I Want What They Have

The first full day of my visit was a Sunday. We went miniature golfing, followed by ice cream with sprinkles. Later, we played in the pool. My son told my grandson, “We want to show Granddaddy what our weekends are like.” It was relaxing and joyful.

I want what they have.

We discovered a frog in the human-made pond at the miniature golf course. Photo by Tim Graves

That first day was not an aberration. The following weekend, we spent Saturday at the farmers’ market, eating a meal there (more or less), watching a marionette show in the park, and swimming in the pool after quiet time. The next Sunday, we hung out doing housey things while the children played in the yard. B., my daughter-in-law, gardened while my son did something with power tools. I read and did my own things. Given all the art of her creation displayed in their home, it is obvious my daughter-in-law sometimes pursues her passion for painting.

I want what they have.

They have regular time off to enjoy family and do what they find satisfying. They spend time together as a family without the nagging fear of interruptions from work. They work hard, but the rest of their lives begin when work stops.

I want what they have; I want a life.

B. and I talked about it. I shared regrets about the intensity of our work schedules when we were raising the kids (and since.) She said she experienced the same with her parents as a child. “Maybe that’s why we are living differently.” She told me they both like their jobs well enough but that her relationship with work is different than I described. “I like the life our work allows us to live,” she told me.

My first career in early childhood education and my later calling as a pastor were about a passion for making the world a better and a just place. My passion for changing the world has led to too little time to enjoy the world.

I want what they have; I want a life.

But it is not simple. Though she speaks wisdom, I cannot quite embrace my beloved daughter-in-law’s mindset. I cannot spend hours working without feeling deeply passionate about my work. However, too much is too much. I left my pastorate partly because of specific issues such as pandemic fatigue (Great Resignation), neglect of my needs in relationship with another, and burnout. Yet as I reflect on my life in the church as laity and as clergy, I am coming to perceive the systemic failures of the congregationally-based church.

Role expectations and justifying your boundaries and self-care choices to 50, 100, or 250 people who do not understand your job can drain. This can manifest in seemingly small ways by good-hearted but unthinking people. For example, I regularly reminded people that staff, myself included, had civic holidays off. I remember a particular group of which I was a part of scheduling the next time to meet. One by one, each person chimed in that though it was a holiday, they could meet. These microaggressions of lack of regard and having to be the person always defending your own time are exhausting for pastors. Over time tiny oversights demoralize.

This is a systemic problem in the church. It is sin that devalues the biblical principle of the Sabbath. Wrote Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern. Nothing” (in Heschel, Sabbath). The church, for its purposes, historically redefined Sabbath as being about the obligation to attend worship and deny oneself. It is not. Writes Christian scholar Walter Brueggemann, “Sabbath, in the first instance…is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption….”

I am intrinsically valuable, as are you. As is every human being. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 The Inclusive Bible). Of course, I want what they have; I am human.

As I continue my pilgrimage of resetting my physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being, I continue to question how I can fulfill my call within the institutional church and remain true to my authentic self.

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