WAITING

Both the Bible study groups I pretend to lead keep coming back to Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5.22-23, where we are told, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (NIV) By now, some of the members of the group have the entire list memorized—although to be fair, I do have to say that some of them had the list memorized before we started using the verse so much in our study.

Those who have memorized the verse don’t need to look it up every time we refer to it. I have to look up the verse. Mentally, I tell myself I am looking it up to ensure that I get the right words in the right order—with the wealth translations available these days, that just makes sense. And while that is a very practical and prudent reason for looking up a verse of Scripture, there is another reason I look up the verse: I can’t actually remember the list beyond the first four. This isn’t a secret—I have confessed this to both Bible study groups and anyone else who has occasion to discuss the verse with me.

I am not sure why I have trouble remembering the list but I suspect that it has something to do with the fourth fruit of the Spirit, patience. I like to think that I am patient but in truth, I am not the most patient person in the world. I really don’t like waiting. I can remember long sleepless nights as a child while I waited for Christmas Eve to turn into Christmas morning. Waiting for anything important is difficult.

Right now, I am waiting to go into the hospital for surgery. While all surgery is serious and brings a certain amount of risk, all of which has been carefully explained to me a couple of times, I am not overly anxious about the surgery. I have confidence in the surgeon and know the hospital’s reputation and have lots of people praying for me in the process.

But I have been struggling with significant impatience in this process. I have known since early in the year that this was coming. My surgery date wasn’t as early as the surgeon had first suggested because of circumstances beyond his control and so the waiting has been even longer than we anticipated.

The first part of the wait was okay—I was busy and could ignore the whole thing. But once I had a specific date and began to make arrangements, the impatience kicked in—I just wanted to get the thing done. The closer the day comes, the more impatient I become. It hasn’t affected my work—if anything, I am doing more work as I prepare for the surgery and resulting time off. Making arrangements for the various responsibilities I have, helping groups decide what to do during my absence, getting stuff done before I am off—all these and more have taken up my time.

But I just want to get the thing done. Waiting is a pain. And the closer and closer it gets, the slower time passes and the more I want it to hurry up. Last week was slow and frustrating. This week is worse because I have the surgery in two days. I am pretty sure that I won’t be sleeping all that much or well the next two nights as my impatience kicks into high gear. Time will perform a psychological miracle and slow to a crawl, with seconds taking hours and two days becoming an eternity as I wait.

However, what I lack in patience, I make up for in trust. I might be seriously impatient about getting there but I have a strong sense of peace about the whole thing. Peace, those of you who have memorized the verse in question will remember, is the third fruit of the Spirit. Being third means it is in my remembered list of the fruit. I may not be a very patient person at this point, but I am at peace. No matter what happens, I know that God is with me. Now, if he would just give the time wheel a bit of a nudge, that would be great.

May the peace of God be with you.

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DEPRESSION ALERT

This has been a very busy weekend. One of the pastorates I serve had a major fund raising event on Saturday—it was a great event, from what I saw and heard, although my sight and vision were limited since my skill set pretty much confines me to the kitchen, well, really the sink washing dishes. I am pretty good at that task and it does keep me from spilling coffee and tea on guests at the tables. Sunday, of course, it always busy with two worship services and lots of people to talk to. We even had some visitors at the early service, which was nice.

But I work up this morning a bit before time to get up. As I enjoyed the warmth of the bed while thinking over the day’s activities, I had something of a shock. I caught a glimpse of my depression peeking around the corners of my thoughts. It wasn’t strong but it was there. I began to recognize the symptoms—feeling tired after a good night’s sleep; a lack of real interest in what I had planned for the day; an inability to go back to sleep combined with the fatigue feelings; a desire to crawl in a hole and disappear.

The depression hasn’t really arrived. This event was more of a preliminary message, a sort of an “I’m coming” promise. The conditions are right: lots of work activity; some personal stuff that is taxing; some frustrating circumstances preventing some important decisions. There are lots of reasons why the depression shouldn’t be there. Things are going well in the churches; my knees are not as painful, the cold didn’t develop into anything serious and it is actually snowing. But the potential is there—and it is close enough that the depression feels confident enough to show itself.

Now, I have to make some decisions. I need to decide what I am going to do about it. I recognize that not everyone fighting depression has the same options I have. My particular brand of depression tends to be closely related to my decisions and my willingness to take care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually. I know all that and even do a pretty good job of paying attention to all the relevant factors most of the time. But when life gets hectic and things pile up, I take less and less care of myself, opening the door for the depression to worm its way in.

The problem is compounded by the fact that I am committed to what I do. My faith and my work are intimately connected—God has called me to ministry and whatever form it takes wherever it is, I am going to do my best, which involves more time that I probably should give it, more thought than I should give it, more energy that I should give it. I appreciate the opportunity God has given me to make a difference in the lives of the people he has called me to serve. I thrive on the opportunity to match Biblical teaching with the specific needs of the congregations. I love connecting churches, individuals and other groups with God through sermons, worship, Bible studies, counselling sessions and so on.

But it is too easy to lose myself in the process. And I know that the call to faith and service comes in the context of sacrifice and commitment and self-denial. Answering a call to ministry is demanding. But what I forget is that there is still a need to care for myself in the process. And once I forget that call to care for myself, everything else is built on a sandy foundation.

The threatening depression is a warning of that reality. I really can’t do what I have been called to do and want to do when I am depressed. I can go through the motions, letting momentum carry me but it isn’t really what I have been called to do. And while God can and does gracefully promise to work around my weaknesses, it is much better for me when I look after myself so that I can give him, the church and myself the best I am capable of at any given time.

So, thanks for the warning, depression. But because I have seen you peeking around the edges of my life, I am watching for you—and even more, I am pretty sure that God is looking after me.

May the peace of God be with you.

A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

I discovered a long time ago that I have the ability to fall asleep easily and quickly, at least during the day time. Naps are a regular part of my life. I almost always nap for a few minutes somewhere between 11:00 and 2:00. And then there are the unexpected naps, the ones that just happen because I am sitting and drop off to sleep. While those short naps can be refreshing, they are also embarrassing when they happen in a crowded staff room or meeting of some kind.

I find I need the naps because of the fact that I don’t sleep well at night. I am a light sleeper and it doesn’t take much to wake me up—and being woken gives my mind the message that I have finished a nap and therefore makes it hard to go back to sleep. Add to that the fact that I snore (I really don’t want to admit that but the evidence is pretty conclusive), which wakes me either because of the noise or because my wife pokes me and it makes for some long and frustrating nights, followed by fatigued and difficult days.

The rare nights when I have a good night’s sleep are blessings that I savour and enjoy. I know that eventually, I will get such a night. After several frustrating nights, the fatigue catches up with me and I collapse. But it would be nice to be able to do that every night.

So, I have been looking at different ways of dealing with the problem. I have adjusted my sleep patterns, allowing more time to sleep so that I am not as fatigued because I have discovered that if I get over tired, I don’t sleep as well. My doctor ordered a bunch of tests to make sure that there isn’t a medical reason for the fatigue.

And I am trying a techie solution to the problem—a CPAP machine. The problem might be caused by narrowing of air passages, which essentially leads to strangulation, something for which waking up is a very good solution. The machine provides extra air pressure to prevent the passage ways to collapse. The process has been interesting and instructive. The respiratory tech explained the machine and the process, fitted the required mask, gave me all the info I need and even provided a website.

So, I set the machine up, filled the water tank, fitted the face mask—that was a bit of an ordeal because I forgot exactly what the tech said during the briefing and had to figure it out myself. I got everything working, turned out the light and settled down for a good night’s sleep thanks to modern technology.

Well, that was the theory. In practise, the mask was incredibly uncomfortable—in order to provide a good seal, the various straps had to be tight. It also made my preferred sleeping position pretty much impossible, which led to serious tossing and turning as I tried to find a comfortable position for sleeping. Eventually, I fell asleep and made it through the night.

The second night was much worse. I did get the mask on with no trouble but the developing cold began to get in the way. The stuffy nose combined with the cough and the difficulty getting comfortable to make everything a nightmare—except I never got to sleep. After a couple of hours, I had enough. The mask came off, the machine got shut off, I opened a cough drop and finally managed to get to sleep, which was interrupted by a coughing fit about 5:00. After a another couple of hours of tossing and turning, I was up and ready for the day.

I will continue with the trial of the machine—ultimately, I will probably get used to the changes it requires. And, I know that eventually, I will sleep because the fatigue will take over and I will shut down for whatever time I need. But until then, I will toss and turn while I discover if technology is the answer to my sleep problems. My wife would appreciate it if it solves her sleep problem as well—if it stops my snoring, she sleeps better.

Anyway, it is almost nap time—and naps happen without the technology.

May the peace of God be with you.