For me, each new year seems to begin with renewed aspirations of writing regularly. I usually manage an early blog post sometime in the dawning days of a new year before soon petering out into a couple of randomly sprinkled posts throughout that year and then, inexplicably, another year has slipped away. So here I sit on January 3 in the final year of the 2010’s, and I hope you’ll appreciate yet one more failing attempt, in one more soon-to-be fleeting year.
In the 140-character (or whatever it is now a days) Twitter universe and the unread-but-shared articles of the Facebook world, longer articles like these seem to going the way of the Atari or cable television. The world seems to be moving at such a rapid pace and things are changing by the second, who has time to give up so many of those precious seconds to read something measured in minutes? I know it takes a great deal of your precious time to read this, and be assured it takes even longer to write it! The dizzying and frenetic pace at which I have been living my life has left me feeling increasingly unproductive and ineffective. The need for me to pause and be still in this moment feels as pressing as ever. I feel the need to take a deep, reflective breath looking back at a hectic 2018 before exhaling into the hope of a more peaceful and tranquil 2019.
Like each passing day, the events of 2018 were perpetuated by the days and years before them, and 2018 has taken its role now in helping shape the days that follow. 2018 has gone, but the wake it left behind is just beginning invasion of the future. As I look back at the past twelve months, here are some of the ripples it sent out ahead.
Each year brings with it a mixture of new life, new ideas, new projects, and new relationships. Our lives exist at the intersection of these constant births and the incessant ending of lives, ideas, projects, and relationships. Every “year in review” includes a montage of “those we lost.” The losses are felt more quickly and more acutely than the remediating joy can bring about by the new additions whose potential often won’t be realized for many years.
In the spring of 2018 our family felt the acute reality of loss of life as my wife lost her father and grandmother in quick succession. Nothing really prepares you for these kinds of losses – our personhood is forged by them, but we are never prepared for them. That is a ripple we have just begun to really feel.
In July of 2018, we completed our fifteenth year of full-time ministry with the Alum Creek Church. It has been a privilege and honor to serve this congregation for so many years. There aren’t many ministers who are privileged to serve a congregation for fifteen consecutive years, especially their first. I spent more time in 2018 than I have in the past reflecting on my years with the church. In many ways, 2018 might have been my most challenging year of ministry. As the only full-time staff member of a small church I seem to constantly be dancing with burnout. I think most people think of burn out as suffering under the weight of conducting funerals, providing spiritual direction, and the like. While that certainly plays a factor, there is a larger challenge of maintaining spiritual vitality and depth in the midst of constant responsibilities. Today is the first day back in my office after a week and a half or so and it provides a perfect illustration.
Upon arriving to the building – before even entering, I see two cars parked in the lot that I need to deal with (too long of a story to put here!) Once I enter the building, there’s a toilet running. I check on it, and have to replace a flapper (those plumbing classes in seminary were helpful!) I sat down and got caught up on email which took about an hour, and then wanted to spend some time in prayer before really getting down to planning. I typically pray in our sanctuary, and I began my quiet time, I kept hearing that the blower in the furnace didn’t sound good and it seemed to be struggling to kick on. When I looked at the thermostat, I see the ominous message: “Check System.” I have a sermon to prepare for Sunday (believe it or not, those things don’t just fall onto paper), final Christmas decorations to take down, a class to teach on Sunday, a youth group fundraiser to plan, a youth group trip to plan, we are updating our website, even more stuff around the building needs attention, there are people who need visiting, our calendar needs planned . . . you get the point. I share this not to complain – these are almost all things I love to do, but to confess how overwhelming it can all be. The job never seems done, everyone always seems to be waiting with bated breath as to what is next, and things are never completely to everyone’s expectations. And at the same time, I am so excited to get back to ministry and see what the new year holds! Our church is a blessing and we are full of incredible people.
In recognizing some feelings of burnout, I proposed the idea of taking a sabbatical this summer. The best thing for my spirit, I believe, is an interruption to our rhythm. Our families regularly remind us how seldom we get to see them because our world revolves around Sundays. At the end of August, we found out that we were awarded a $50,000 grant by the Lily Endowment’s Pastoral Renewal program. We are elated, excited, inspired, and a little nervous. Plans have been unfolding as we prepare for a Memorial Day weekend send off, and will return to work full-time with the church Labor Day weekend. Our family will spend the bulk of that time in Europe for renewal. The fall was kind of a watershed moment for me as news of the grant helped inspire me on several levels – beginning with getting in better physical shape. I lost about 20 pounds to end the year and hope to continue that this year. My goal is to start another blog within the next week or so to begin to document our experience with the sabbatical. Stay tuned.
In October, my book Elite? was released by Wipf and Stock publishers. It was the fruit of a copy of years of study and I was overjoyed at its release. I would like to create a study guide/small group discussion guide to accompany it but . . . alas . . . I am still trying to find the time (see above!) It will never be a New York Times best seller, but it covers a topic I feel passionate about, and hope provides an important offering to an emerging field of study. I am hopeful to attend the Second Annual Congress on Sports and Christianity in October and get promote it there.
As I look ahead into 2019, I am excited for what the new year holds. I hope to post some of what we are doing at Alum Creek throughout the year because in the midst of all this other stuff, I still pour my heart and passion into my local church. Our theme for 2018 was “This is Us” and we studied a different biblical character each week. It was great and I wish I had time to share more. I need to get back to our 2019 planning, and hopefully I will be able to share more about that soon!