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Summer Sabbath



A good friend recently sent me a beautiful picture of a full moon appearing over the New Mexico Mountains.  Attached was a comment about taking time to “recharge.”  Most of us are familiar with the commandment to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  We must confess that we often honor it in the breach.  And yet … in our contentious, chaotic, fast paced world we need more not less time for Sabbath rest.

All of this brings me back to my conviction of the importance of taking a couple of weeks vacation as a “summer Sabbath.” We need time away.  Time physically away from the office and time away from electronic connections (email, cell phone, etc.) is important for both our emotional and spiritual health. There is benefit in gaining distance on our daily struggles, issues and concerns.

In my own casual reflections (and combined with some modest research), I don’t recall much use of the term “burnout” when I initially entered ministry. Today’s language of being “worn out” or “burned out” is common. I confess to being at best a semi-reformed workaholic but in my defense I have always been good about taking time for vacation. A couple of weeks away are life giving. They connect with the concept of a weekly Sabbath to “honor the Lord.”

It strikes me as significant that the British (Europeans as a whole) don’t use the term vacation.  What we label a vacation, they call “being on holiday.”  Following the linguistic connection, the word holiday is a derivation of the term “holy days”. These are days which are set aside to be deliberately holy.  [An aside: I know that under God’s providential care all days are “holy.” However, when something is an everyday part of the background “noise” of life, it loses its impact for reforming the way we actually live as Christians.]  We need time – significant time – where we pause, reflect on life, reconnect with family and loved ones, and recommit ourselves to a life lived for the Lord.  In short, we need days which are set aside to be holy.

A few years ago I had the Chair of a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee call his DS and request a conference with his DS and me.  He didn’t want to see his pastor moved. In fact his concern was just the opposite.  He reported that his pastor was outstanding.  His concern was that his pastor hadn’t taken a real vacation in 5 or 6 years. The District Superintendent concurred with PPR Chair’s shared concern.  Both raised the specter of “burnout.”  Both had talked with the pastor about his need to schedule some time off (vacation or “holidays”) to no avail.  In review of the matter, I came to the conclusion that both were right. One of our most effective senior pastors was showing signs of burnout.  To make a long story short, we held a meeting with the Board Chair of the Church, the PPR Chair, the DS, myself and the pastor.  He offered a series of excuses for not taking a vacation or “summer Sabbath”.  The pastors’ rationale did not stand up to scrutiny.  Finally, with the full support of the group, I instructed the pastor to take a two week vacation and send me a post card of where he went (even if he spent the vacation reading books in the backyard!

A couple of months later I ran into the pastor in a meeting.  He commented, “you’re a hero with my wife.” We both laughed and commented that she was really ready for him to take a vacation.

Now step back with me for a moment and reflect on our world and our individual context.

  • Violence and terror stalks the globe
  • Presidential elections have led to a cultural mood of anger and discourtesy
  • Economic uncertainty heightens uncertainty and angst
  • Church conflict over a variety of hot-button issues (same gender weddings, response to cultural violence, war and peace, abortion, etc.)
  • Personal struggles; and the list could go on

In each instance one of the things we need most is holy time to step back, catch our breath and center ourselves again on the Lord’s grace and guidance.  About 15 years ago I read a book by Bill Hybels entitled Too Busy Not to Pray.  We are too busy not to take time for holy days or a summer Sabbath.  If you haven’t do so already, regardless of whether you are lay or clergy, I encourage you to step back. Don’t find the time, make the time(!) for a summer Sabbath!

An Inquiry on the Way to Taize

Saturday evening April 5th found Jolynn and me driving over to White’s Chapel UMC to participate in a special Taize “Pilgrimage of Trust” here in the northern part of Texas. Readers may well remember that the Central Texas Conference sponsored a leadership development pilgrimage to Taize, France about a year ago. By way of background:

“The Taize Community is an ecumenical monastic community in France that annually welcomes tens of thousands of young adults from all over the world. … At Taize, young people are invited to united inner life and human solidarity. … The Brothers, from various Christian denominations and twenty-five countries, regularly organize huge gatherings for young adults in major European cities and on other continents [in this case 3 in the State of Texas]. These gatherings are part of a “Pilgrimage of Trust”: those who take part are invited to deepen their trust in God and in their ability to become bearers of reconciliation where they live.”

As we drove, I babbled on about how spiritually nurturing and enriching I found my time at Taize. I shared again my oft repeated mantra that we, in the American society of the 21st century, live at a pace of life that is not sustainable. I waxed eloquent as we drove (or at least I babbled semi-coherently) about how we had to make time for quiet and contemplation.

After listening patiently for a while, Jolynn interrupted me. “Would you have said or done this when you were a young man?” Ouch! I paused for a long time and thought. Then I responded, “Well, remember that I came to Methodism out of the Quakers.” We talked about how I did do some quiet and reflection time but not near enough. The painful truth is that I resisted the notion of Sabbath-rest and contemplation. My nature is passionate activism.

And yet, I find myself judging my own actions in reflection. I can recall a close friend and co-worker pushing me hard on taking more time for my family. Recently spending time with our 1 year old granddaughter reawakened the hectic pressures placed on young parents. I can also remember being on the edge of burnout and thinking about leaving the ministry in my late 30s.

In some deep ways – ways driven I think by the Holy Spirit – the Christian movement in America has gone through a change. Now, in ways many of us (yours truly) did not appreciate through much of the ‘70s and ‘80s, we have reconnected the importance of deep spiritual connectedness with ministry activism. This is a good trend and, as I’ve asserted, a work of the Holy Spirit.

I offer a prayer I wrote for Taize:

Holy One, Holy Three
Settle into the marrow of our being we pray.
Open the eyes of our hearts
To see you moving in our world.
Open the ears of our minds
To discern your greater purpose in our lives.
Take hold of us Lord Jesus, we pray,
Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit;
That we may be moved to loving and caring
For those most distant and different from us;
That we might serve those most in need;
That we might witness in offering your grace
To those most bent by rage and deprivation.
Holy One, Holy Three
Settle into the marrow of our being
In this season of prayer and reflection.
And claim us Lord once again for You!
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Bishop Mike Lowry

P.S. As you prepare for Holy Week, the Cross and Easter, I commend an article by Frederick W. Schmidt at  entitled Before You Celebrate Easter, Get Real.


Last Wednesday I went to the hospital for arthroscopic surgery on my left knee.  Dutifully I reported at 5:30 a.m. (Yes, despite my protestations that God is not awake at that hour, I still had to report at 5:30 a.m. for a 7:00 a.m. surgery.)  Suffice to say the surgery went fine.  The only real hiccup was the discovery of an “insufficient” fracture of my left knee in addition to the cartilage work the doctor was expecting.  (If I understand it right, an “insufficient fracture” is a fracture inside the knee that does not reach the outer edge of the knee.)  Instead of 2 weeks on crutches, I am now sentenced to 4 weeks on crutches plus some physical therapy.

I had blocked off Wednesday for the surgery and Thursday through Sunday for healing.  I learned again the truth of a line I have learned many times in my life:  “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.”

I thought recuperation would be a pleasant 4 day sabbatical from the routine of work.  The combination of pain, pain medication, and exercise involved anything but gentle, easy rest.  I tried reading some professional books (Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley and Apologetics by Alister McGrath, both good and recommended with enthusiasm) but found I could not concentrate.  I switched to a long awaited science fiction novel by David Weber (Like a Mighty Army; the 7th in the Safehold Series).  It is a great yarn, full of action.  I could only hang on for about 2 & 1/2 pages before drugs and drowsiness would cause me to lose focus.

Recovering from surgery or battling illness in any form is not Sabbath rest!  Duh!  This obvious truth I know well and yet easily forgot.  As I recovered it set me to thinking about the importance of rest amid the rhythm of work.  This is not a new thought with me.  I have long held that we live at a pace that is not sustainable.  Our bodies sometimes make us slow down.  Mine did so for me.

Yet Sabbath is something different.  It is an intentional dedicated pause for a purpose.  The purpose is to both honor and refocus on God as Lord and Ruler of our lives. The Scriptures teach us a far greater truth than simply enforced time off.  The commandment to honor the Sabbath springs from the earlier commandment, “You must have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).  We are instructed/commanded by the Lord God:  “Remember the Sabbath Day and treat it as holy.  Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to The Lord your God. …” (Exodus 20:8-10a).

Even in recovery The Lord is teaching me.  Even in recovery my own sinful nature is ever before me.  I have tried to act as if this commandment to honor the Sabbath has been repealed and am found out.  I’ve tried to “double dip” my time by having recovery serve as an enforced Sabbath and it has not worked.  The purpose of Sabbath rest directs me back to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It leads me in prayer and obedience, reflection and renewal.

My Spiritual Director is always reminding me not to find the time for devotions and quiet but rather to MAKE the time for devotion and quiet.  To honor the Sabbath is to make the Sabbath holy, not to squeeze something else in it (not even something as necessary as recovery from surgery).  Sabbath can never be enforced but is a freely chosen act of obedience, love and devotion.  In our pauses, in my pauses, God speaks once again and listening (however foggily amid the pain and pills) I find myself blessed and loved.

How is it with your soul?