I awoke to a fluffy powder-puff of a dog licking my face and a gentle-but-nonetheless-insistent alarm on my ever-present cell phone. My first thought was that great existential statement we all say to ourselves when no one’s listening, “I am so tired.” As I eased out of bed, with the slightest of groans, my dog bounded off the bed with glee. Life! A new day! Wet leaves to play in outside! Let’s goooo!
I shrugged on my coat and out we went. I shuffled back in, casting a few stray leaves that had snuck inside back out into the chilly, foggy morning. I made coffee and, as I sank into my little sea foam green couch to drink it like a person dying of thirst (it is a Monday morning, after all), there was that existential thought again, “I am so tired.”
And then I realized that I didn’t take a day off last week, and that I worked most evenings as well. Yesterday afternoon I nearly missed a meeting entirely, because it ran into another. Ah, meetings. The bread and butter of a Presbyterian pastor.
Now halfway through my cup of coffee, I mustered my inner will to get up and get dressed and head to the office, despite a minimal amount of down time last week. Protestant work ethic, you see. She’s a harsh taskmaster. She takes my “I’m so tired” proclamation and squishes it with perhaps that most powerful of visceral experiences: guilt.
You’re so tired, sure, but there’s work to do. There’s the bulletin, this meeting agenda to be tweaked, that unwell person to check in with, this service to plan, that lesson plan to write, plus you’re out of town next week, so there’s next week’s work as well. Get to it, woman! Like I said, harsh taskmaster. Oh, I have a lot of (un)gratitude for that voice.
But just when she was guilting me into thinking Sabbath was a pipe dream for pastors, my eyes came across a posting on the Columbia Seminary alumni Facebook page. It was the story of a minister who had taken his own life, when no one even knew they were struggling. And the person posting it said this was the second Columbia alum to recently know such darkness. He said we better start better networks of support for clergy. He was right.
I don’t know the story of this pastor who felt so desperate that he couldn’t see any way out. I have no idea how depression might have taken hold of him and refused to let him go.
But I do know myself. And I know that, when my bones are refraining, “I’m so tired,” I had better listen. Because what’s at stake in me ignoring that essential need for Sabbath is no less than everything: my health, my call, my church, my relationships, my life. Today, I decided to be kind to myself. I decided that I am so ungrateful for that voice of guilt that I’m going to silence her with a second cup of coffee and a morning spent putting paint on canvas, and words on a blog post. It seems nearly impossible to silence her completely because, with each stroke of paint or word typed, a dozen other things for my to-do list spring to mind. But I will stop feeding her with my own self-doubt. I might even go walk among the soggy leaves again with my joyful dog and, if some of that playfulness makes its way inside, littering my carpet with leafy remnants of aimless wanderings, I might just leave them there.
I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #Unco14, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for November is (Un)Gratitude. To read more reflections, check out UncoSynchro.