I saw a Facebook post this week which is the inspiration for this blog post. In it, a clergy person is standing in front of her congregation on a Sunday in Advent encouraging those in attendance to slow down. The next day she is shown being bombarded on all sides with questions which, of course, need her immediate attention–especially during this busy season of Advent. The peaceful look on her face on Sunday has now turned to a frazzled look within 24 hours. Truth be told, it probably took far less than 24 hours for that transition.
Sound familiar? If you’re a clergy person, I’m sure this story does ring a bell–or a few. At the same time, you don’t have to be a clergy person to struggle with reconciling the idea of the spirit of hope, peace, joy and love (which I consider to be the particular focus of Advent, and for some people that spirit is made manifest in the birth of Jesus) with the reality that this season is extremely stressful on many levels. Let’s admit it; shopping, decorating, parties and church, when condensed into a short period of time have the potential to rob of us of the hope, peace, joy and love of not only this season, but also of life itself. And for some folks, this type of stress is a year-round struggle.
This year, however, I’ve hit the “pause” button. For example:
We had a “tree malfunction” at church this year. Translation: Our huge, beautiful 25 year-old artificial tree finally broke–literally broke at the base–during decorating. Rather than running out and buying a similar tree and hastily decorating it the day before the first Sunday of Advent, however, we put up a simple, small tree. A slightly larger 4-foot tree will take its place later this week or perhaps early next week–it depends on when we find time to decorate it. We put up some nice banners and wreaths as well; but all the glitz and glamour of previous years is largely gone.
And so is all the stress of decorating the sanctuary, fellowship hall and outdoors “to the nine’s” with a few volunteers.
I’ve hit the pause button personally, too. In November I was approved as an official candidate for full ministerial fellowship in the UUA. My plan was to hold ministerial credentials in both MCC and the UUA. And if you’ve read any of my previous posts, the values of MCC and the UUA are not mutually exclusive. So I could remain true to what I see as my growing UU identity while ministering in MCC, as well as broaden my professional credentials all at the same time. A win-win situation, right?
Not really. As I continued to “count the cost” of plural standing in terms of time, commitment, finances, family life–not to mention my personal health and well-being–I decided to hit the pause button. Please don’t misunderstand me; nothing the UUA asked of me is unreasonable–not at all. In fact, in many aspects the UUA ministerial fellowship process reflects what MCC requires of incoming clergy candidates seeking licensure and ordination. I completed this process with MCC 12 years ago, so I know the joys and challenges of such an undertaking. Still, I preach and teach self-care to others. So why would I add so much to my “To Do” list when it is already quite full?
I think this is a great question. Not only for me, but also for many of us–both clergy and non-clergy types. I mean, really, what are we trying to prove and to whom? Of course there’s nothing wrong with improving ourselves through additional education; and there’s nothing wrong with working hard and making the sacrifices necessary to secure a reasonable standard of living and (hopefully) retirement one day. Having beautifully decorated sanctuaries, moving holiday services and the like are wonderful, too.
At the same time, I believe there comes a time when enough is enough. That is, there comes a time when the fabulous decorations aren’t worth the frayed nerves and hurt feelings the process generated–whether those decorations are for the church or for our homes. There comes a time when the upgraded car, home and shiny gadgets aren’t worth the extra hours at work–or even the extra job–it requires to first obtain, then continue to maintain those things. There comes a time when that next professional designation or degree–while desirable–isn’t worth the toll it takes on our lives and the lives of those we love.
Again, achievement and seeking success are fine; after all, I love nice things and success as much as the next person, and I am a self-identified education freak. Still, and as Jesus is quoted as saying in Mark 8:36: “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” The good news for me is I don’t have to lose the “real me” as a UU in order to minister in my current context; still, the time did come for me to ask when enough is enough when it comes to taking on another credentialing process; and I decided now is the time to hit the “pause” button. I think I actually felt my blood pressure go down when I made that decision, too.
In the end, we can’t remove all stressors from our lives; and yes, there will always be a certain amount of extra stress during the holiday season. Still, however and whenever we can, let’s consider hitting the “pause” button. Let’s take time to remember what is really important in our lives. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.
And live–truly live.