The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



Being, having & doing enough

In the rush and pressure of our busy lives, most of us have forgotten what enough of anything feels like. How do we know we have done enough work, made enough money, done enough for others or gotten enough done on our to-do list?

A thermostat senses when our home is sufficiently warm or cool, then sends a message to power down to resting mode. But what about our inner thermostat — the quiet voice that tells us we have done what we could or given what we were able?

What if this inner knowing has been silenced? If we move too fast, we ignore the signals we receive from our bone-weary souls that tell us to slow down, even stop.

I was compelled to write A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough (Harmony Books, 2010) because after reading and discussing my book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (Bantam, 1999), countless people told me it was nearly impossible to find — or to give themselves permission to take — sabbath time. It was hard to truly let go and step back from their good and necessary work, not only to ground their faith life in worship but also to simply rest.

Roger is a gifted, thoughtful physician. One day we were discussing the effects of exhaustion on the quality of our work. Physicians are trained to work when they are bone-weary and sleep-deprived, a requirement from the moment they begin medical school.

getty images/pam ullman

"I discovered in medical school," Roger told me, "that if I saw a patient when I was tired or overworked, I would order a lot of tests. I could see the symptoms, I could recognize the possible diagnoses, but I was so exhausted I couldn't really tell what was going on, how everything fit together. So I got in the habit of ordering a battery of tests, hoping they would tell me what I was missing.

"But if I had an opportunity to get some sleep or go for a walk, when I saw the next patient I could rely on my intuition and experience to give me a pretty accurate reading of what was happening. If there was any uncertainty about my diagnosis, I would order a specific test to confirm or deny it. When I could take the time to listen and be present with them and their illness, I was almost always right."

We have built our lives on a ridiculous belief that if we move faster, work longer and harder (with the help of all our astonishingly swift and convenient technologies), and fix everything broken or complete every project, then we can finally say, "That is enough. Now I can rest."

But this foolish, impossible moment never arrives, and without permission from our culture, workplace — sadly, even our church — how can we know it is allowed?

In my work with groups small and large, I meet so many good-hearted people who are exhausted — parents and teachers, businesspeople and volunteers, medical professionals and civil servants — all trying to contribute to their family, their community, their world. But they feel victimized by increasing expectations, demands and requirements that destroy any possibility of finding space or ease in their daily lives for what is required of us: honoring the Sabbath.

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February issue


Embracing diversity