Thursday, May 9, 2013

So what do you do with a lot of time?

My friend Steve Ebling is taking a four month sabbatical from his church in Indiana. In his departing letter to his congregation, he blesses them as any pastor should. He assures them that he will return. And then he mentions one of the blessings of his sabbatical: "I won't be keeping a daily to-do list." 

Can you imagine? By no means is he announcing his laziness. I know Steve well enough to know that he will probably struggle to sit still, just as I will. He has undoubtedly charted out some activities, and will certainly spend some time with a fishing pole in his hand. But I am interested in his Declaration of Independence. All that unscripted space on the calendar! What shall we do with it?

Folks who found themselves abruptly unemployed have reported that an open calendar is a time of exposure. It reveals who we really are. If the only definition of ourselves is "worker," we may discover a profound poverty of spirit when we stop working. Who am I when I do not punch the clock? What is my life all about when I do not bear a work title?

I have known plenty of folks in my pastoral work who were ready for a transition, or at least a downshift to a slower gear. When one high-achiever announced an early retirement a few years ago, I asked, "What are you going to do with your time?" She replied, "Anything I want." It wasn't long before her true priorities were revealed in how she spent her time.

As I look over the calendar for my sabbatical time, I'm trying very hard not to fill up every moment. That is difficult for me. Certainly there are some events that are nailed down. One can't show up unannounced at a airline counter to ask, "Can you give me a ride?" nor appear at a monastery guest house to say, "Got a room for a couple of nights?"

A schedule allows for anticipation to build. I know, for instance, that shortly after the sabbatical commences, I will take my two daughters to Washington D.C. for a few days. One of them has a two-day college orientation. And her sister and I will be . . . well, we have no idea what we are going to do! Probably visit a few of the tourist sites, eat some Thai food, and have a good bit of city fun. I can't wait. Even the unscripted time together in the car will be fertile time for the three of us.

What is most helpful is the advice of my spiritual director: "The spiritual life is always invitation, not obligation." Rather than focus on what must be done, I have some time to listen for the Spirit's prompting, even if it is the invitation to sit still. That seems right. Just right.

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