Monday, March 2, 2009

Keeping the Balance

My friend, Gretchen Sanewsky, of First Baptist Church of Jackson, Michigan began one day at a recent American Baptist of Michigan retreat by presenting a devotion that touched me deeply. I asked her for permission to share her thoughts. Gretchen describes being at the "end of our rope as a tricky place” but one which can also prove creative. She said, “It's like the "cutting edge" only farther out. Enjoy her thoughts and commit to finding balance in your own life and ministry.

Keeping the Balance
Mark 1:29-39
Rev. Gretchen C. Sanewsky

Does anyone feel tired, worn out, overburdened, overworked, stressed out, even burned out? Do we worry that we might actually reach the end of our rope? If so, we are not alone. Career Builder reports that American workers have the least vacation time of any modern developed society. One quarter of working moms and over one third of working dads report bringing work home at least one day each week. Fifty percent of all US workers feel a great deal of stress on the job. Job burnout affects our immune systems and is linked to migraines, digestive disorders, skin diseases, high blood pressure, heart disease, and emotional distress. (Kate Lorenz, Career

It seems that we spend a lot more time working, and a lot less time playing these days. Americans put in more work hours than any other nation. We average nine more weeks of labor per year than our working counterparts in Western Europe, who get at least 20 days of mandatory paid vacation per year. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not have mandatory vacation time. We literally exist in a time-famine. We are starving for down-time, rest, and renewal. This contributes to our nation being ranked number one for depression and mental health problems. ( “Overworked, Vacation-Starved America Ranks #1 in Depression, Mental Health Problems”, Silja J. A. Talvi, In These Times, Nov. 2008) Certainly in this time of economic hardship our rate of burnout is not going get much better any time soon.

According to George Barna’s research, burnout is an all too common picture of those in the church of Jesus Christ. Barna finds that many pastors see themselves as called to preaching and teaching, but do not feel gifted in discipleship or in helping people use their passions to fulfill God’s call. In congregations where the pastor does feel more like an organizer, they tend to hoard the power and not share it with capable, gifted lay people. ( No wonder lay leaders are burned out from not using their gifts and over working in the church. Clergy are burned out from trying to do it all and manage it all. As Christians, and as the church of Jesus Christ, we are NOT keeping the balance as Jesus taught.

We read in the Gospel of Mark how, on the Sabbath, Jesus went from teaching in the synagogue, straight to the home of Simon Peter. Here he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. In the evening, after the Sabbath ended, people brought to Jesus all who were sick and demon possessed. Scripture says, “And the whole city was gathered around the door.” The WHOLE city! Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.

Mark writes that in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went to a deserted place to pray. He went alone. Not even the disciples knew where Jesus was as they, and others, had to go searching for him. Jesus was possibly there quite a long time during which the disciples awoke, realized he was gone, organized and went looking for him. Once found, Jesus was re-energized in spirit. He then invited the disciples to go with him to all the neighboring towns to spread God’s message. So Jesus went throughout the region of Galilee proclaiming the message of God’s hope in the synagogues and healing people. Jesus’ life, his spiritual life, had an ebb and flow. He was keeping the balance. When Jesus was with people he was really present, enough to bring God’s healing. Jesus was not just with a handful of people, but with entire cities meeting their needs. When Jesus wanted to be alone with God, he was really alone, in secret. He went to a deserted place and communed only with God. Jesus was keeping the balance between work and rest. He was keeping the balance between giving of himself spiritually to others and being nurtured and renewed in spirit by God. Keeping such balance in life might seem like a small thing, but we know from Jesus’ life that it has powerful results! If it is so simple, why don’t we do it?

Let us be inspired by the wise words of writer Alice Walker. She is the author of the world renowned book The Color Purple. Published in Newsweek magazine, Alice Walker writes a letter to newly inaugurated President Barack Obama on keeping the balance. (“Newsweek”, Inauguration 2009, ‘White House Advice’, by Alice Walker, pp. 106-107)

Walker writes, “…I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance.” Even if we stopped right here, these words are enough to release us as Christians from a huge burden so we can share in Christ’s way of keeping the balance.

Walker continues, “A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters…We are used to seeing men in the White House become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they reminds us of scissors. This is no way to lead….

Do we ever worry that even in trying to keep the balance as Jesus did that we might just get to the end of our ropes? Maybe that’s what we all need; to get to the end of our ropes so we can finally let go and let God. At the end of our ropes we can allow Christ to “bear us up on eagles’ wings, to run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) Christ guides us in keeping the balance so we can offer this hope to a stressed out, burned out world. Let’s put away the stress, let go of the end of our ropes, live by Jesus’ example, and get back to keeping the balance.

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