“When your soul is resting, your emotions are okay, your mind is okay, and your will is at peace with God, not resisting what He’s doing.”
– Joyce Meyer
There’s been a lot of media shared socially around a pastor from the DMV area by the name of Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley. He preached a sermon to his congregation at the Alfred Street Baptist Church recently from Psalm 46 entitled “Selah”. Many media sources zeroed in on his proclamation that he was taking a sabbatical or that his soul was tired or that he felt “so distant from God”. However, his sermon was much deeper than an announcement of his impending sabbatical. For me, it was a word of knowledge of my current experience and a roadmap for my return to rest.
Dr. Wesley began by talking about how God not only created rest, but He modeled and mandated it as well. “On the 7th day, God rested.” Dr. Wesley then portrayed for the listener how we have factored rest out of our regular routine, even making excuses like the one that he made, “Well the devil never takes a day off,” to which one of his former parishioners replied, “Well why is the devil your role model?”.
As the sermon progressed, the prolific preacher shared how important rest is for each of us. He then talked about the idea of sabbath and dispelled the idea that “Sabbath” meant “worship” or “church”, but instead he clarified that in its purest form, the word Sabbath is translated as “rest”. While we are commanded to worship, we are also commanded to rest. He suggested that to rest is holy, as the Bible states that we are to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” With this, he moved to the idea that we get the word “sabbatical” from the word “Sabbath”.
It was then that he pointed out how tenured professors are often granted by their institutions a time of sabbatical in order to do research, rest, rejuvenate, and map out the rest of their professional and educational careers. He expounded on how we do not duplicate this as much in the church, especially the black church. He went on to read out his own tenured resume for the congregation. Not the one that you would receive on paper, but the one that congregants often do not think about. The fact that he works 365 days a year, and is on call for his congregation 24/7. The fact that while he does have days off, there has not been a day in his 11 years at his current church that he has not been very aware that there were tasks that he must complete for the church that day. The fact that he’s preached over 5,000 sermons in his life, sermons, he added, that were not repeats or fluff, but that he labored and wrestled with God for on behalf of the waiting congregation. It was near this point in the sermon that he exclaimed, “My soul is tired.”
I think this is where I first shed a tear while watching the sermon. I interject here that I feel fortunate to have been able to view the entire sermon (the posting that I saw was later removed from YouTube) while it appears that many of the posts since the evening that I viewed the sermon only have small snippets which seem to be narrowly focused on Pastor Wesley’s sabbatical, the length of the sabbatical, his tired soul, or his feeling of distance from God. This last statement is where I felt almost protective of Pastor Wesley. I knew in that moment that he would be judged by the court of public opinion for that statement. While I’ve not seen any glaringly dogmatic posts about it, I know that many leaders in the black church culture would never admit such a feeling, although, I know without reservation: WE ALL FEEL IT.
It may be a temporary feeling that leaves us. It may be due in part to a sin or weight that we’ve left unchecked. It may be, like Pastor Wesley explained, that we have seemingly replaced time and relationship with God with the work of the ministry. I thought about other pastors, preachers, teachers, many who travel all over this country, preaching and teaching, often pulling out the same “word from God” in every city. I thought of how distant some pastors and evangelists must feel, not even having enough time to prepare a fresh word for the congregations that they serve. If they don’t have time to devote to that, then what must their personal devotion time look like?
Then I turned inwardly I thought about myself and where I find myself currently. While in many ways I feel closer to God than ever and see His hand in my life, there are other ways that I feel God’s will is so unclear to me. There are parts of my personal and ministry life that have been in complete limbo for a couple of years now (from my own vantage point…I’m sure that God has it all worked out) and quite honestly, I feel no closer to a resolution today than I did when I first began to feel this way. All of this, while continuing to serve in capacities that I’ve now served in for years. All of this, while still doing my passion “on the side” and working at an increasingly stressful 9-5 job. What does that look like you ask? Let me list my tenured resume for your consideration.
That looks like 18 years of working in ministry at one church, 15 in key leadership. That looks like countless rehearsals on nights and weekends. That looks like countless services on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Sunday nights, and any weeknight deemed necessary by church leadership. That looks like countless hours of preparation for rehearsals and services. That looks like countless meetings to keep the business of ministry going. That looks like numerous trips, mostly at my own expense, to support the work of ministry, all while working a full-time job. That looks like 14 hour days between work and church. That looks like going sometimes full months without one day to relax, take care of home, work out, wash clothes, etc. That looks like most of my co-workers go home on Friday and coming in every Monday refreshed from their relaxing weekend, while my weekend is usually jam packed with ministry events (this weekend is no different), only to get home late Sunday evening and immediately begin to prepare my mind and body to go right back to my job early the next morning. It’s often like a never-ending work week, an always-repeating cycle, or a never-ceasing work day. Add to this the challenges that come with work, ministry, and church (routine ones and new ones), and it all leads me to exclaim like Pastor Wesley: I am tired.
Even when I went on break for a few days with my family for Thanksgiving, explaining to my family that I was tired and really just wanted to lay around and do nothing, not converse, not entertain, not even think was difficult. My siblings love me, but not one of them carries the schedule that I’ve carried for over a decade now. I am constantly on the go and just needed a few days to do nothing. While I didn’t really get a long reprieve during that break, I did end up with one imposed by my doctor the last couple of days, after working for 5 days at my job’s annual meeting, walking the convention center floor, getting minimal rest, rising super early, managing events logistics, and acting as a resource for those around me some days from dark to dark. When I got home, I knew I needed to go to the doctor. I went, and was put on another steroid to combat the bronchitis that I had just battled a few weeks earlier. My body is tired, my mind is tired, and undoubtedly, my soul feels the same.
So what to do about it: I am currently looking at my schedule for 2020. My plan is to carve out time for myself. I’m planning it. Calendaring it, and etching it in stone. How does that look? I’m not quite sure yet. It may be a day out of the week or bi-weekly that I declare as “Me Day”. I would need to set it, document it, and not allow anyone, work, church, nor family to move it. I’ve got to make time for me, and I’ve got to be ok with making that time. I deserve time as much as anything else or anyone else connected to me. People often say that if you die, your job will have your position posted for a replacement before your obituary is posted. In most cases this is true. But guess what Pastor, Minister of Music, Worship Leader, Musician, the same is true in church. If you suddenly couldn’t show up to serve next week, they will find someone to work in your stead (temporarily or permanently) at the same time as (or possibly even before) making sure that you are ok. The song will get lead. The sermon will get preached. The saints will still dance. So….you must make sure that YOU are ok.
That’s where I am. In 2020 I have to make some decisions to make sure JEREMIAH is ok. I’ve sacrificed a lot in the name of being a good leader, a good employee, a good helper etc., and the sacrifices are not over and have been mostly worth it. However, before I give more of myself, I must be sure that I am replenished and replenishing. This replenishment is not an isolated event. I have to find and secure replenishment for my current state, and then build a system to keep my supply full if I am to keep pushing, teaching, moving, directing, leading in the way that I have. I’m 37 years old. If I’m to keep pouring for the next 37 years or more, I must admit when my storage is empty. While I may not be a candidate for a full-fledged sabbatical, today I admit to myself: I am in need of a rest.
Visit my website at www.jeremiahworrell.com for more information, blogs, and resources.