I’ve found myself over the last few months in my new call asking a lot of people and groups, “Why are we doing this?” This is a congregation full of people with the awesome inclination toward being helpful. But that means sometimes we start off by having solutions before we know what the problem is – or if there is one. It also means we have a tendency to work ourselves to death without stopping to wonder, is this a cause over which I need to put myself in the grave? We’ve been talking a lot about the cost of what we do – in time, energy, loss of ability to do other things – and whether the benefit balances or exceeds it.
I can relate. Oh yes, can I relate.
Last night after a wonderful but long day of ministry, I realized that I was not in a good physical state. I haven’t had a spinal issue or sciatica flareup since I moved here, but I suddenly had one so bad that I had to hunch up and drag my leg to walk home. My ear had been bleeding through our Session meeting (don’t worry, just a bug bite gone awry, not a brain wound), I kept feeling something in my eye, and my digestion had been unpleasant all day (sorry, TMI). And I was utterly, can’t move exhausted. I laid on the floor of my apartment to get my spine back into order, and it took me a half hour to summon the energy to get up and go to bed.
My body is not subtle when I’m doing too much. In this case, it was already yelling about the twenty-four hours I had worked over the course of two days, and I was staring down the barrel of another twelve plus hour day today and three more full work days before I leave on Sunday night for vacation. As I laid in bed, dreading another day of pain and exhaustion, and filled with anxiety about whether I could possibly get everything done, I asked myself the question I’ve been asking everyone else: “Why am I doing this?”
I should have been at a great training event today. I feel bad about skipping it – but not as bad as I would feel if I had been up at 7am today to sit through eight hours of training before heading to another four hours of meetings tonight at church. I just couldn’t do it. The cost was too high. Instead, I got an extra hour of sleep, walked the stiffness out of my back, ran some errands, and got some advanced work done for church so I can actually be away on my vacation and not trying to write liturgy from Scotland.
I want my church members to be able to ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” I want them to be able to consider the cost and benefit, and say no to things that cost them their spiritual and physical health. I want us as a congregation to ask, “Why are we doing this?” and think hard about how our decisions foster flourishing and resist draining. Apparently that means I have to be willing to ask these questions of myself, too.