Why I'm giving up my time for Lent

In the last few months it's been a little hard to maintain this blog to level I'm used to.  My time is being eaten up lately, by school, work ... but not as much by family.  At least not as much for my family as it should.

Last week I had two mid-terms.  Two weeks before that I had two major papers due in the same week.  I will say this - I'm blessed to have a wife and kid who understand when dad needs to study rather than play, read rather than go out, write rather than sit back on the couch with a glass of wine.

Although we make time for all of these things, it's tough, and we have to literally schedule everything in.  Leanne and I have a family meeting every Sunday night after the kid goes to bed just to walk through the week's schedule.  It's crucial time.  We're both spread out, both trying to bring excellence to our careers while I'm also trying to win at school.

We're doing a whole lot of thing at once these days.  And trying to be awesome at it.  But sometimes we come up short.

A lot of that has to do with time, which there's just not enough of.

So, as a family, and it just kind of happened, we're giving up time during Lent, or rather, giving time to each other as a family, and to our friends.  We're hoping to find renewal, that calm and quiet center, that the season of Lent is calling us to.

Three things have come together in just the last week where we'll be focusing more time for team building, toddler raising, and good discussion.

  1. Leanne went to see author, speaker, and UMC clergyperson, Rev. Leanne Hadley last week give a seminar on family prayer.  Leanne, was pretty fired up about it, so we decided during Lent that we'd give her model of family prayer time with little ones a try during Lent.  The first time was last night.  We read scripture, colored, and prayed as a family, giving little man a chance to share what he could.  All in about 20 minutes.  It went pretty well!
  2. After the kid is off to bed on Sunday nights, Leanne and are reading Love to Stay, by Adam Hamilton together.  We haven't done any kind of book study together since pre-marital counseling.  We figured this was a good one to do together, and the church had everything we needed.  Every marriage needs 'regularly scheduled maintenance', so we're setting aside about an hour to go through a chapter a week.
  3. We're hosting another online Bible study for young adults during Lent.  Sure, this one is technically work ... but, any time devoted to discussion of the Word is good for the soul, and something I don't do enough of in my church context.  Bible study only done at seminary doesn't lead to a balanced theological life.  We kick things off tonight, tying our study to our sermon series on the Seven Last Words of Christ.
Time is at a premium in all of our lives, but it's through the giving of our time that we can not only make room for the friends and family around us, but make room for the Lord to come in and stir things up - which as I understand it, is the whole point of the season of Lent.

How much time do you devote to your people in the name of Jesus?  Maybe rather than giving up caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, it's time to think of what we're called to take in during this wonderful season of prayer and introspection.

Focusing on the Family

I had the afternoon off last Sunday.  A non-church staff member might say, "Yeah ... so?"

In eight years of ministry, it hasn't happened that often.  For years Sunday morning has been a grind (95% of the time an extremely blessed one) from 7am or so to 6pm ... Or so ...

During the school year, when student choir rehearsals are going on, Sunday has usually been an 11+ hour day.  I say this not to complain - a minister signs up for these things - just to illustrate how wonderful it can be to have a Sunday afternoon off.

Sure, I often went home for lunch between worship and rehearsal for an hour or two.  But for my family, I might as well not have come home some of those Sundays.  I was pretty worthless as a human, dad, and husband.  My wife signed up for it with me, but that didn't negate the occasional tension in the house.  For me, coming home for lunch was just that - a lunch break, not really a time to get stuff done around the house, interact with my wife, or play with my kid.

That was just part of Sunday.  So when we new we'd have the occasional Sunday afternoon together, those afternoons were circled very brightly on the family calendar as a day to do something different or special.  Because dad could be all-in on family time.

In our family, and in most church staff families, my spouse works a mostly 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday.  So, while most families get a full weekend together we've generally just had Saturday.  I've always taken Friday as my day off.  It's always been a balancing act on the weekends, wanting to cram as much family time into Saturday as we can, while making sure to find time just to rest.

At Perkins, we had to take a class called "Spiritual Formation", a class designed in a group setting to introduce us to various spiritual disciplines.  The idea behind the program is to encourage those studying to work in ministry to start taking on spiritual disciplines as a way to keep you centered on Christ and family.  It encourages the students to find a way to keep a balanced and healthy spiritual life.  The class exists because those in ministry can have a really hard time maintaining a spiritual life that grounds a person.  It may seem ironic to someone who doesn't work in ministry, as those in ministry are there to help others find their way spiritually, but there it is.

Leanne and I work very hard during the work week to keep our family's spiritual life in balance, and we've chosen several family spiritual disciplines to keep us on the right path.  We eat dinner together, at the dinner table with the TV turned off, nearly seven nights a week.  We pray with Wesley before we put him to bed.  We've started a Bible-in-a-year reading plan (it'll end up being more like a Bible-in-a-year-and-a-half when we wrap it up).  And we pray with each other as a husband and wife before we go to sleep.

We've come up with most of this on our own, and we're accountable to each other.  But ... Rarely does somebody from the local church actually check on us.

The world needs to be let in on this: pastors and staff members have messy lives, just as much if not more-so than the average congregant.  And especially just as messy in one of our harder to swallow American statistics - divorce.  It's hard to find clear data on divorce rates amongst clergy, but nearly everything I could find essentially stated that clergy divorce rates are the same as everybody else (and apparently higher among female clergy).

So, I'd like to pose a few questions to Pastors, SPR/PPR members, and laity:
What are you doing to see that your staff is taking care of itself spiritually (as individuals and as a whole staff)? 
What are the vacation and time off benefits you have allocated to your staff?
   And do you encourage your staff to take that much needed time off? 
Do you provide health insurance for your staff?  Do you see that they take advantage of the benefits? 
Do you pray with and for your staff?  Do they know that?
Some times of the year are much busier than others ... I added up the hours I worked during this last Holy Week and I stopped counting after 70.  Advent and Christmas has it's own hurdles.  The whole ministry staff puts in these hours during the all-hands-on-deck events to help bless the communinity and create God experiences, but:
Do you help your staff keep track of the hours they work and take the necessary time off to balance things out?
Your staff needs your help.  It never becomes more evident at the sacrifice my whole family makes for my (our) career in ministry until I get a Sunday afternoon off.  Think about it.

My Son Shared His Chips With Me

Today the scripture my pastor preached from was the miraculous feeding of the 5,000.  An iconic scripture, where we learn not just of the generosity of Jesus - but also of a little child.  I have often spoken of this scripture a lot with my wife.  As a former youth minister, one of her favorite questions to ask her youth when studying this scripture was, "So, where do you think all of the food came from?"

It's not out of the realm of possibility for the Lord to call the food to magically appear; food for 5,000 is nothing compared to feeding the whole nation of Israel as it walked the wilderness for 40 years.  The Lord also turned water into wine.  Where the Lord wants food, there's food.  That's pretty safe to say.

But ... what if the miracle here was getting people who would have otherwise kept their resources to themselves to share?  What if sharing was the real miracle?  Following the example of a 'youth' who gave his fish and bread, maybe others felt the need to give.  And not only was there food for 5,000 people that day, there were also leftovers.

Tonight at dinner, my son shared his chips with me.

I handed him a chip and he held it back out to me to take a bite out of.  So I took a bite ... And he laughed so hard.  And I laughed.  And he laughed some more.  It was made all the more wonderful because earlier today, while our pastor was preaching, I was wondering when my boy was going to learn to share.

Sharing sure is something.  And there are still plenty of chips to go around.