In case you hadn’t noticed, summer is here. But with it comes a tension: my incessant urge to be productive collides with my deep desire for Sabbath rest.
Getting busy and doing something — anything — is my normal way of being. I suspect I’m not alone. These days our culture operates in a frenzy. Our careers are frenetic. In my parents’ generation, one expected to settle into a job and work there until you retired. Now, why wait for change? In 2010, while baby boomers largely reported having one career in their lifetime, Gen Xers reported that they expect three or four career changes. These days even entertainment is frenetic: We used to look at a newspaper to find out what TV shows were on and settled into the couch with snacks. Now, why wait? In 2010, 55 percent of TV Guide survey respondents said they mostly watched Internet-provided video.
We are not good at waiting. Rapid decisions and frequent change have infiltrated us everywhere. That’s neither bad nor good; it’s just a fact of life. But it tells me this: the more our environment presses us to do something, anything — anything, that is, but wait — the more we need to ask whether our time might best be spent pausing … slowing down … even crawling … to … a … stop.
There are times when the most urgent task to do is to hurry up and wait; when the most crucial order of business is to sit awhile and pray; when the most important activity is to listen. It’s true for us as individual disciples, and it’s true for us as a church.
Recently our church officers and staff gathered for our annual leadership retreat. We took a brief look back to our church’s life over the past six years. We rehearsed the aspirations, accomplishments and unfinished business of our most recent strategic plan.
Then, instead of launching into program planning, we stopped. We paused to consider what God might be asking of us now. Instead of asking “What programs should we initiate?” or “What staff should we hire?” we asked questions that my colleague Corey Nelson picked up at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Austin:
1. What kind of people do we want to send out into the world?
2. What kind of church forms those kinds of people?
3. What kind of leader forms that kind of church?
4. What kind of staff forms that kind of leader?
These are the right questions for this time. This time, when we’re (at last!) not facing major conflict. This time, when we’ve enjoyed stable leadership for a while. This time, when we have the luxury to discern. We would be dreadful stewards if we squandered this time by careening into the next and the next and the next worthy activity that presents itself.
Ecclesiastes tells us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” A time, if you will, to get busy; and a time to take a moment of quiet or a time of Sabbath with God.
Activity isn’t bad. There’s a time for both, for activity and waiting. The day after our retreat we commissioned high school Work Trip participants; they are clear about the direction they’re headed, and they’re ready to get busy.
But thank God for the gift of time for waiting too. The gift of time for waiting to decide what to do next … the gift of time for waiting to choose a new path … the gift of time for waiting until the word from God is clear. The gift of time for waiting until the Spirit comes … until the Spirit comes, in God’s own time.
Christine Chakoian is pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, Ill.