Guilt-Free Free Time

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“Father, it’s been quite some time since my last confession. And I have sinned. You see, I took a week off last week. It’s called a Sabbath, which I think is Greek or Latvian for ‘invest in some time away only to feel guilty the entire time for doing so.’ Anyway, I feel horrible and I’m pretty sure I won’t do it again. Please forgive me.”

Replace the word ‘Father’ with various community members’ names and there you have my week: attempting to explain to person after person why they haven’t seen me for a bit around our church community.

Where was I? In short, I took a bit of a Sabbath. I wrote, read, prayed, reflected, studied and watched a lot of Olympics in between. I drank coffee and water and beer to varying degrees. I might have even smoked, depending on who reads this. And I absolutely felt reconnected to my purpose and passion for doing what I do.

So why do I feel so freakin’ guilty? Why do I feel as if people look down condescendingly upon my little getaway? “Pastors only work on Sundays, so I don’t see why you need time off.” Nobody has EVER said that. And, in fact, upon hearing that I’ve taken a Sabbath, their response is usually, “That’s great. I’m so glad you get a chance to do that. That’s so needed in your position.”

But instead, I feel like Sloth (not from Goonies, but from Seven) when I try to retreat for a bit. If someone catches me only reading in the middle of the day, rather than meeting with someone or typing vigorously on my laptop, then it’s almost like my lazy hand is in the cookie jar. When my wife comes home and says, ‘How was your day?’, somehow I magically hear it as ‘WHAT did you do today?’ and can get defensive if I don’t hold an impressive list to read off:

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! I finished 14 tasks, wrote 100 emails, preached four sermons and brushed my teeth – all in the course of one day!

Ridiculous I know, but I’m in that sort of mood. And overall, I guess I’m tired of feeling guilty. Especially when I read a line like this:

c134024128a0b75edeace010l.jpg“I’ve long since stopped feeling guilty about taking being time; it’s something we all need for our spiritual health, and often we don’t take enough of it.”-Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

Surely I can’t be the only one that struggles with this. Surely I’m not the only one who, at the end of a not-much-done day, decides to drink some coffee and churn out a bunch of writing post-10pm only for the sake of feeling productive. I don’t want to find my worth in this but I have a hard time getting out of the human hamster wheel (see Dare, Double).

Any practical advice out there? Any non-practical quotes out there? Any other fellow sufferers for the works part of our gospel? Misery loves company, so I’d love a head count…

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


10 Comments

  1. Nate

    I totally agree. In fact I’m skipping class right now. I know. Its bad. I feel guilty, but I am so burnt out right now, that I just had to take a morning off and figure some things out. Refocus.

    Spiritual rejuvenation is a must. It is very important, and not just for pastors. Lets not draw a line between clergy and lay people. We rush ourselves and fail to meditate on Christ, to labor long in prayer, to consider the different aspects of our lives and where we are going and to refocus.

    Most of “the great preachers” (that I know of anyway) have taken the same types of retreats. And I think that it would be good for most lay also.

  2. Nate

    On a side note, I’d like to hear you or Russ or both discuss family worship, sometime. What do you think? Not immediately. Just in the next month or so, to read your takes on it, that would make my day. I recently married and have just come to the conclusion that its probably pretty important. It would just make me happy.

  3. Mike

    It’s all part of our cultural christianity. Do you feel guilty because you believe that God doesn’t want you to slow down and rest or because society says that you must work 40 to 60 hours a week and go home and work another 80? If you mix the two you get a religion that says that you must always be giving and never receiving. Didn’t Jesus say that it was better to give than to receive. Do you imagine that it also applies to Him? In other words do you think he enjoys giving more than receiving? If so let Him give and do a little receiving.

  4. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Matt,

    You should feel guilty for feeling guilty.

    Seriously, though –

    I’m finding that there is rest when I have boundaries. Specifically, time-boundaries. I set a schedule.

    For me it starts with bedtime. When I go to sleep when the kids go, I can get up at around 5am. I can read the Bible for awhile, then schedule my day, then treadmill. School-getting-ready starts around 7ish, then the kids leave around 8:15. Maybe I schedule banjo from 9am-10:30am. Then guitar from 10:40-12pm. Etc, on until 5pm. My kids are home then.

    If I have stayed on the job, I’m free to hang out with the family; I’ve kept the boundaries, and my work life doesn’t flow over into my home life. This is the optimal situation, and it doesn’t always work out that way in real time because I don’t always hold tight enough to the boundaries. But when I do, I feel great. And if I do that consistently, I can also make rest a part of that paradigm.

    So – in my world, that relentless desire to do-do-do often comes from “the tyranny of the urgent.” I’m not sticking to first principles, doing what I choose, but instead I keep getting pushed around by circumstances. That leads to “I don’t have time I don’t have time I don’t have time,” because I keep trading the time I do have for phone calls, email (and sometimes checking the Rabbit Room when I should be practicing…cough…).

    Just as Sabbath was built into creation, it can be built into our lives. But it has to be intentional, otherwise the busy-ness of modern life will drive us into relentless doing and give no time for rest.

  5. Tony Heringer

    Matt,

    As the old saying goes: “You are good for a living, us “lay people” are good for nothing.” 🙂 Your post sounds like a book title I read many years ago “When I Relax, I Feel Guilty.” Undue pressure and guilt is heaped upon pastors. You guys are equipping the saints for service, not doing it all by yourself. You know that, but the myth in the Church is the pastors are super heros.

    The pastor of my church, Randy Pope, has a great practice. One that I’ve longed for in my professional life. Every year, he gets away for a week by himself to read, reflect, plan, etc. On top of that he is very firm about boundaries — a practice I do employ, but I still covet that week away :-). Not that its a perfect way to do the job, but he seems to have a handle on what his job is and what our jobs are as fellow ministers in Christ. He’s been at it for a while, we just celebrated our 30th year as a church and he was a pastor prior to that. But, I’ve known him for 10+ years and he’s seemed that way from the time I’ve first met him.

    If you are looking for some insights from what our guys here have learned, check out perimeter.org. If you need direct contact information, just shoot me an email.

    I’ve prayed that God would supply you with His peace in this matter. I’m sure others here will as well.

  6. becky

    As a pastor, the claims on your time and energy are different than most of us. A pastor’s job is not an 8 to 5 proposition, and never will be. Saying no to something often means saying no to people in need, not just to events. The stress involved with pastoral work can really take a toll. You see people at their best and, too often, at their worst. And a pastor is always under a microscope.

    Taking some time off is essential if you are going to continue to be effective. Jesus took time out to pray and rest. Surely if he needed it we need it even more. And as many people as Jesus healed, spiritually and physically, there were thousands, or even millions more who were not healed. He did not do all the good that was available to be done, just what the Father had given to him to do. The tricky part is figuring out which category something falls into.

    As for staying up late to feel productive, I give you a quote from the great theologian Jason Bourne (in the books, not the movies): “Sleep is a weapon.” And so is time away.

  7. whipple

    The odd reciprocal is that I often feel validated for getting a substantial amount of work done during the day, as if, somehow, I was more spiritual today than I was yesterday when I only made it to work with a couple minutes to spare and didn’t get that letter written that I meant to write last week.

    There’s something else I should feel guilty for – attributing my holiness to the amount of work I’ve gotten done daily. I’ll go put that in my Guilt Drawer in the bedroom, behind the socks.

  8. Matt Conner

    @mattconner

    Agree with that last comment and thanks to all of you for your feedback. It’s really a continual battle – to want to be present and yet the need to disconnect. Of course, it’s all held in balance/tension, which is the hardest place to live.

  9. Scott R

    I ran across this the other day in a study on rest and Sabbath — 10 years ago, I’d have heard it and envisioned God wagging his finger saying YOU MUST REST!

    Exodus 34:21
    21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

    I realized I might be growing when I read it this time, and heard God beckoning, calling me closer to him, saying, “Child, really now! Even when it’s busy, you just gotta rest!”.

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