation. Once again, I had time—and another blessing.

The deferred list got even shorter. I actually got some serious work done on the last of the inter-church studies, a start on the Christmas Eve services and some reading done. I also got the Advent candle holders finished and had some time to actually do nothing. I think the second blessing was even more valuable than the first one. The first one took the pressure off—but the second one allowed for some actual relaxation and de-stressing.

My work plan doesn’t count on these unexpected blessings. But when they happen, I can and will embrace them because of the space that they give. I am aware that having got a head a bit on all the stuff won’t be a long term reality—but in the short term, I did get some stuff cleared that might have clogged things up down the road. There will be more stuff that needs to be done and diminishing time to do it before too long.

But for now, I had two blessings that allowed me to catch up and even get a bit ahead. That is great, although I just realized that I need to find time to prepare the Christmas newsletter. But thanks to the cancellations, there is time for that.

May the peace of God be with you.

KEEP MOVING

I was talking with a friend on ministry the other day about our mutual occupation. We were both in the midst of the fall rush. Basically, from mid-September to mid-December, pastors and church workers don’t have much time for anything beyond work. And as the fall transitions to Advent, things get even worse. The time period is filled with special events, new programs, pastoral emergencies, church and denominational meetings—the list goes on and on. I find myself taking a deep breath in the middle of September and basically beginning to run the marathon.

Except that this marathon has a nasty surprise near the end. Fall church programming leads into Advent and Christmas programming. To use the marathon analogy, this marathon ends with a steep uphill climb. I don’t actually run marathons but have children and friends who do—and from their stories of marathons, I am pretty sure that a marathon with a steep hill at the end would be the very last thing they would want to do.

So, with Advent beginning soon, I find myself in the middle of the hill. Because of my preparation process, I hit the hill a bit before some of my colleagues in ministry. I try to stay a week ahead in all my preparation which does give me some psychological and practical wiggle room but also means I hit the crunch earlier. So, this next two weeks are probably the busiest I am going to have. Two sermons, the Bible study for the area churches that seemed like such a great idea last April, the church fund raiser that helps ensure I get paid, the Advent programs that need to be prepared, the Christmas newsletter, the meeting to prepare our next year’s worship schedule, along with all the other stuff that must be done means that I need to take another deep breath to make sure I keep going—I am definitely feeling the steepness of the hill right now.

Based on previous years of ministry (and I have a lot of those), I will get everything done and I will survive the climb. Eventually, the middle of December will come and things will slow down a bit and then, well, there is always the post-Christmas slump which also brings with it the possibility of a Sunday snow storm with produces a cancellation.

The issue for me is always doing the best I can. I used to be concerned with doing my best, which sounds noble and heroic and faithful but which in practise leads to stress, fatigue, anxiety and burnout. I know that I am capable of doing some pretty good stuff—but the unfortunate reality is that I can’t always work to my limits. Or maybe it is better to say that my limits are moved by my circumstances. The fantastic sermon I could produce with unlimited time becomes a somewhat less fantastic sermon because I also have to write the ecumenical study, the Advent candle program and our regular Bible study.

None of them will be my best work—none of them will be as good as what I could produce if I had only that one thing to do. So, each one of them gets the best that I can do given the time and opportunity I have. I can’t do my best work—but I can and will do the best I can in the circumstances.

And I will do what I always do—I will give God and the church my best and then depend on God to take care of the rest. Ultimately, I do what I do because God has called me to be his agent to carry out his will. All that I do passes through him and any effects and results are due more to his divine work than my efforts.

For me, this isn’t a cop out or an excuse of sub-standard work or an extra nap. For me, this is a basic reality that enables me to cope with the impossible task that I have been called to. Even if I could produce me best all the time, it still isn’t good enough. But if I consciously work at giving God and the church the very best I can in any circumstance, then I can take comfort in the reality that God is going to use what I do to accomplish his will.

May the peace of God be with you.