During my Father’s career in the airline industry, I learned that there is a regulatory agency that mandates the number of hours per month that a pilot can fly a plane. The Federal Aviation Agency believes that pilots carry such responsibility that they must be adequately rested when they fly.
God has a “regulatory agency” for all human beings. It’s called the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is the Sabbath to the Lord your God.” This commandment applies to all people…even pastors! Like airline pilots, pastors are entrusted with an enormous responsibility… the spiritual well-being of an entire congregation. In order to be rested for this complex task, we must take a Sabbath day of rest and refreshment once a week. However, my own experience in the pastoral ministry is that so often I have preached salvation by grace… but, if I am totally honest, I’ve lived as if I’m saved by works.
I had an experience of burnout in New York City when I lost my way amid the challenges of serving a growing congregation in Manhattan. I became isolated from my family and friends, and my work became a burden…not a blessing. I did not make enough time to keep the 4 primary relationships of life in balance: the relationship with God, myself, the significant people of my life and the world. One of the reasons that I started Macedonian Ministry was because I learned (the hard way!) that pastors must fight against isolation and must be intentional about seeking out colleagues in ministry who can support us and hold us accountable to be our best self. I have learned that a pastor’s job is so important that we must take care of ourselves. My experience has taught me three important lessons about finding balance in our life.
- Take a Sabbath day each week to do something for YOU…and take a little Sabbath every day for even 15 minutes to do something fun for yourself!
- Tell the congregation which day you take off and ask them to help you protect it.
- Take periodic vacations, throughout the year for a long week-end or a week or two off to be refreshed! Have something to look forward to!
If we schedule a regular day off, then, if a death or an emergency occurs that day, it is much easier to return to the order of a day off than to return to chaos.
My friend George McCausland learned these valuable lessons the hard way, too! George was a director of a huge YMCA in Pittsburgh, PA and after a heart attack, the doctor told him that if he continued to work 75 hours a week, he wouldn’t live another year! His high blood pressure and frenzied lifestyle had finally caught up with him. When George got home to recuperate, he was sobered by the Doctor’s admonition. He went out on his back porch and wrote a letter to God. “Dear God…I hereby resign as General Manager of the universe! Love, George.” And, “wonder of wonders, God accepted my resignation!” Do you need to resign as General Manager of the universe? I learned from my burnout experience in New York that although the congregation had high expectations of me, I had higher expectations of myself! Once I was willing to resign as General Manager of the universe, it freed me to take one Sabbath Day a week, and a little Sabbath every day. I exercise regularly, get proper rest and do some things for me every day. It’s like the instruction we hear on the airplane, “When traveling with a child or older adult, put your oxygen mask on first and then you will be able to help your child or older adult.” This is good advice. But to do it, we first must resign as General Manager of the universe!