Last week was A Week. You know what I mean, the sort where dinner looks like a bowl of cereal most nights, where you don’t even have time to add things to your to-do list because they all seem to need done Now. Coffee flows in abundance; patience and rest, well, not so much. We had funerals for two beloved women in our community last week, and I found my time filled with countless conversations and plans to thank God for them in a way that was both respectful and personal. Of course, there was all the usual Sunday activity, including installing and ordaining new elders, and a Presbytery committee meeting to boot. I find that weeks like last week show me just how much this ministry gig (allow my ridiculous rockstar parallels, will ya?) is so much bigger than any one person.
I realize how much the Spirit fills the gaps my forgetfulness or exhaustion leave, and how somehow, God always shows up. And when She does (the word for Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek is feminine, so you’re getting a ‘She’ here, y’all) show up, surprising things happen. Like laughter when tears are more expected. Like an entire congregation on their feet, clapping in unison and smiling as “Oh Happy Day” is sang in all its soul-stirring glory. Like a hug that expresses an awful lot, or a quiet word that expresses just as much. Like a community gathering around a family, not because they feel they should or because they think God demands it of them, but because it’s as natural as breathing. You take care of each other. Especially when someone we love passes from this life, you take care of each other. And, let’s face it, little conveys care quite as much as a glorious confectionary creation of cool whip and oreos or a delightfully cheesy casserole.
It was a week. God was good. She showed up.
I didn’t get a day off last week, which does happen sometimes. What I did get was an hour off in which to play guitar on Friday. I take guitar lessons from my buddy Darrell at a local music shop on Fridays, mostly so that time is filled with something enjoyable (that means I will take that time off on a regular basis). As I entered the music shop, a bit rough around the edges and dark under the eyes, I saw a man who often repairs instruments for Darrell. I can’t recall his name, but let’s call him Presbyterian Elder Man. That’s what he is — an elder at a large church in a town not-too-far away. We’ve talked God and church before, which, of course, is something I’ll do any ol’ day (even if it is my day off). He asked how I was, and refusing to play the superficial game we often play with that question, I was honest. “Actually, tired.” I said. He then embarked upon a thoughtful diatribe on how the work of ministry is never done, and how “we just have to keep going ALL the time (his emphasis), never stopping, because God never does.”
I listened, and smiled, but then countered a bit, “Yes, but Jesus took time off.”
“Yeah, but not very often!” he said.
“Hmm. But Sabbath — rest — is one of God’s commandments, right up there with don’t kill anyone and don’t take what’s not yours.”
“Yeah, I hear ya,” he replied, “But still, we never get to stop. At least I don’t. I tell myself I always need to be doing more and more, as much as I can.”
On the outside, this comment is admirable. Here is someone who takes his call seriously, who sees every opportunity as a chance to be open to where God’s Spirit leads. But here also, perhaps, is someone whose faith has been co-opted by a cultural, and not spiritual, value. That cultural value is simple, and we see it in everything from University of Phoenix commercials to teenagers involved in 6 extracurricular activities at the same time.
You are what you do.
Nothing more, nothing less. You must DO because being is doing — you don’t exist apart from your accomplishments. And that, I write to myself here, is dangerous ground for anyone, especially someone in this whole ministry gig.
We are so not what we do. We are so much more than that. We are the breath of God’s Spirit within each of us. We are the image of God reflected back in the face of everyone we meet. We are insanely busy weeks and we are non-productive days, and days somewhere in between. We are God’s hands and feet in this world, yes, but we are not God. Guess who is? God. That’s it. Not you, not me, not even the greats of our time who have worked seemingly-tirelessly for justice like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pope Francis.
It’s a great relief to realize that we’re more than what we do. It means that I’m still a bearer of God’s light in the world as I sit here resting, blogging, eating warm chocolate chip cookies and drinking tea. It means that I don’t have to earn God’s favor on my work. For my pastor peeps, allow me to repeat that: We don’t have to earn God’s favor on our work. Sure, we spend time, and rightly so, seeking to in some ways meet the expectations of the communities we serve, to be faithful to them in that way. But not so with God — She says we are enough. (The word for this, in case you were wondering, is grace.) And even when we don’t feel like we are, She shows up. She always will.
And I like to think that, after a week like last week, She invites me to curl up in front of a warm fire and smiles, saying, “Rest, now. Don’t be tempted by the idolatrous path of busyness and works-righteousness. Just eat those cookies, drink that tea, waltz with that fella, walk that dog and rest. Not because you’ve earned it, because honey, it’s never been about that. Rest because I demand it.”
I like this God. I like Her a lot.
(p.s. While this blog will continue to be a place I record moments of holiness on a regular basis a’la ‘glimpses of grace’, I’m enjoying stretching my legs beyond simply writing a few sentences at a time. I hope you don’t mind.)