Monthly Reflection: July, 2013

Ask most people who know me well and they will tell you that I have a lot of energy.  My wife likes to say that I don’t know what to do with down time.  I tend to say that I like to redeem the time.

When I was a teacher full time, before seminary, my excessive energy took on different shapes.  First, when I was in the classroom teaching there was no time wasted.  I wasn’t hired to be a babysitter, despite some people’s understanding of secondary education.  Second, when I wasn’t teaching I was working to get everything else done that had to get done before tomorrow–prepping a lesson, grading assignments, planning and writing my next test or quiz.  In this way I was able by and large to complete my day sometime between 4pm and 5pm, then to go on to the next activity.  This meant, third, a second or third job.  Teaching is no top bread winner as far as jobs go.  So, for instance, I would take on several music students and serve as a church organist to help make ends meet.  If there was any time left over–if I could somehow find more time–then I’d do something fun, for myself, like sing with the Texas Bach Choir or the San Antonio Mastersingers, or take a class.  Efficiency was necessary; and so I learned to be quite efficient, to redeem the time.  Down time, I admit–yes, dear–made me nervous.

Seminary life continued to be rich and full with a minimum of down time.  When I wasn’t studying or otherwise involved in the seminary routine I was teaching Latin, playing the organ or carillon, teaching music students, or trying to spend some quality time with my kids.  And if I had nothing else to do and it was late at night and I couldn’t sleep, why, I’d compose.  “How does he do so much?” friends would ask my wife.  “He doesn’t know how to relax,” she’d answer, which is really just code for, “he doesn’t know what to do with his down time.”

All that to say that now, in parish ministry, I’ve been experiencing some down time.  And, yes, it makes me a little nervous.  I want to fill my days with activity.  And I do: there is no shortage of activity to be found–a sermon to write, a class to plan, a shut-in to visit, a service to plan and practice.  But there is a casual summer pace to be had if I let myself take it.  And what if I do?  Will I get accustomed to a slower pace?  Will I feel entitled to put off a visit until a time that is more convenient for me, so that like a bucolic poet sprawling leisurely beneath the green warmth of a beech tree’s canopy I can tweak a phrase a little while longer until it sounds a just little better?  I should be jumping at such visiting opportunities when down time is apparent.  But down time has just the opposite effect on me.

It vexes me for at least two reasons.  First, whatever it does to me, down time did not make Jesus Christ nervous.  So often he was able to address a question or heal an invalid precisely when his attention was somewhere else.  He was open to interruptions.  This is where down time should lead.  But in my case, when I sense down time my tendency is to fill it up with worthwhile pursuits.  Then when other worthwhile pursuits surface, perhaps even more worthwhile than the first pursuits, my day, alas, is now too crowded to allow space for them.  And this really is the other reason.  Down time reminds me that I don’t like interruptions.  Jesus allowed interruptions willingly.  And he could, because he made time for them.  I don’t precisely because of my efficiency: interruptions are inefficient, they don’t redeem the time, I don’t know what to do with them, and they sap my energy.

So, reflecting on the month, I’ve found myself somewhat frustrated.  Frustrated that I can’t yet fill my days with more non-stop activity (but, fear not, it will come–or at least that’s what everyone around here keeps telling me–when the school year begins); but frustrated too at myself for not being able to handle interruptions–time that feels unproductive to me.

Anyway, I’m considering buying an old motorcycle to rebuild and customize.  Something to do in the evenings, and maybe a way to make ends meet, or so I tell myself.  After summer days in the office, my evenings are making me nervous.  I need some way to redeem the time when I’m not “on the clock.”

One Response to “Monthly Reflection: July, 2013”

  1. Like mother like son. I think you got all that energy from me and the restlestness. Love your blog, and you.

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