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Sabbath, Rest, and the Voices Inside My Head

“Would you ever consider doing something like this?” I asked. I was sitting with my friend Jeff in the balcony seats of the Wilbur Theater in Boston.

“Nooo!” he replied.

“Do you think Hannah would?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said. “What about Luke?”

“No way,” I answered.

It was intermission at a Mainstage production of the Moth, the live storytelling movement that had taken NPR and audiences across the country by storm.

I had never even heard of it.

Hannah is Jeff’s spouse, and Luke is mine. The four of us are friends from seminary and our two families vacation together every year. We were in Boston for our time together that year, where Hannah and Jeff live, and Jeff had bought tickets to the show after getting hooked on the Moth podcast and reading the first printed collection of stories. Neither Luke nor Hannah were feeling well that night, but Jeff and I went anyway, which is how we found ourselves on that balcony during intermission, discussing the similarities and differences between storytelling and preaching, and speculating about whether our spouses would ever do something like this.

“This” was to prepare a story – a true story, and your own story – on a set theme, and then to share it with a live audience. Notes are not allowed, there’s a strict time limit, and you can’t even wander the stage; the mic stays on the stand. It’s just you and the audience and your story.

I had only begun to understand how it worked – and to understand the draw – about an hour before.

“Would you ever do something like this?” Jeff asked.

“Yeah,” I answered. Something had clicked. I was getting nervous from the very idea of it, and my breath was already catching in my chest. “I think I have to do this.”

Conclusion of the 2017 Twin Cities Moth GrandSLAM

I went home and began to research how the whole thing worked. Moth StorySLAMs are amateur night in cities around the country, where anyone can throw their name in the hat to tell a story, and ten names are drawn. After ten StorySLAMs, the winners face off on a bigger stage at the GrandSLAM, with new stories under a new theme.

I was heading to a writing workshop in a few weeks. I had a piece prepared to workshop, and I volunteered to go first so I’d have the rest of the week to work on my story for the StorySLAM a few weeks later, which seems ridiculous in hindsight, given that there’s no guarantee your name will even be drawn. Read more

rubber ducky toys

When Doing More Isn’t Enough

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
~Psalm 127:1-2

rubber ducky toysThe highlighted calendar said it all:

May 1: Book Day! Bring your favorite book.
May 2: Hat Day! Wear a fun hat to school.
May 3: Cowpoke Day! Wear your boots and bandanas!
May 4: Costume Day! Wear a Halloween costume or dress-up outfit to school.
May 5: Fun in the Sun Day! Bring a towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a bathing suit for outdoor fun.

I serve as an associate pastor, mostly tending to the faith education of children and their families. The aforementioned instructions cover only the first week of a month-long calendar that was recently sent home with a kindergartener in my congregation. The child’s mother is a professional singer, a soloist in the church choir. She’s usually a picture of elegance—like a tree planted beside a stream of water—exuding calm and control, beauty, strength, grace. But in her Facebook post, complete with a photo of the class calendar in all its highlighted glory, this confident, professional musician was about to lose it. Her exasperation was palpable as she wondered aloud to an audience of Facebook friends, “Wait. Now I’m supposed to send in random yet very specific items for an entire month of school or else my kid is left out?”

As a mother of three children ages 13, 11, and 4, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the kindergarten-last-month-of-school calendar is just the beginning. And while the complete ridiculousness of my kids’ schools expecting anything more than that my children will be fed and dressed and relatively clean at this time in the school year is hilariously summed up by Jen Hatmaker, the truth remains: most of us have bought into the idea that doing more (and more and more and more) will someday—finally—be enough.

Those of us who work in churches are far from immune to this line of thinking. Read more

Single Sabbath

I’m sure it’s not what our church leadership intends, but I have developed a reflexive twitch of annoyance whenever I hear the words “Sabbath rest” or “self-care.” I’m not a martyr pastor who thinks the church can’t exist without me – my ego isn’t healthy enough for that. I just believe we need to reframe the conversation so that our conversations about Sabbath and self-care reflect the spiritual diversity of our clergy siblings.

Early in my ministry at my first church, my senior pastor suggested that my Sabbath day should be spent in silence and reflection because I spend the rest of my week being a talkative extrovert. I took the kind hint and stopped chatting with him as often, but it also made me think about how we talk about the practice of Sabbath. When I attend clergy gatherings, conferences, or annual conferences, they often talk about ways to deepen our spiritual practices. We hear stories of silent retreats, days spent hiking alone listening to God, setting aside time for prayer and meditation in silence and solitude. All beautiful, important parts of a well-rounded spiritual life, all assuming that I am drained by the time I spend around other people.

I think the unique solitude of singleness is sometimes lost in the larger conversations about the loneliness that clergy often face. Read more

A Hammock and a Window

more-than-enoughI have a very un-humble confession to make: I adore the cover of my new book. When my publisher first sent me the image earlier this year, I’m pretty sure I squealed like a teenager who has just found the perfect dress to wear to the prom.

The drawing on the cover is inspired by the hammock in our backyard. I bought it a couple of years ago, on a trip to visit some friends in Nicaragua. In real life, it’s red and white, though after a few seasons in the sun and the rain, the colors aren’t quite as bright anymore. It hangs between two trees, and dips low to the ground; my daughter likes to read out there, her brother likes to make it swing. I watch them through the back window, and the sight of the two of them out there playing is so beautiful to me that it takes my breath away.

Our life is very good. We live in a safe place. We have healthy kids, good jobs that we like; we’re able to pay the bills and put food on the table. Sometimes, I look around at this very good life and I can hardly believe that this is the same world in which people go hungry every night. The same world in which refugees walk for months and years with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The same world in which the gap between rich and poor is growing wider all the time.

How are we supposed to live, given this reality? When every choice we make – from where we live, to what schools our kids go to, to where we buy our groceries and our clothes – has implications far beyond our own family, how do we live?

I’ve been wondering about this for awhile now, but as I went looking for some answers, most of the responses I found were inadequate or confusing.

We could live more simply, but simple living turns out to be kind of complicated. We could commit to only buying stuff that’s sustainably produced and locally sourced, but that’s not always easy to find. We could buy only organic, locally grown food…or should we buy cheaper food and have more money to give to the hungry? We could use our cars less and give the earth a break, but then how do we get to work? We could go off the grid entirely and grow all our food and make our own clothes, but what if we don’t know how to do that, or want to do that? And aren’t we, as Christians, called to live in the world?

I didn’t exactly find answers to all these questions, but I do think there are some things we can do and do better. I think there are some faithful ways to live. We can make better choices with our stuff, all those material goods that make up our lives. We can pay attention to where it comes from and who makes it, use less of it, and be grateful for it. We can give generously from what we have. We can get to know our neighbors better. We can advocate for changing systems and laws that further exacerbate the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The Christian tradition also offers some resources that can be helpful: Confession and lament. Sabbath-keeping. Delight, and hope. These are practices that ground us in our tradition as we try to make sense of the world we live in.

Anyway: back to the hammock. Earlier this year, one of the trees that held up the hammock had to be taken out. It was diseased up at the top, and the tree guy who understands such things said that it was too dangerous to leave standing. I was sad to lose the tree but I was even sadder to lose the hammock.

It had become a touchstone for me. Just having it out there reminds me of things I need to be reminded of: It reminds me that there are people who live different sorts of lives in different parts of the world. It reminds me of the need for sabbath and play and delight, even in the middle of regular, busy life. It reminds me that we are not without responsibility for our actions and our choices, but that there are faithful ways to live in the tension between appreciating the goodness of the world and grieving for the ways the world is broken.

I missed the hammock when it was gone.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, my dad and my father-in-law happened to be in town at the same time. My father-in-law is an architect who knows how to figure things out, and my dad is a putterer who likes to have a little project to work on. Together they rigged up the hammock in a different part of the yard, between two different trees in a spot I hadn’t considered.

There’s a different view from the back window, now, but I can still see it out there, standing as a reminder for all I hold dear. I am grateful.

Read more about Lee’s hammock (and plenty of other reflections on living faithfully in an unjust world) in her new book More than Enough: Living Abundantly in a Culture of ExcessAn accompanying discussion guide and worship planning guide is available for free download here.

Sleep for God’s Beloved

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“A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’” –Acts 20:9-10

“For [the Lord] provides for his beloved during sleep.” –Psalm 127:2b

I do not normally preach from a manuscript, so I have plenty of opportunity to watch my congregation as I deliver the sermon. When I look out into the rows of people before me, I see faces stern with concentration, some laughing at a joke or whispering to a neighbor in explanation, most people caught up in contemplation of the words I am speaking, following my hands, watching my lips to understand and my eyes to get the sense of my expression. Always, too, I see at least one person who is nodding off. He may have his Bible open before him in an attempt to look as if he is “reading,” or she may jerk suddenly awake every now and then only to sink slowly back into a shallow slumber. I am not offended when I see people falling asleep during my sermon. In fact, I usually smile to myself, gratified that my parishioners are at rest. Read more

Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Toxic Church Edition

Dear Askie,

I am currently serving in a church that is best described as toxic. The staff is dysfunctional, the personnel committee seems to be disinterested in creating a work environment that is nurturing, anytime I bring up any concern I’m automatically shut down, and I am fed up. I have been searching for jobs for many months now but am having a difficult time. I am starting to realize I may be stuck here for a while. What can I do in the meantime to survive my toxic work environment? Or should I just run for the hills?

Sincerely,

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

toxicYou are not the only one. Unfortunately, all too many young clergy women are trying to serve Christ and his church in the midst of dysfunctional work environments. While we shouldn’t regard such situations as normal or acceptable, Askie fears that toxic congregations will probably be part of the lives of some pastors until kingdom come.

You’re wise to search for a new call, and Askie urges any YCW in a toxic setting to keep an updated resumé, Ministerial Profile, PIF, or whatever your denominational equivalent might be. Even if you feel called to stick it out (or are compelled to do so by your familial or financial circumstances), toxic churches have been known to turn unexpectedly on their pastors. So even if you’re not ready to pack your bags just yet, be prepared.
All that said, here are a few strategies for surviving until you’re able to move on:

  • Build (and use) a strong support network: This is important for all of us, but especially so in an environment like yours, where you can’t expect support from colleagues and lay leadership. You may want to work with a spiritual director, a therapist, a life coach, a mentor, or all of the above! Be intentional about nurturing friendships both with clergy colleagues in other settings and with non-clergy friends. Online community (like the TYCWP Facebook group) can be a great source of support as well, although it shouldn’t replace the personal, incarnational support we all need.
  • Be attentive to your spiritual life: When God is your job and your job is awful, your spiritual life sometimes takes a hit. Don’t let them do that to you, sister. Make sure to intentionally care for your soul in this season of your ministry. Could you find an evening or weekday worship service that you can attend from time to time? Carve out more time for prayer? Read books that nourish your soul?
  • Do your homework: If you haven’t studied family systems theory, now would be the time to start! Understanding how systems work can help you figure out how to survive in yours. You might gain some insight about how the system is working, a strategy about how to change the system and your role in it (hint: probably non-anxious presence), or a reminder that interactions that feel very hurtful often have little or nothing to do with you personally. Friedman’s Generation to Generation is a classic starting point, but there are plenty of great resources out there. You may want to look for a course or conference to help you dig deeper, as well.
  • Feed the function: Thankfully, even the most dysfunctional church usually has a few bright spots. See if you can identify the parts of your church that are healthy and put lots of your energy there. Affirming and supporting the healthiest areas of your church’s life helps them to grow… and not only is it good ministry, it’s also life-giving for you!
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first: There are people whom you will never be able to make happy, even if you work twenty-four hours a day and cater to their every whim. So do what it takes to keep yourself healthy physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Get outdoors, take a yoga class, enjoy good chocolate or coffee or wine. Binge-watch some fluffy television from time to time. Spend time with family or friends. Take all of your vacation, and your days off. Sabbath is a commandment, not a suggestion, so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty about it!
  • Find some distance: When Askie is at the absolute end of her rope with some bit of petty church drama, she imagines what a great chapter it will make in her memoir someday. That’s my trick, but you’re welcome to use it, or find one that works for you… something that helps you to step back, to disengage emotionally a bit, and to remember that in a few months or years, this will all be over. When it is, I hope you will find yourself with some hard-won new skills, some outrageous stories, and your integrity. Keep the faith, sister.

Wishing you deep peace and a speedy exit,
Askie

Sabbath in the Suburbs

“When you get to the heart of it, we were looking for a way to cheat time.”  My attention was grabbed with the opening words of MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s debut book, Sabbath In the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time.  This book chronicles a year in the life of a suburban family as they struggle to find more time for what is important.  The Dana family committed to a year of practicing Sabbath one day a week, one week at a time.  What potentially could have been a book about how this family became the Joneses we need to keep up with was, in fact, the opposite.  The Dana household created a flexible Sabbath that was “imperfect and cobbled together” as they tried to reclaim some of their lives from a world with increasing pressure and demands on their family time.

Divided into a chapter for each month, this book is a refreshing look at how one family put the pieces together.  There are ideas for practices, acknowledgements that some of the rules are made up as they went along, and a sense of experimentation that ran throughout.  As each month progresses, the family moves deeper into this practice, and the reader gets a sense of how Sabbath can happen in a world of busy-ness.  Unlike other books about Sabbath, this one provides concrete ways to make Sabbath possible in the context  many of us live in today.

Sabbath in the Suburbs may be written from the perspective of a dual career family in the Suburbs trying to cheat time, but it is for a much broader audience.  The discussion of Sabbath is theologically grounded and explained without feeling like a re-read of a textbook.   Dana’s style is peppered with good humor, song lyrics, quotations, humility, and grace.  From a pastoral perspective, I wish the book had come out last spring when the Sunday School class I was teaching studied Sabbath.  We said over and over again that we needed something more practical and down to earth than the book we were reading.  Dana’s book solves that problem.  Written with beautiful storytelling  and a good dose of reality, Sabbath in the Suburbs is approachable enough for a Sunday School class discussion, a parent’s group, or a book club in general.  Each chapter had a gift inside that offered a way to slow down, appreciate where we are in our lives, and claim (or reclaim) the practice Sabbath in a busy, modern world.

Note:  Chalice Press provided me with copy of the book to review.  There were no directions, or expectations made on their part as to what the review contained once the book was received.

Rev. Julie A. Jensen is the Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Cartersville, GA.  She serves on the Community Board for TYCWP, as well as the conference committee.  When she is not pastoring, you will find her cooking, knitting, or planning a play date with friends.

Photo credit: Chalice Press

Sabbath is My Kryptonite

This month’s Moms in Ministry article is an excerpt from the third book in the Young Clergy Women Project’s imprint with Chalice Press.  More information about this partnership can be found here. MaryAnn brought so much joy to the project as our conference leader at our 2012 conference in Chicago.  Please visit our website regularly to learn more about YCW books and the plans for the 2013 YCW conference.

Sometimes, the so-called mommy wars are waged over breast- feeding versus bottle, or crib versus family bed. Sometimes, they begin over baked goods.

It all starts in a very silly way. I post an offhand comment on Facebook gushing about the glory that is Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix. It has provided spicy goodness, fresh from the oven, on many a sabbath day this winter (not to mention random Tuesdays and Fridays). You only need an egg and some oil, as opposed to canned pumpkin and a bevy of spices I don’t always have on hand.

A friend responds dismissively, asking why someone would need a mix in order to make pumpkin bread, which after all is so easy. I feel an angry flash of Who asked you? followed by the briefest tremor of shame—if I really loved my family, I’d make them something homemade. Then I decide not to take the bait. To each her own, right? I celebrate pumpkin bread in all its forms. Later though, I feel unsettled. Our kitchen feeds five people several times a day. What’s wrong with using a mix when the result is just as good?

“I don’t know,” I tell Robert later. “It’s so stupid, but it hit a nerve. I mean, I agree with her. I do value the handmade and home- made. We live in such a cut-corners society. But the thing is . . . it’s kinda fun to find a good shortcut.”

“Maximum impact, minimum effort,” he nods, sharing his father’s famous approach to cooking. Both Robert and my father-in- law are whizzes in the kitchen.

“Exactly! Do I have to be judged for my approach to breakfast food? Come on.”

“Hey, it’s pumpkin bread. Don’t overthink it.”

While I’m glad he doesn’t share my angst, I know that the issue of domestic chores runs down gender lines. There are entire indus- tries devoted to helping people save time and offload household tasks. At the same time, there’s still a view of motherhood that values the loving hands at home. Working mothers in particular can feel caught between the necessity of delegating certain domestic chores and a feeling of guilt because they “should” do those things.

Sabbath is not making this conflict easier; it’s complicating it. On the one hand, it’s robbing me of an entire day of labor each week, which makes the time-savers feel necessary. On the other hand, the unhurried nature of Sabbath makes me want to slow down for the rest of the week and not cut corners. It’s a curious irony: Sabbath reminds me that I don’t have to be Supermom, but it heightens my desire to try.

I feel this tension as I consider what it means to be a “host,” to provide gracious space not only for guests who might enter our home but also our own family. The biblical practice is hospitality, a word that’s almost as old-fashioned and foreign to our ears as Sabbath. Yet hospitality is a deep and vital spiritual practice in the Jewish and Christian faiths and in other traditions. Scripture is rife with examples of people welcoming friends and travelers alike into their homes and lives. We are called to greet strangers as friends and to share abundantly with them, and Jesus offers harsh words for people who fail to show adequate hospitality.

In recent decades, the picture has been complicated by Martha Stewart’s magazine and other resources that equate hospitality with handmade place cards and expensive flatware. These magazines miss the point of hospitality. I’ve sat at immaculate dinner tables and felt like an unwelcome afterthought, and I’ve been served wine in a plastic cup and felt like a treasured guest. A spirit of hospitality cannot be faked.

Still, there’s no denying that, all things being equal, a spirit of hospitality comes through when someone has taken the time to prepare for the presence of another—and not in a slapdash way.

Much of my life feels slapdash. I love finding ways to save time—a new route to the church, a quicker way to put away the groceries. (If I were a superhero, efficiency would be my power. Sad but true.) Sabbath has forced me to face the shadow side. Why am I trying to save all this time? For what purpose do I hurry? So that I can do more and more stuff? To feel useful and efficient?

Sabbath-keeping makes the idea of saving time feel ridiculous . . . like we’re trying to cheat at a game, but the joke’s on us: this game’s rules are unbendable.

Maybe Sabbath is my kryptonite.

Naming and Removing Barriers to Sabbath Keeping

My good friend Patrick is currently living in England because of his wife’s work.  Patrick has a Master’s Degree and had spent a number of years here in the US establishing himself in his field, and by the time they moved to England, he had graduated from two weeks of vacation to three.  When he moved to England, he was not able to find a job as a biologist, and so he took a part time job working for a telecommunications company.  When he was hired for this job, the employer apologized profusely that because he was only a part-time employee, he would only be able to have FIVE weeks of vacation.  When Patrick told me and my husband this, we all had a good laugh. Five weeks of vacation?  Don’t they know that we, Americans, usually only get two, and many of us don’t even use all that we are given?

Five weeks of vacation seemed so generous it was amusing, but in fact it is actually good business practice.  And that much vacation certainly does wonders for one’s quality of life.  Patrick and his wife Lisa have made good use of their generous European vacation time and have invited us along on a number of their trips.  There is also scientific evidence to assert the value of vacation.  Scientists from NASA working for Air New Zealand found an 82% increase in productivity following a week-long vacation.

Really, vacations are good for you.  This is a truth Christians should readily affirm, but to do so today is almost counter cultural.  Americans are known for their work ethic, and there’s an increasing understanding that our ethic requires constant labor.  The advent of computers, smartphones and Blackberrys means that employers can expect their employees to be available and able to do their work wherever they are, at any time of day or night. No longer is time at home reserved for family, for rest and relaxation.  No longer is Sunday a day of rest – most business are open, and plenty of people are expected to show up for work on that day of rest.

Taking a Sabbath, taking time to rest and relax requires discipline, since it’s no longer a culturally enforced practice.  We need to have a personal practice of engaging in Sabbath.  Having a Sabbath is, in fact, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus, and yet it is one that is often overlooked.

Mark tells us that while Jesus was in the midst of his healing ministry, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [he] got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” A single sentence attesting to rest surrounded by meaningful stories about  healing and preaching is easy to overlook. But there’s Jesus, taking a break – time in a quiet place to pray. He gets up early – while it is still dark out – to go and have some quiet prayer time to refocus and center himself.

I can just imagine a marketing expert looking at this and saying, “No, no this is all wrong.”  Jesus is just beginning “to build his brand.” He has cast out demons and healed the sick. He is getting noticed.  But just when things are starting to pick up, he stops.  He goes off by himself to pray. His disciples could have been moving on to the next town or spreading the Good News, but no, they spend their time searching for Jesus.  A marketing expert would probably encourage Jesus to ride the wave of his success. To just keep going. Push on through till all his goals are accomplished.

Many of us can relate without a doubt to this marketing approach.  We often apply it to our own lives. I consider myself a “recovering perfectionist.” I easily fall into the trap of wanting to keep working at something until it is just right, or even to just keep checking things off on the to do list, even when what would be best for me is to take a break and take care of myself.

It is so tempting to push on through: to put off those things which would actually serve our well-being best, in the interests of hurrying along and trying to accomplish more. We live in a culture that rewards hard work, and so it is so tempting to just keep working. But we shouldn’t.

Sabbath is too important.  It is one of the Ten Commandments after all!

Notice that Jesus doesn’t go off for a week and sit on the beach – although that can be an important and particularly valuable way to “do sabbath.”  Notice that Jesus just takes a little time; Mark doesn’t actually say how much, but we might fairly assume a couple of hours.  He takes a little time for quiet prayer.  He does what feeds him, what centers him.  And he gives us permission to start small.

It is nearly impossible to completely take a day off in this economy and this culture. We can start by following Jesus’ example: Jesus went back to work after his brief prayer time.  Sabbath can be a way of making us more effective at the work we are doing.

Other studies suggest that those who work less than 40 hours a week are actually more productive than those who work extra-long hours without a break.  Just as the creation story reminds us, we are in fact created for work and play. Exertion and rest.  We are supposed to have a break.

There are many of reasons we fail to take that divinely-recommended break.  For many workers, the debate about vacation or time off is not about which Caribbean cruise to choose, but a question of whether or not their family can survive without a paycheck for a week. Those of us in good paying jobs with contracts and benefits packages may complain about our lack of vacation or need to confront our own issues if we are not making good use of the gifts we are given.  But there are also those who do not have the luxury of vacation or even sick days. Millions of people in America have trouble making a living: trouble putting enough food on the table and providing adequate food and shelter for their family.  Taking vacation, having time for Sabbath, is too far down the list of priorities.

But it shouldn’t be that way. Jesus reminds us that Sabbath should be a right and a duty of ours.  It is how we care for ourselves and our relationship with God. We owe it to ourselves to practice Sabbath time and to keep it holy.  And we owe it to our fellow human beings to work for justice in our workplaces and communities to ensure that Sabbath is not a privilege reserved for the wealthy and powerful, but a God-given gift we can all enjoy.

The resume of the Rev. Dr. Molly Field James does not readily suggest that she is someone who takes time off.  Holding a PhD in Theology from the University of Exeter, she now works for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and serves as an Adjunct Professor at Hartford Seminary.  She’s also married and has a kid.  But we’ll take her word for it that she is able to manage all these commitments because she’s learned how to honor the Sabbath.

Photo by freeaussiestock.com

Love the One You’re With (Er… Yourself)

I hadn’t meant to not take a day off. It just happened. What with a diocesan convention here, a religious arts festival there, some pastoral care emergencies, Lenten planning, and of course, the weekly parade of bulletins, committee meetings, and sermons, it had just been easier to keep going. For me, taking time off sometimes feels like one more thing on the never-ending to-do list.

The local Barnes and Noble is just waiting for people like me—poor little overworked professional white women, desperate for guidance. There are a myriad of new self-help resources that could be used to justify why any of us should love ourselves by doing things like taking some time off. However, a desire for ways to take care of ourselves doesn’t have to take its cue from an increasingly individualized, consumerist culture. Though I’m certainly not above leafing through O magazine (ahem), I try to think theologically, too.

My own rationalization theology of self-care, of doing things like taking time off, when I’m actually able to do it, that is, stems from “the greatest commandment”:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (NRSV, Matthew 22:36-40; Leviticus 19:18).

In other words, love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably intertwined. These verses are most often read as a call to curb the self-centeredness that seems to plague humanity; I know sometimes I need to hear it that way. However, some people, often women, are socialized to put others’ needs and wants first. Self-annihilation rather than selfishness is occasionally the default. Read more