Monday Considerations, Pastoral Routines, & Soul Junk

Monday has been my off day for years, ever since I started working in a church, with the long exception of having to be on-call at Sweet Holy Spirit for administrative matters.  Back then, it wasn’t strange to get a minutes long call from our accountant or from a co-worker that changed the direction of the week.  Those Mondays are distant, though I hardly forget them.

Usually by Monday, since Sunday is traditionally a longer work day for pastors, I’ve lived through the equivalent of a work week with the compressed emotions of half a second one.  There has been the previous week itself.  It will bring with it conversations that stop me, meetings that unsettle me, group chats where someone is inevitably struggling with faith, offered counsel that helps or hurts people, conflicts left open for too long.  There are projections about the future of the church, potential partnerships or courses of action.  Quiet is seldom found without effort.  There is the loneliness that feels like a heavy blanket in summer.  There is the balancing of my own soul.

By Monday, my sleep has been disturbed for a few days in a row, dealing both with the expectation of Sunday and all that it brings and the throbbing exhaustion that comes afterward.  Sleep will catch up to me by the next day usually, but when Monday comes, I’m somewhere in the middle of looking at the day for the deep breath it will bring and planning for the week, even though I’m trying not to plan.  The busy tapping of my phone tells me that there is an email or a text.  I check it, only to see if it’s from someone whose text I actually read on Mondays, a tiny list of loved ones whose requests are of a slightly different order.

On Mondays I do much less.  Sometimes I fall into the mode of catching up with things at my address.  There are errands to run for myself.  Things Dawn has asked me to do.  There is laundry and dishes and remnants from the previous night’s dinner, and all the things in everyone else’s home.  There is the smell of urine that comes from the place where my son tossed his pajamas that morning, and the sneaky feeling that I’ll never stop cleaning the tile and washing the sheets, that I’ll go to work smelling of my boy’s liquids.  I remember the conversation about reintroducing pull ups for the overnight shift, and I feel that aching familiar feeling of failure that never totally leaves.  It’s one of those reminders in my life that I need grace.

For a long time I think about meaningful moments from the previous week.  And I try to think about nothing at all.  But I’m not successful.  There is the crammed calendar and the list of things.  This week there is one more sermon in the current series.  There are the big anchors of the upcoming message rolling around in my head and falling to my feet.  There is the nagging persistence that what I preach matters and doesn’t.  There is the slow, night-time work of an assignment due before the end of next week.  There is the upward and onward motion of not wanting to stop and the competing better desire to quit for a bit.

Quitting for a bit is the point of Monday.  But it is hard to do.  Leaving my moleskin at home and walking.  Picking up a book of poems and heading to the Point.  Exercising with no thought or nobody’s question or open conversation rattling for resolution.  Eating a recreative-for-me meal that someone has prepared.  Laughing with my friends or someone who for a moment is in my life for that sole purpose.

The anticipation of tomorrow is brutal on the soul.  Not just mine.  Not just a minister’s.  But everyone’s soul.  Thinking ahead into the next day, into the next post-Sabbath, into the second day of the week, is theft.  Planning ahead is robbery.  It’s sinister because we both believe it must be done and are so good at it.  Good at leaving now for later.  Good at staying nowhere for long.  Never being present.  Never reaching future.

It seems to me that it’s underneath most of the layers of our junk.  Yet it’s also over the basic simplicity of our souls this movement ahead.  But there are springs that come up through the layers.  Springs: those people who ask a simple question and wait for a response.  Springs are those messages that come from the lips of angels, the ones that stop your breath for a moment and help you appreciate the moment because it almost took you.  These are the things I need to consider on Mondays.  God, help me, especially since it’s Tuesday and the next Monday feels like a year away.

Personal Retreats, pt. 2

Yesterday I started into a series of reflections, after I returned from my own personal retreat.  Today’s topic is what not to do.  These posts come both from my personal experience and from good reading of people like Richard Foster, Ruth Haley-Barton, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Howard Thurman, and Dallas Willard.  They’re great writers and they point me to other insightful practioners as well.

Now, on to what not to do during these personal times you set aside for reflection, pause, and listening to God–in no particular order of importance.

  1. Don’t crowd your time.  If you do, you’ll inevitably end up being busy and hearing nothing.  A friend told me a year or so ago that his spiritual guide told him that it was perfectly acceptable to sleep during his 24-hour retreat.  Doing nothing is much better than doing too many things during a retreat.
  2. Don’t check email.  In fact, don’t do anything that you’d normally do.  If your retreat is compacted down to the size of less than a day, why would you check email and texts during that small frame anyway?  Leave those contacts for later.  Pay attention to contacting Someone else.
  3. Don’t rush.  Eat carefully, tasting your food.  Try to walk with more patience.  Turn your head and see the neighborhood.  It helps you develop gratitude when you’ve resisted the speed and pull of any and everything.  It’ll be unsettling because you’ll hear that little person in you screaming about how fast things are going around you, how far behind you’ll get if you don’t take it up a notch.  But close your ears to that voice, and try to hear another.
  4. Don’t go without a goal.  You need to expect something.  You need to have something in mind, some thing before you.  It’s good to go with questions that you want God to answer, decisions you’d like to make or be closer to having them made after your time.  Because these spaces are so spacious, you’ll likely come away with some clarity.  Your head may be clearer.  You just may hear God’s voice in that half-day retreat or in those fifteen minutes of silence.
  5. Don’t wear ear plugs.  I thought about wearing ear plugs on my Amtrak ride.  But I resisted.  I really did want to hear and see things that I wouldn’t generally see.  I think it helped.  It opened me to those little things I take for granted.  I saw the faces of the coach attendants when they came and asked for our tickets.  I heard the guy snoring when I kept reading that same paragraph six times because I couldn’t concentrate until I laughed at him.  And trust me, there are ways to get people to leave you alone without wearing plugs in your ears.
  6. Don’t set your alarm.  Whether it’s your alarm in the morning or your clock signaling you to get to the next thing.  You need room at a retreat.  Obviously if you only have 30 minutes for your mini-retreat, you need to be aware of time, but you’ll set your expectations accordingly in that case.  Otherwise, give yourself space.  Don’t feel pushed by the requirement to be somewhere else at some other time.  Try to be right where you are.
  7. Don’t do what the woman in this video did.

Would you add anything?