Life has been so full as of late for me. With speaking engagements and a writing project that wrapped up this morning; intense conversations with seekers about revelation and certainty in faith; and the other relational and administrative duties that go along with being a pastor, I have never felt so busy, and I’m not happy about it! Somewhere along the way, my time was commandeered from me. Appointments filled up every slot, leaking over into my days off. Conversations needed to be squeezed in before my next speaking thing or meeting. I can’t imagine that going from place to place, person to person is healthy. I’ve been feeling the effects of such a packed schedule on my soul and my mind. When I first started off in ministry at CF, I resolved to keep one day out of the week, a work day, as a day of study so that I could spend some time in stillness and solitude. I wanted it to be a day of praying for my people, reflecting on the Word, and reading and writing for my own personal growth and for the growth of the saints. I was pretty good about keeping that study day until about two years ago when appointments slowly leaked into that day. Couple this with a nagging sense of guilt (self-inflicted) that I needed to be in the office more, and my study day went to the wayside.
After reaching a fever pitch in my schedule, I’ve decided enough is enough. I need to take back my schedule not only for my sake, but the sake of my family and the families God has called me to serve. I will be of no use to anyone depleted or empty. I need to learn anew what Henri Nouwen called the Ministry of Absence. He defined it as a way of being less available to people so that one could be more available to God. In so doing, we actually minister to them by our absence, reminding them of the all-sufficiency of God for their need whether I am absent or am present. It also reminds me that I am not a savior, but a minister.
I read a little excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer this morning in Life Together. He gives two warnings that I found helpful as I think about the balance between solitude and community.
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community…If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. But the reverse is also true: let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone…if you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.”
What an important reminder of the tension of spiritual formation! I can’t do it alone, but I also must be careful not to hide from God by substituting his presence for the presence of other people no matter how godly. Christ must do his work in my soul and mine alone, yet the canvas upon which that work takes place is the community. How else can I know what lies in my heart without the context of situations and relationships?
So, as I fight to return to a rhythm of feeding my soul, I am reminded that I do so not only for my own personal walk, but also for the sake of the community into which God has called me and placed me. The busy-ness of ministering to people’s needs is not a bad thing, but it certainly can’t be the only thing. Maybe this is what the apostles were feeling in Acts 6:1-5?
As I relearn to carve out this time, I’d love to have some communal wisdom. What are some things that you do regularly to feed your soul and your mind?