bending, not breaking

Hello again my friends. I am mortified to see it’s been an entire month since my last post. This was not the plan. I was hoping to post weekly. But then, sometimes I fail. I am coming to terms with this and will cease to worry about it now that it has been acknowledged. I am learning to give myself grace in this season as so many of my dear friends have been reminding me to do.

I’m not going to “rate myself” this week, as I’m sure I wouldn’t even earn 1 out of 5 stars. I will however pick up on last blog’s theme of the tension between a firm schedule and the need for flexibility. Even the strongest and tallest of structures must incorporate some flexibility or they risk crumbling when the earth decides to shake. I’ve been working these past weeks on modifying my schedule in order to make it more stable in the storm. And believe me; the waves have been rising and the boat has been rocking of late!

A friend recently compared grief to waves on the ocean. I think that’s a fair description. Always some churning under the surface but interspersed with moments of calm and stormy swells. The last few weeks I’ve had quite a few tidal waves. This makes it difficult to keep life on track. That is where the blessing of the flexible schedule comes in.

I told you last post that I see my ‘to do’ items as residing within a time block that hangs like a panel from a frame. This visual serves me well. If I spend an hour crying in the corner instead of accomplishing the scheduled task, I simply remove that panel from the frame of my schedule. If it’s a panel containing a daily activity like exercise or personal study, I discard it entirely. I will pick back up on it when the item is repeated the next day. No “catching up”. Playing catch up is a schedule destroyer. If it is a critical work task, then I may take that panel and move it to a new section of the framework. Here’s were the built in flexibility I was talking about comes into play.

Any schedule with any hope of maintaining its framework must have MARGIN built in to it.

Think of the margin in a book. Imagine taking that out. With text running continually from top to bottom, side to side with no white space. Our eyes would be tired and our brains overwhelmed. We need margins in our books. And we need margin in our lives too. Without it, we will not only be exhausted, but one line of life would spill into the next and any unforeseen addition to the story would cause a terrible, illegible, overlapping jumble. The whole framework of schedule comes crashing down without margin.

Margin means padding the schedule. If something usually takes an hour and a half, schedule it for two hours. That means if an unexpected need comes up, you have wiggle room. Margin means having an occasional blank hour on the schedule, maybe not daily but certainly within the week. As a pastor, if I don’t have margin and a congregant requires my attention, I run the risk of looking at people as interruptions rather than seeing them as they are, my main reason for ministering.

Margin solves most small hiccups in the plan. But sometimes the interruption in schedule exceeds the margin. Then I have to do the hard work of prioritizing. The critical time block item must go somewhere, so I may have to discard a less crucial panel. This requires grace for oneself. Those of us juggling too many pins at once will have to occasionally let one drop. An occasional drop happens to us all. We must acknowledge our humanity and imperfection and move on. If we find ourselves dropping pins frequently, its time to remove some roles from our repertoire.

There was a time in my young adult work life that I was expressing my difficulty covering all my bases of responsibility. An older, wiser man asked why I didn’t just quit one of those tasks. I looked at him with what must have been a comically puzzled and shocked face. Surely he knew how much I was needed in my role. Reading my mind, he plainly said, “Nobody is irreplaceable.” Ouch! It stung at first. But it was true. Not only that but it was freeing! Doing too many things is nothing more than an exercise in our own pride.

That brings me to my next point. Why do so many of us think the world will stop spinning if we take a day off? I’m talking about SABBATH.

If margin helps us maintain flexibility in the schedule framework, then Sabbath helps us maintain the vigor with which we engage it.

Simply put, we must rest if we are to have the energy to keep going for the long haul. Sabbath allows us the opportunity to recharge and gives time for needed reflection. It puts life and our place in it into perspective, reminding us that we do not hold our world together. That’s God’s job. Let’s exercise our faith by allowing him to do what only he can. Again, it is prideful to think that we cannot take a day to rest.

Margin and Sabbath have become critical to my survival. Occasionally though, I need something more. There comes a time when I need a SABBATICAL. Strictly speaking, a sabbatical happens every seventh year for a year. Modern use is more flexible in application. It simply means an extended break from one’s career. I am applying the term even more loosely.

I use the word sabbatical to describe a season where I hit the pause button on a certain course of action in order to contemplate how to best proceed in the future.

For example, taking a month off of blogging allowed me the time to determine how it would fit into my already full schedule. Originally I had scheduled blogging on my Sabbath day, reasoning that it was a quick and easy task and wouldn’t really interrupt my day of rest much. During my blogging sabbatical I realized that though I try to keep my posts on the short side, it really took me much longer than expected. Because writing is a type of self-healing for me, I spend a good deal of time in thought on what I write. Do I believe it? Do I live it? Why do I think this is important?

During a sabbatical, I answer the following questions. Is this is a task I should even continue? Should it continue in the same form or does it need material changes? When is the best time to accomplish this task? If I am adding a task to my to do list, is there some other task I need to remove in order to make room? Not every good idea is one we need to personally take responsibility for doing. But we often miss seeing that until we hit the pause button, back up and look at the whole picture. Sabbatical allows us the opportunity to do that.

So there you have it. Guard the schedule, but allow it to flex and bend to prevent a total break. Margin, Sabbath and Sabbatical are my tools to build in flexibility and continued maintenance of the ever-important schedule. Next blog I’ll share more on some of the changes I’ve made and why. Until then I pray for rest and peace to you all in the midst of your busy lives.

6 thoughts on “bending, not breaking

  1. “Simply put, we must rest if we are to have the energy to keep going for the long haul. Sabbath allows us the opportunity to recharge and gives time for needed reflection. It puts life and our place in it into perspective, reminding us that we do not hold our world together. ”

    This is brilliant! Yet why is it so hard to rest? Is it because we don’t want to fall behind? Even with a horrible flu bug going thru our home, I’ve found it hard to rest…. my mind has too many to do’s… I’m going to remind myself of your phrase above .. it’s just what I needed to hear. Hugs ❤️

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    • I feel like rest is so hard for most Americans. Our culture is so fast-paced and competitive. I have friends who’ve just come back from a couple months in Germany. Other parts of the world don’t seem to be as crazy as we are. I know I spent the majority of my adult life actually feeling guilty every time I sat down on the couch. I am trying to rewire my brain to see rest as a productive part of my day and week.

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  2. Thank you for your insight. Gives me cause to lookwitjin and see if I can “Let Go” of some things. Making a list and checking in to how to make it happen.

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    • It’s so hard to let go isn’t it? I really struggle to do this. It has been helpful for me to lay out my schedule the way I have in order to see that saying yes to something requires me to say no to something else. It forces me to prioritize. Previously I wasn’t living in reality the way I kept thinking I could squeeze in “just one more thing”.

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      • Your words are very inspiring. Thank you for reminding me that rest is important to our aging bodies and minds. I will think of that in the next chapter of my life. Hang in there, Tammy. Love and miss you!

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