I made the mistake of saying out loud last week that I hadn’t been sick in more than two years. Ha ha, universe. You got me.
As I battle a cold this week, I’m aware that I have used 1, maybe 2 sick days in the past 4 years. That means I’ve a) been healthy; b) planned my illnesses around regular days off; Or c) preached through a hacking cough, subjecting my congregation to germs, and also to–let’s say less-than-my-usual stunning aesthetic.
Now that we have another pastor on staff, I don’t feel compelled to preach through coughing fits anymore. But still, every day this week, I’ve found reason to come in to the office. An appointment to keep, a funeral to plan, writing to get done, phone calls to make…I’ve gone home early, but have not been able to bring myself to take a full-fledged, off the grid sick day.
I am not that micro-managing pastor who can’t take a vacation. I ALWAYS use my vacation days. Even if i don’t travel, I take a few here and there when family and friends visit, or after a major holiday, just to re-charge my batteries. But there is something different about a sick day. I can never quite bring myself to call it in.
I’m pretty sure it’s because a sick day cannot be planned. And I dearly love to plan things.
While sick days have been rare these past years, snow days have been non-existent. It snowed for like, ten minutes in downtown Phoenix this week, and you’d have thought aliens were landing on the I-10. It was major news for every outlet that night. Kids who grow up around here have no idea what it is to go to bed at night, hoping against hope that mother nature will give them a free pass on the unfinished homework. They’ll never know that unparalleled joy of waking in the morning to see the name of their school tick by on the bottom of the tv screen. To spend a weekday morning on the couch, in pj’s, watching dumb tv and drinking hot chocolate? That is the stuff of fairy tales.
The mythical snow day cannot be ignored. No matter how much you want to get out of the house, or how much you feel you’re ‘needed,’ nature gets the last word. And while the weather can certainly be an inconvenience or a danger, it can also be a benediction: an enforced day of rest that you were too stubborn to plan for your own tired, run-down-by-winter self.
In the last trimester of my first pregnancy, I experienced an enforced sabbatical–7 weeks of bed rest. I remember feeling that I should be able to accept the downtime as a gift. A long rest to prepare for delivery and early motherhood, a brief pause in my working life, the space to simply be. But while my reasonal, rational and spiritual self knew these truths, my emotional, hormonal, real-person self was in a panic. I had no control over what was happening to my body, a helplessness reinforced with every doctor visit, every blood pressure check, every trip to the fridge or shower that left my head spinning and my heart pounding. (Ironically, stress is a major contributing factor to high blood pressure; so being stressed about my blood pressure was probably causing the thing to being with. I swear, our bodies sometimes…)
Add your average about-to-become-a-parent worries about the health of the baby, and the reality that there was about to be a tiny person in the world utterly dependent on me for food, comfort, and safety. AND the gnawing awareness that, while i endured daytime television and books i’d read a thousand times, the church I served was suffering the effects of not having a pastor around. “How many people were there on Sunday?” i would ask the church ladies who came by on casserole rounds. They didn’t want to tell me. They tried not to tell me. But I would eventually get it out of them, and every week the number got more alarming. “50. 43. 36.” (36 was a low point, folks. 36 is when you start wondering how much the property is worth, and how quickly after giving birth you can start looking for another job).
In the end, all was well. I gave birth to a baby girl, just two weeks early and weighing more than 7 pounds. Worship attendance has more than tripled since then (much like the size of my baby girl, who is now 4). I now look back on that time in my life and wish i’d been able to enjoy it more. I wish i’d been able to recognize it as the gift that it was.
Thing is, nature has a way of enforcing a sabbath on us from time to time, by force of weather, or by malfunction of our own fragile frames. And rarely does a sick day or a snow day fall at a convenient time. Unless we are 11 years old and jumping for joy at the school cancellations, we are always plagued with the gnawing sense that we might miss something…or that some tenuous thing, utterly dependent upon us, will fall apart in our absence.
Downtime is a gift. Even if we did not write it into our calendars, even if we cannot be the boss of it, an unexpected day of rest can always do our bodies good. Not to mention our souls.
What does it take to make us rest? For me, too often, it requires a great deal of planning ahead, and far too much of my own say-so. As I sift through a mountain of used tissues to find my computer today, I’m mindful that I need to learn to let sabbath find me sometimes. A rest of the body that cannot be planned or contrived is also a rest of the spirit, a rest in God’s care. We have only to accept it as the gift that it is.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.–Matt. 11:28-30 (The Message)