I’m lucky. As a pastor, part of my job is sitting and contemplating. Yes, the “To Do” list gets longer every day. For every three things I finally check off, six more get put on. But in the midst of the endless tasks of ministry, I’ve made a point of stopping, breathing, and just reflecting on what’s going on in me and around me. Without these little breaks, I would not be a very good pastor. I would be so blinded by busyness (even more so than I already am) that I would have no sense of the Divine presence in my life or in the lives of those with whom I minister.
In addition to regular, though brief, prayer times throughout each day (I actually have alarms set on my phone), three times per year I go on retreat to read, pray, reflect, and plan. I call them my Triannual Worship Planning Retreat. I have a friend who has a wonderful cabin in the White Mountains here in Arizona that she lets me use. But right now I’m at a retreat center here in Phoenix—it’s close by and it has internet!
I’m lucky in the sense that my job allows me to do this and that I “get” to do this. But I’ve also come to believe that my job demands I do this, for the sake of my own sanity and clarity of mind, as well as for the sake of the community in which I live and practice my faith. These retreats are a time of renewal and re-connection with God. For three to four days I sit in a room and reflect on the upcoming four months of worship while I also consider what is going on in the life of the community I serve as pastor. I go for walks and spend significant amounts of time in silent prayer. I have a candle burning regularly while I work, reminding me that the light of Christ is with me if I can just clear my mind enough to pay attention (candles are a great reminder for me!).
Not all my retreats are filled with brilliant light and insights. Often, I struggle. I struggle to understand the intricacies of communal living. I struggle to figure out what a particular text might be saying or inviting me and my community into (sometimes, I just don’t want to hear the message that I am receiving—those are fun sleepless nights!). But I spend most of my time, even while I’m reading and writing, in prayer. I pray for the elders, deacons, and trustees with whom I get to serve. I pray for many in the congregation who I know are struggling. I pray for the many who are experiencing both pain and joy all at the same time. My congregation is pretty high-functioning. That means they are very busy! Even the people who are retired often comment: “I don’t know how I had time to work with all there is to do!”
These retreats are Sabbath for me, as much as they are “work.” I do a lot of planning. But mostly, it’s a time for me to just stop, breathe, and pay attention to God’s gentle and loving nudges, calling my attention to something spectacularly ordinary.
I realize that not everyone has the luxury of stealing away for a few days ever few months, but mini-sabbaths are important. Even just taking a few minutes out of every day to just stop, breathe, and pay attention, can make all the difference in the world! Literally!