Wreck-reation or Re-Creation?

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There are two kinds of people in the world (how often have you heard that??): Those who work to play and those who work.

If you read my blog consistently, you will notice my struggle with work and play, with work and rest.

I’ve come to believe we all have several themes that characterize our lives. These are areas of persistent challenge and growth. We “spiral” around these themes. They can often be framed in terms of competing values. By that I mean certain preferences we naturally pursue compete with values we think we should pursue. For example: a task-oriented person wrestles with their need to put more value on relationships. A perfectionist becomes aware of their need to “lighten up” for themselves and others. A relaxed person feels pressure to be more ambitious. Can you identify some of your life themes?

So back to my theme of work and rest. I have great energy spread over many interests. Combine that with a strong sense of responsibility, a desire to make meaningful contributions to others’ lives, and a commitment to being a faithful steward, and you have one of the recipes for a workaholic.

This is a significant spiritual problem because over-work (work addiction) can easily lead to problems such as self-reliance, neglecting relationships, ignoring self-care, and eventually to spiritual numbness and burnout.

So how do we gain God’s rhythm and balance for our lives?

For me, it began by seeing the essential value of rest, beginning with the Sabbath principle in Genesis 2: 2-3.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

One of my problems was that I had a wrong concept about rest and recreation. Writing in my journal in 1980 was the first time I wrote the pun “wreck-reation.” I don’t remember having seen or heard that pun anywhere else. I wrote it because it captured my problem with the common idea about recreation.  Much of what people called “recreation” was just “wreck-reation”—it left them exhausted and stressed. They were not refreshed and renewed. They needed a vacation from their vacation.

As I reflected on God’s command to rest, however, I saw the inherent message in the word “recreation” as “re-creation.” Lights went on. Re-creation is a biblical mandate—and a blessing. The amazing news of Genesis 2 and the 10 Commandments and all of scripture is that God blesses us with rest (see Matthew 11:28-30 for Jesus’ definitive invitation).

My natural tendency is the attitude described by Tim Hansel in his book title, When I Relax, I Feel Guilty. But now I remind myself, “When I relax, I am honoring the Lord and loving myself.”

In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon gave some great advice to young ministers that applies to all of us. Writing before the days of mechanized farm equipment, the mower is harvesting grain in the fields by hand using only a scythe:

Look at the mower in the summer’s day. With so much to cut down before the sun sets, he pauses in his labor. Is he a sluggard? He looks for a stone and begins to draw it up and down his scythe, rink-a-tink, rink-a-tink, rink-a-tink. He’s sharpening his blade. Is that idle music? Is he wasting precious moments? How much he might have mown while he was ringing out those notes on his blade. But he is sharpening his tool. And he will do far more, when once again he gives his strength to those long sweeps which lay the grass prostrate in rows before him.

Even thus a little pause prepares the mind for greater service in a good cause. Fishermen must mend their nets and we must, every now and then, repair our mental states and set our machinery in order for future service. It is wisdom to take occasional furloughs. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.

There’s a God-given need and God-given invitation to stop, to rest, to tend ourselves.

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade (Ecclesiastes 10:10 NLT).

Re-creation is God’s plan to renew us and to restore us so we can live with joy and energy for God’s glory.

How’s Your Snow Pack? Or The Necessity of Margin

 

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I’ve been reminded in many ways that most of us live life “just in time.”

Many live paycheck to paycheck, hopefully earning enough money “just in time” to pay the most important bills. Many complete a project “just in time” to meet the deadline (scary word!).

In retail and manufacturing, “Just In Time” (JIT) inventory management is a concept designed to increase efficiency, cut costs and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed. You don’t stockpile merchandise.

This may be good business, but it can be soul-draining when applied to personal and community life. Just in time praying, just in time communication, just in time physical effort—all equal lots-of-time stress!

It makes me think about the snowpack in the mountains. (Hang on– you’ll see where I’m going…) Living in an arid or semi-arid region means you pay attention to precipitation—rainfall and snow fall.

If you listen to weather reports in California, you are curious about the amount of rainfall, but you are really interested in the amount of snowpack (the accumulated snowfall in the mountains) because the snowpack is the real drought-buster. Rain is useful for recharging groundwater, but a deep snowpack can provide water for months and months. When the average Sierra Nevada Mountains’ snowpack melts in spring and summer it provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs.

Let me mix in another metaphor: It’s not wise to drive until you’re out of gas. In fact, it damages the fuel system of a car by drawing into the fuel lines the impure “residue” that settles in the tank. Problems multiply.

Likewise, we have spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, and financial tanks (to name primary ones) that need to be sustained. We cannot count on the occasional rainfall of inspiration that may come. Each tank needs a “snowpack” source of sustenance.

What I call “snowpack” physician Richard Swenson calls margin. “Margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.” The reserves we develop provide “shock-absorbers” in our lives and relationships. But margin is in short supply.

The conditions of modern-day living devour margin.  If you are homeless, we direct you to a shelter.  If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps.  If you are breathless, we connect the oxygen.  But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.

Swenson compares the stressful state of lacking margin with the “blessedness” of cultivating margin in our lives:

              Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.

Marginless  is hurry; margin is calm.

Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.

Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.

Marginless is reality; margin is remedy.

Marginless is the disease of our times. Margin is its cure.

SOURCE:   Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress, 1992),  13, 14. with slight revision.

The problem is that we don’t pay attention to our need for margin until it’s too late (see my blog Drink Before You’re Thirsty). The account of Joseph in Egypt illustrates the blessings of margin. Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dream warning of seven years of famine in the future, we read,

“Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it” (Genesis 41:48 NIV).

Jesus calls us to store up resources far more significant than worldly wealth and status,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew  6:19-20).

Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the gifts of time to replenish your soul, of activity to refresh your body and mind, of a phone call or coffee-date to catch up with a friend. It will never be easy to “make” time for these things. You just have to take it!

You may not see immediate results. But who would think, as they watch flurries float lightly down from the sky, that those flurries would accumulate to provide life-sustaining water for months to come?