Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
I must say, I hesitated to use that Scripture passage to begin this post. I’m writing what I expect will be my last post until April 2014 – and that is assuming God calls me to resume writing this blog at that time. If you have not been reading my blog of late you may not know that I am soon leaving my role as “pastor-in-charge” and moving into a new role as “pastor-on-sabbatical.” It is a time away for prayer and spiritual renewal. And it feels in some ways like it will be time spent in lonely places. The reason I hesitate to use the Scripture is that I am not trying to equate my ministry with Jesus’ ministry. And yet, I am trying to follow his lead.
So, as of January 1, 2014 I will be officially appointed to a sabbatical time and another pastor will take over the charge of the church in the interim. I am anticipating a time of spiritual struggle that leads to renewal. I am also nervous about the struggle and what it will be. And in the midst of that, I wrestle with the fear that the time away will not shed new light on my future and may not give me the greater connection I long for. Those fears are unfounded and I push them off into God’s hands as often as I remember to do so. I hear my soul crying out with the words, “This must not be just an extended vacation!”
I do realize this is what it can look like to others. I am aware that many people have grueling jobs and could use time away. That’s part of the reason I am striving to make this time useful and renewing. My job is not more important than anyone else’s job, but it is different. The task of a pastor and spiritual leader is to live out their life as a disciple of Jesus Christ in a very real way and to lead others to do the same. The call of the pastor is to work with the Holy Spirit to draw people into the presence of God in a world hell-bent on making God irrelevant. And the task never seems to get easier. And at this point I have come to realize that it never will.
So in order to have the spiritual strength to keep going it is important to take the steps needed to be strong. The example Jesus gives is time away in lonely places. Jesus – the Son of God filled with the Spirit of God – had need to regain his strength as he went about his work, and the servant is not greater than the master. How much more must I take time if Jesus knew that he needed such time?
So, how will I occupy this time? How will I find renewal and strength for the days when I make my way back into the battle? I will focus on four areas of my life. First is time with family. I have been blessed with a helpmate in my wife and time with Jan renews my soul. She is a great encourager and a woman of deep faith who inspires me in many ways. I will also spend some time with extended family helping them with some simple tasks and things I can do to ease their burdens.
Secondly, I will be spending time with a counselor. Mental health issues are becoming more and more recognizable as factors that contribute to our life’s successes and failures. I am grateful that we have come to understand the need to work through issues and challenges that affect our psyche and emotions. There used to be much more of a stigma related to counseling and therapy, but the reality is that our thinking and functioning can get off track if we don’t deal with the ups and downs of life in the proper way.
Along those same lines, I am engaging with a coach – someone to help me think through how I work and how I can best serve the church going forward. This is not a counseling session, but a way of developing my strengths and understanding my weaknesses in order to be an effective pastor.
And finally, and this is where the “lonely places” really comes in, I will be making a pilgrimage across northern central Spain. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned this. It is the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a 500 mile trek from the border of France on Spain’s eastern border to the Cathedral of Saint James near Spain’s western coastal border. It should take just over one month to make that journey. The timeframe for this journey is winter time and so there will be less people on the path as I go. The landscape will be more barren, as happens during the winter. And there will be less availability in regard to accommodations at this time of year. As near I can tell, it will be something of a lonely place. But that is also what I long for. That time will be time for God and me to deal with the deeper spiritual issues as I walk and pray and talk with God.
Through it all I covet your prayers. And quite possibly when I wander back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life I may write a new post on this blog. If not, thanks for being a faithful reader.
Holy high-five to you,