This is the final sermon in a three-week series based on Wayne Muller’s book, a life of being, having and doing enough.
Doing enough… it seems to be a concept that is completely out of vogue. Companies don’t seem to understand it… they fire employees and don’t hire new ones, just distribute their work load to already overloaded employees. Families don’t seem to understand it… we over-schedule our kids so that they don’t miss out on anything. We ask ourselves what more could we be doing to improve at our jobs, to stay more connected to our friends, to take better care of our parents, to take care of the house, etc. But we rarely ask what we can let go of. And if we do say no or try to cut back we feel guilty.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Wayne Muller makes the point that we’re all trying to “get caught up.” Have you said that? I know I have. Thing is, I’m not sure it ever happens. Once I’ve caught up by crossing off the things on my to-do list I’ve added ten more things that I now have to catch up on! It is the proverbial hamster wheel.
Going and going and going eventually results in burning out. Burnout occurs when we try to give that which we don’t have to give.
Burnout can manifest in a number of different ways: irritability, grumpy, frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious, over-emotional, short-tempered, distracted, depressed and exhausted. It’s important to recognize the signs that tell us we’re doing too much and reaching burnout, because then we can try to do something about it instead of just getting sucked under.
Can you imagine what the stories about Jesus would have looked like if he’d let himself burnt out? Instead of a calm, centered, peace-filled prophet we’d have a stressed out, frustrated, ready-to-pull-his-hair-out prophet. But he never let it get to that stage, because he took time apart to relax, regenerate, renew. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to some place where he could be alone and pray.” It is how he took care of himself and kept up his spiritual energy.
What do we do to keep from getting burnt out and keep up our spiritual energy? What do we do to care for ourselves? When I asked this during the message yesterday people said: meditate, exercise, music, nature, quiet time. Here are ten more ways to slow down I found in an article last week:
- Do less
- Be present
- Focus on people
- Appreciate nature
- Eat slower
- Drive slower
- Find pleasure in anything
In order to maintain a healthy balance of doing enough and caring for ourselves in our lives we have to set boundaries. I admit this is not one of my strong suits… unless I’m setting a boundary to keep the rabbits out of my garden. By golly, then I’ll fortify it like Fort Knox… trench the fence, line the weak spots with bricks, sprinkle anti-rodent pellets around the perimeter (which didn’t work), surround it with marigolds (which really didn’t work either, but they looked pretty). My neighbor doesn’t use a fence, but he has a gun. Just can’t go there.
But here’s the point. I want the things in my garden to grow, so I put up a boundary to keep them safe. If I want certain aspects of my life to find nourishment and grow – my spiritual life, my relationships, my work, my health, my sanity – I may have to set limitations on myself and others so that, as Muller says, “the endless demands for time, money and energy don’t sabotage what is valuable, precious and necessary for me to thrive.”
I’m going to give you a gift. Three gifts, actually. I’m giving you three “nos” that can be used on yourself or others. They come without regret, guilt or need for explanation. When you feel something threatening to push you over the edge of reason and sanity, use one. When you feel an obligation to do something that is not going to be nourishing and may simply stress you out, use one. When you just need a break for an afternoon, use one. I can always get you some more! Blame me if you have to, I don’t mind.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes had it right, I think. There is nothing better on this earth than to eat, drink and take pleasure in all you do. Doing more, or doing faster, doesn’t really make our lives richer. Quality time with friends, slowing down to enjoy the world, people, food and life, being with people to listen and enjoy who they are, nurturing your spiritual journey, often finding time for prayer as Jesus did… these are the things that bring us to wholeness.
Muller says, “Do what you can and have mercy… mercy on yourself.” You can apply that to trying to solve world hunger, or trying to get everything you want done for the holidays. Do what you can and have mercy. And don’t sacrifice life or the journey for the doing.