Pastor Gayle’s Reflections
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“Truly practicing rest is a battle and liberation practice. No one wants you to deeply rest, because the majority of people have never had the opportunity to practice it consistently, so there is no model for how to embody it.”
-Tricia Hersey, The Nap Ministry, thenapministry.wordpress.com/
We don’t like to slow down, but sometimes life forces us to.
Many of you are aware that I missed our congregation’s annual meeting (January 26th) because I was in the hospital. The short, cleaned-up version is that I have ulcers that had been bleeding, leaving me ill, and with low blood pressure and low hemoglobin. While my ulcers are likely the result of taking too much Excedrin (which contains aspirin) over a long period of time, stress is a factor in both the formation of ulcers, and in the reason I took so much Excedrin for so long.
Stress put me in the hospital for a weekend. That’s a wake-up call.
I can no longer treat my chronic headaches and pain with NSAIDS, which means working with my doctors to start a new regimen of treatment for my chronic conditions. I am not asking for advice or recommendations; in fact, I would prefer not to be inundated with suggestions, however well meaning. I am asking for patience, compassion, and support as I slowly but surely work my way back to health.
In addition to working with physicians on my physical health, I will be working to reduce stress in my life. Part of this will be the difficult and on-going process of trying to be less bothered, to take things that people say and do less personally, to release much of the worry and hurt of being a pastor and a sometimes overly-empathetic person in a world that is hurting. Another part of this re-working of my life will need to be carefully evaluating what really needs to be done, for myself, for my family, for the church, and for the community. I have said many times that I cannot do everything, nor can I be everything to everyone; this will be especially true in the coming weeks and months, as I recuperate from what was a physically traumatic event.
I have also said many times that rest is counter-cultural. It is, as Tricia Hersey writes, “a battle and liberation practice.” We live in a world that is awake and active 24/7. We live in a country and a city that is constantly on the move. Even children’s schedules are so full of activities and commitments that they are often unable to attend worship or Sunday School, even if church has been a family tradition. To prioritize church, particularly Sunday worship, is counter-cultural. To prioritize quiet time, something essential to my own well-being, is counter-cultural. To prioritize true relationship with God is certainly counter-cultural, regardless of many popular narratives claiming special relationships with God.
As a pastor, I have always tried to model prioritizing relationship with God and observing Sabbath rest, but I’m a flawed human, so I have not always been successful. Even before this health crisis, I had resolved to return to a practice of daily prayer journaling, which I have found very grounding in the past. I restarted this practice at the beginning of the calendar year because I had been feeling distant and distracted from God. I will continue this practice, striving to intentionally keep open the lines of communication with the Holy, as well as releasing worry from my heart by putting it on paper.
I know that I also need to be intentional about how I am spending my time and energy, both “on” and “off” the clock. I hope to make available opportunities for quiet together, for experiences of connection to the Holy, and for continuing to learn to live the counter-cultural Way of Christ. I know that this will mean saying “no” to some things I would like to do, in order to do the things I need to do in order to be healthy. There will, inevitably, be things that are left undone, or not done to previous standards. I simply cannot continue the way I was before, knowing what the results of overwork and overstress have been.
This will not be easy on any of us, but these changes are necessary so that I don’t end up in the hospital again. I hope that you can be patient with me. More than that, I hope that you will join me in the battle for rest as a means of caring for ourselves, our families, and our community.
May God liberate us from busyness!