In my early 50s I was given a sabbatical: seven weeks with nothing to do. The elders at our church invited me to take it. Actually, they insisted that I take it. I needed it because I was becoming increasingly frustrated and impatient and preoccupied. I felt as if I had too much to do and not enough time or ability to do it. I was obsessed with the external things that needed to be done around me. I was operating on the unspoken assumption that my inner world would be filled with life, peace and joy once my external world was perfect. That’s a great recipe for a healthy soul, as long as you live in a perfect world.
During my sabbatical, it was easy to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life,” as my friend and mentor Dallas Willard had so wisely counseled. I found myself thinking that I’m a better person when I’m on sabbatical than I am when I’m working for God at a church, and I knew that was just plan wrong. I began to form a new goal: I want to be as relaxed as I am on vacation while being as productive as I am at work.
There was only one place to learn about that. So I drove to Box Canyon. I had a whole day to spend with Dallas. I told him that I felt frustrated because the people at the church I served were not changing more. I asked him what I needed to do to help our church experience greater levels of spiritual growth.
Long pause… “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
“No,” I corrected him. “I wasn’t asking about me. I was asking about other people. I was wondering what I need to make the church do. I was thinking about a book everyone should read, or a program everyone should go through or a prayer system everyone should commit to.”
“Yes, brother John,” he said with great patience and care. “I know you were thinking of those things. But that’s not what they need most. The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give to God – is the person you become. If your soul is unhealthy, you can’t help anybody. You don’t send a doctor with pneumonia to care for patients with immune disorders. You, and nobody else, are responsible for the well-being of your own soul.”
“I’m trying,” I said. “I learned long ago about the importance of having a quiet time when I read the Bible and do daily devotions; I do my best to start each day that way.”
“I didn’t say anything about having a quiet time,” he gently corrected again. “People in church – including pastors – have been crushed with guilt over their failure at having a regular quiet time or daily devotions. And then, even when they do, they find it does not actually lead to a healthy soul. Your problem is not the first 15 minutes of the day. It’s the next 23 hours and 45 minutes. You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.”
“But how can I have total contentment, joy and confidence?” I responded. “My work isn’t going nearly well enough. Lots of people are not happy with me. I am inadequate as a pastor, husband and father. Every week I carry the burden of delivering a sermon and knowing I’ll have to feel the pain if it doesn’t go well.“
“I didn’t say you should experience total contentment, joy and confidence in the remarkable adequacy of your competence or the amazingly successful circumstances of your life. It’s total contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday experience of God. This alone is what makes a soul healthy. This is not your wife’s job. It’s not your elder’s job. It’s not your children’s job. It’s not your friend’s job. It’s your job.”
~ Excerpt from Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2014. All rights reserved.