Thursday, May 19, 2011

How's It Going?

"How's it going?"  That's a question people have been asking me a lot lately.  Not just in the existential sense, but specifically about the sabbatical.  "How are you enjoying the time?  What has God been saying?  What are you learning?"  My honest answer has been, "I'm glad to be resting."  Which I suppose is the goal of a sabbatical, right?  Resting from work.  Taking time to be quiet, to do things that are refreshing, to do nothing if I so choose.  Today marks three weeks since the beginning of my time off, and I'd say the main thing I've "learned" is that I was really tired.  Not tired of ministry.  Not tired of people.  Not tired of studying and teaching and encouraging others.  Just tired.  Of what?  If I'm honest, probably of making decisions.  Helping other people make decisions.  Helping a church community make decisions together.  My prayer is that these are not decisions I'm making on my own.  That these are decisions that God's Spirit -- speaking to me, speaking through God's people, speaking through circumstances -- is leading me to.  But even though (hopefully) these decisions are ultimately God's, the weight of each one can be draining.  And so it's been nice to get a break from them.
So I haven't been making many decisions lately.  Except about what book I'm going to read.  What restaurant I'm going to go to.  What movie to watch on Netflix.  Sounds pretty spiritual, right?
Actually, I'd say these are spiritual decisions.  Take the books I've been reading: they have refreshed my spirit.  They've reminded me of God's work in the world and in my life.  They've made me consider my response to God's work.  As I look at my reading list thus far, it seems a pretty random assortment.  Some theological issues I've wanted to pursue a bit more deeply (eschatology: "The Man of Sin" by Kim Riddlebarger; gender issues: "Finally Feminist" by John Stackhouse).  Some church history/cultural ruminations ("The Worldly Evangelicals" by Richard Quebedeaux).  Some pastoral issues ("Eros Redeemed" by John White).  Some prose examinations of other cultures ("The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck).  The book of the moment speaks to my situation in the weeks ahead, and is just good old fun reading.  "Paris to the Moon" is Adam Gopnik's reflection on five years of living in one of Europe's great cities with his wife and young son.  I initially wondered if we should have taken the family to France instead of England, but I'm pretty sure that would have been a bad decision: my one year of high school French would have only gotten us directions to the "bibliotheque."
I'm rested.  I'm doing a lot of reading.  I'm not making any big decisions.  Sounds like pretty standard sabbatical stuff, right?  Well, let me drop what for me has been a bombshell, the biggest learning moment of these last few weeks: it's hard to follow Jesus while on sabbatical.  "What do you mean?  Isn't the goal of this time to hear from God, to strengthen your relationship, to come back from the proverbial mountain with insights, new vision, and your face all but glowing from the Shekinah glory?"  Perhaps.  And maybe those things will come later.  But here's what I've been experiencing: when the hardest decision before me in a given day is whether to buy the new Fleet Foxes mp3 on's deal of the day, it's easy to fool myself into believing that I'm in charge.  That I don't really need God.  Which is so different from most of my life.  When I talk with someone who is wondering what to do with their life, how to heal from sins and wounds of the past, how to deal with a seemingly impossible relationship, I'm driven moment by moment to absolute reliance of God's Spirit.  When I sit across the table from you, when I walk the streets of Broad Ripple with you, or when I stand before you on a Sunday, and we discuss the big issues of our lives, of others' lives, of the world, I have little more to rely on than a perpetual repetition of Proverbs 3:5.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."  Ain't that the truth.  God is reliable, and I'm reminded of that when He comes through for me and you and our community again and again.  My understanding is not reliable and will buckle under the weight of reality every time.  But during an extended time of rest, of only making "small" decisions, it's been easy to live as this wasn't the case.  As though I'm in control.  As though I can direct my own life.  Well, I can't.  (And neither can you.)  Whether to buy an mp3, what book to read, and where to eat are all decisions that add up to a life.  And I need to consider these decisions just as prayerfully as my typical cry of "What would you have me teach Your people this Sunday?  What would you have me say to this broken person across the table?  How would you have our community best love this broken world in your name."  I need God's direction in every moment of my life.  Not just in seemingly "big, important" moments, but in each and every moment, no matter how seemingly trivial.
So can I ask something of you?  If you're wondering how to pray for me and my family, while I appreciate any words you might offer on our behalf for safe travel (we leave Saturday for London), for rest, for revelation, here's what I ask you pray for me: that I will rely on our loving Father like the little child that I am.  That I would let God truly be my King, and that in doing so, I would continue to see His Kingdom come, His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.  And that will be my prayer for you, for the community of Trinity, for our little corner of the Kingdom in Indianapolis.

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