Life is full of too much worry and stress. The list of things we can worry about is endless. I tend to worry about my children and grand-children and other family members. Finances are like a creaking sound in the night; you know it’s just the house settling, but what if there are economic monsters under the bed. My Dad drove truck for Ryder Truck Lines. At one point they tried to get him to buy his own truck and join the Ryder Ranger Division. The potential profit was significant. He replied, “No, thanks. I want to leave my worries parked in your lot. I don’t want to drive them home with me.” Pastors and seminary professors don’t get to leave their worries at the office. They follow you wherever you go. Modern communication makes that a certainty.
When Karisa was in her pre-adolescence and Alethea was in high school. I was over extended in pastoral ministry. Our church was small but we had a high concentration of deeply wounded people including two or three with borderline personality disorder. I was on the phone constantly and people were at our house almost every evening for counseling. We didn’t have a church office. It was rare for us to have an uninterrupted evening meal. One night the phone rang while we were eating and Karisa blurted out, “Dad why can’t you just let it ring. You don’t have to answer it while we’re eating.” I responded that I needed to answer because people needed me.
The call was from a church member who called several times a week to talk about her family issues. As I settled in to hear it all one more time, it dawned on me, it is not a sin to not answer the phone. It is not a sin to not answer the phone. My life was forever changed. I have no moral compulsion to answer ever phone call. I need to be available but not on instant demand. That night I announced to my family that I would no longer take phone calls during meals. I would just let it ring. If it was an emergency they could call back in a few minutes.
Two nights later while we were eating, the phone rang. Karisa jumped up to answer it. I reminded her that we didn’t take calls during dinner anymore. She responded, “I have to answer it Dad. I’m expecting a call from a friend who has a problem and she needs to talk.” Thus it began, Karisa, the pastoral counselor, opened for business with frequent incoming calls during dinner.
I have often regretted I didn’t learn that lesson earlier. I suspect Alethea and Karisa have felt at times I put the church above them. I didn’t think I was. I was just trying to help hurting people and failed to establish healthy boundaries around my family. I did want my girls to know it is important to open up your life to others. It seems they got that part of the lesson down pat. Both are caregivers.
In the fifteen years since then the boundaries of our lives have been punched full of holes by technology. Car phones were introduced a couple of years later and have since given way to the ubiquitous cell phone: telephone in the house, telephone in the house and car, telephone in your pocket.
Email is an abomination. I was on AOL when it was AOL 1. I didn’t know anyone to whom I could send an email. I sent one to the president of AOL but he didn’t respond. I couldn’t wait until I could email friends. Now, I consider ending friendships when I’m flooded with needless “pass-this-on-and–be-blessed” chains. People send me emails in the middle of the night and expect a response by 8 A.M. Some people send email in the early evening and expect a response before I go to bed. Don’t hold your breath. My general practice is to not check my work email after hours or on the weekends; people seem offended.
And then comes Facebook with personal messages and wall posts and groups to keep up with. Of course we are now responsible for anything anybody posts on our wall. The Actscelerate.com group got bent out of shape last week when one of them saw a picture one of my former students had posted on my wall. He was at a museum on women’s suffrage standing behind a statue of a gagged women. One person in particular purported to be greatly offended by the caption “Women in the Church of God” and proceeded to denounce me for the picture and caption. It wasn’t my picture or my caption.
We are bombarded with things to think about in rapid-fire succession. Much of that data is threatening to ourselves, our loved ones, or things we care about. I have resolved to enter spaces of solitude on a regular, if not daily, bases. I have always found that solitude in manual labor. Cheryl often wants me to get someone to help me with my projects. She has a hard time understanding; I don’t want help. I want tranquility.
Today was a very busy day. Yet, I was reminded that there can be calm in the midst of the storm. Busyness does not have to rob us of our sense of wholeness, our shalom. Tranquility can be found in righteous relationships, meaningful work, and trust in God. The noise around us does not have to rob us of the quiet within, at least not always. Today, I am thankful for the tranquility of knowing God is still Lord of my life.
August 18, 2010