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.

GRANDCHILDREN, SNOWSTORMS, COMPUTERS

Since my last post here, (Jan. 8/18), the focus of my days has been on something other than work or writing. We have had a lot of snow here in Nova Scotia since Christmas. Clearing the part of the driveway the snow plow guy doesn’t do, the walkways and the deck began to seem like a full-time job. Because of our geography, we get a lot of water effect flurries, which tend to be light and fluffy and beautiful coming down but which accumulate and need to be cleared. While I like snow and actually don’t mind shovelling snow, it was getting a bit much.

I as actually glad that we were going on vacation to lower mainland BC, where snow and shovelling are the stuff of nightmares for the people living there. The attraction of lower mainland BC isn’t the lack of snow, however—if I really want to escape snow, I would prefer my destination to be somewhere sunny and drier than BC in the winter time. The real attraction is our sons and their families. Our vacation was short but involved spending lots of time with our grandchildren.

I took my tablet, fully intending to find some time to do some writing, maybe even figure out how to post blogs using the tablet. I am certain that it is easy to do and before leaving, I was sure that I would use my vacation time to figure it all out. As you might have guessed, time with family was much more tempting and the time I was sure I could use for writing disappeared, replaced by time to talk and play—and as well the essential time needed to rest after playing with highly mobile and active grandchildren.

And then of course, there was the computer. My laptop decided that it didn’t really want a seventh year of work and so the hard drive began shutting down—giving in to the electronic version of dementia. After a consultation with the repair shop, I decided that the best solution was a replacement—but the replacement would have to wait until after vacation.

I salvaged the partially finished sermon from the laptop and finished it on the tablet. The tablet and our ancient backup computer kept me going until vacation but once we got back, it was time to find a replacement. Buying a computer wasn’t a big deal. Less than 15 minutes after I got to the store, I walked out with my new laptop—and about 5 minutes of that time was spend looking at the clearance tables. I knew what I wanted and it was just a matter of walking down the computer aisle, balancing tech specifications with price.

The annoying part was the set up after getting home. All the files, programs and assorted bits and pieces that I needed from the old computer needed to be transferred to the new one. I keep good backups so the data wasn’t a problem but finding and installing all the other stuff was time consuming and still isn’t done—I keep thinking of things that I need to track down and install.

All this means that my focus has been elsewhere for the past couple of weeks, which has been a good thing. Pastoral ministry is demanding and stressful and the effects seem to affect me more and more these days. I am tired a lot and don’t always sleep as well as I should. I try to practise good stress management techniques and all that but I think the cumulative effects of 40 years or so of ministry aren’t all that easy to shake off. So it may be that in the long run, snowstorm, grandchildren and computers just might be a more effective part of my stress management process than I realize. Not having to think about sermons and Bible Studies and visits for a while was important.

I am now back a work, the new computer is functional, I miss our family and there is no real serious snow in the forecast. I enjoyed the break and more importantly, I came back ready to get back to the ministry I have been called to do.

May the peace of God be with you.