This summer has been a sabbatical of sorts for my family and I. For the past 11 or so years, we have been involved in church planting efforts here in Syracuse and in Philadelphia during, and for a short while after, college. As the saying goes, sweat, blood and tears have gone into our efforts and in many ways we are now in need of some rest.
Awhile ago I posted Summer Reading: Intentional, Slow, Reflective. There I listed the books I was going to be engaging with, not for information alone, but for their formative aspects as well. I have since completed the first two and have enjoyed them immensely. “Enjoyed” isn’t the proper word; it is more like finding a soothing balm for my soul. It has been said that God meets us in the things we love. Reading is something I love and have found God’s subtle whisper in many of the pages I have covered.
And yet, rest is not the cessation of activity. It is not a pulling away from work. (Indeed, reading itself is not rest; it requires quite a bit of attentiveness, reflection, and vulnerability. It is not nothing, as some might assume.) Rather than simply putting the brakes on certain things and allowing a void, my wife and I have put down some markers for our summer. Just as I have purposely engaged in intentional, slow, reflective reading as a portion of my formation, we have purposely placed before us some activities that are equally as formative. One might call it a rule of life for the summer. I share them here in hopes you might find some encouragement, insight, or furthering of your own ideas.
Getting In Bed By 10pm
One of the main disciplines I have always struggled with is sleep. Yes, sleep is a discipline. Many of us, myself included, are unaware and thus very unintentional about our sleeping patterns. We have assumed our spiritual lives have nothing to do with our sleeping or lack thereof. Like small children, we all get cranky, apathetic, and/or sick due to insufficient amounts of sleep. For many, our physical bodies have had nothing to do with our Christian discipleship – beyond not having premarital sex – and yet we wonder why lethargy creeps in emotionally, spiritually, socially, and many other ways when we are constantly tired. We are whole beings, living with bodies intimately tied to our souls, both needing rest. For my wife and I, being aware of our sleep, especially with 3 small children, is vital to our overall health, both physical and spiritual, which are eternally tethered.
Working on the Farm
We joined a Community Supported Agriculture community for the summer and early fall. This means that we have financially contributed to the well-being and productivity of a local farm, 1860 Organics, in exchange for a weekly share of their produce. Theological convictions coupled with ecological and economical realities have pushed us into doing this and we have already learned much.
In an effort to engage in hands on learning, we have decided to help out at the farm once a week. Receiving local, organic fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis has already changed our outlooks on food, but we want to learn the skills necessary for cultivating these things. The 15 or so minute drive to the farm is well worth the education we have been receiving in understanding the ins and outs of what it takes to put food on the table. Thankfully, we have been able to bring our daughters to the farm and our oldest daughter has been able to do a small amount of work alongside me. Having their imaginations formed in a way that sees food as something that takes time, patience, and tenderness instead of just easily picked up as a grocery store commodity is something we see as highly beneficial.
Moreover, it has been eye-opening to see the deep correlation between church planting and actual agricultural work. Planting, weeding, watering coalesce with patience, humility, and openhandedness in a way that brings to life many of Scripture’s stories. Yes, it is work, but it is a work that has been subtly formative as we endeavor to understand the dust we are made from.
Being Attentive to Our Neighbors
One of the recurring themes within the missional, church planting movement(s) is being attentive to our neighbors. I firmly believe this to be true, especially as we move deeper into the neighborhood in our efforts to join with God as God works. However, one of the most overlooked and underdeveloped practices of many in the missional conversation is this actual attentiveness to our neighbors. The busyness that comes along with trying to cultivate, organize, and equip missional disciples often manifests itself in leaders who have little to no time for those living next door or down the street. I know this was and is true of me and I have heard similar stories from many church planters.
So, we have been intentionally sitting outside with our girls. And not out back, which is still open to seeing others due to being on a corner lot, but out front. In the little time we have been doing this daily activity, we have already had frequent conversations with our next door neighbors and have also met “new” neighbors. Hearing the stories of our neighbors’ work days, children’s schedules, and summer traveling has furthered the posture we believe Jesus wants to develop in all of us: being listeners. It’s amazing how much learning can be done by simply being present to people.
These are just three areas we are purposely engaging in for the summer – and (hopefully) longer. Each one is intentional, slow, and reflective, for which time, patience, and rootedness are prerequisites. Certainly, there seem to be shortcuts, quick results, or unconscious efforts we could engage in. Unfortunately, we often do seek to skip ahead, fast forward, and ignorantly become concave people. The life this brings about generally reeks of self-importance, self-aggrandizement, and self-contentedness. Our hope is to push beyond this in restful ways this summer.
My prayer underneath all of this is from the beginning of the Benedictine Hours: Apertis oculis nostris, which means “Let us open our eyes.”