Friday, November 14, 2008

Sabbath and sacrifices

If you've been reading lately you've probably noted how ordination papers are taking over my life. Most days I feel like I'm suffocating under the weight of edits, rewrites, and papers still yet to be written. It's overwhelming and exhausting. When I talked to my brother the other day (who's been through the process), he said, "You can kick and scream and yell and fuss but you may not quit." No?!?! 'Cause seriously, I was considering it. I know I'm not alone. I know of friends who are doing the same grueling process this year, others who have gone before me, and many many pastors who have done the same. I also know friends who are lawyers who've gritted their teeth and borne similar pressure as they studied for the bar, and doctors who have gone nights without sleep and days without a break as they studied for their boards, so I know it's not some novel form of torture the church created, yet somehow that doesn't alleviate the pressure.

This morning I was thinking that some of the trouble for staying motivated is knowing that I could just give in and try again next year. It's not like taking a class or earning a degree where "next year" isn't possible. The other difficulty in staying motivated is knowing that I may go through all this work and still be deferred by the board and have to do it all again next year. (Wo)man is that not thrilling. I can say "I trust the process" today, but I'm fairly certain that if I have to leave Palos Verdes in tears after being deferred I won't want to walk into church the next Sunday and face my congregation let alone come back next year with gusto for the chance to show how much I've grown. Yippee skippy. Boy howdy!

And yet even saying that I can see how that will be my kiss of death. If I dig my heels in to "growing in the process" even if it means another year, then I will probably not show my best side to the board and somehow decide my own face. I remember 3 years ago having to submit my will to that of the board and the "process" and somehow there was healing in that, or at least enough help to get me over the final hump.

Right now my two main motivating factors are:
1) I sure as taxes DO NOT want to have to do this again next year (especially not b/c I was a wimp and bailed).
2) Some very generous people* have spent a lot of time and energy editting these papers so I have the least likely chance of being deferred possible and it seems like a slap in the face to wuss out now.

Oh yeah, now back to the point of this post, first, it's about sacrifices. I've obviously had to make some in this time. I sacrificed part of my vacation time to work on papers (and thankfully so because if I got back from that trip and wasn't 75% of the way done with my papers I think I've had thrown in the towel then and there). I've sacrificed free time, sleep, social opportunities, and time talking with friends. Those aren't huge in the scheme of things, but they are key components to my sanity. The latest sacrifice has been about my sabbath.

This fall has not been my shining time as a sabbath guru. I've sacrificed sabbath more times than I'd like to admit. Almost all of October was shot and November is not off to a good start. But today as I thought about whether or not I should break sabbath to work on papers (after I had already broken it to work on and deliver a sermon to folks at a retirement village and to see a parishioner who's struggling to recover after surgery), I wondered if I wasn't becoming a Pharisee.

I hold pretty strict sabbath rules. No work. No meetings. No work phone calls. No work emails. I try not to even think about work. Having strict rules has been my saving grace in having time that is dedicated to renewal and rejuvenation. In addition to the no work rules I also rarely make plans, even with family or friends, on my sabbath because I hate having obligations on my sabbath. I like to dictate my schedule based on what I want, not based on the next place I have to go or person I need to see. My original rule was "I won't do anything I have to do." So if I felt I "had" to run errands, or do dishes, or laundry, or yardwork, or.... then I wouldn't because it broke the sabbath rule.

The Pharisees too became very taken with their sabbath rules. They believed no work was to be done. Period. Well, Jesus had occasion to heal on the sabbath and boy did he make the Pharisees mad. He was breaking the rules!! The thing the Pharisees didn't see was the purpose of sabbath was healing and restoration, and to heal was to do just that, so Jesus was actually fulfilling the law, not breaking it!

Lately it seems my sabbath rule has become to selfish and self-centered. Maybe it has always been selfish to take a day and refuse to lay plans even with the closest of friends. Maybe it had to be strict so I could develop a healthy sabbath practice, and now it's simply a new phase where I can relax the rules and live a little more flexibly. Maybe it's bad boundaries? Maybe it's fulfulling the spirit of the rule?

I don't know that I've decided on an answer. But I have decided, that for now, my ordination is worth the sacrifice. This is the work I have been called to do and I'm fairly certain it will require some sacrifices along the way.

Chai shared this tidbit today: "Obstacles are there to test us on how much we really wanted the end goal." And I think I have to keep that in mind. Writing these papers is a sign of my commitment both to my call and to the UMC. I can hardly imagine how those who aren't called manage to trudge through these.

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to trudge I go!

*Thank you Mom, Dad, Dave, David, Rob, Kathy, Beth, and Jack.

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