Do or Not To Do
. . . that we may reap
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
Berry, from Sabbaths
friend and I are sitting having an expensive lunch in the
dining room of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.
She’s a Unitarian minister at a big church in Framingham.
Stockbridge is about equidistant from where we each live and
Stephanie and I met when we were students in a clinical pastoral
education program at a hospital in Philadelphia. Clinical
pastoral education programs differ a lot from one another,
but ours was a hellish stretch of 11 weeks during which we
had a crash course in a multitude of health crises, chronic
diseases and permanent medical conditions.
We also spent hours each day critiquing each others’ pastoral
visits, having group or individual therapy sessions and weathering
the feedback from Angela, the fiercely caring, but very harsh
Catholic sister who was our supervisor.
Fortunately Angela liked women better than men so Stephanie
and I, the only women in the group, had it a bit easier than
the guys. Nevertheless, we still worked 60-hour weeks and
rotated night duty. The utterly creepy on-call chaplain’s
room was in the hospital’s oldest wing, tucked beneath the
old belfry, one floor above the psych ward and across the
roof from the hospice unit. Some of the toughest nights of
my life were those I had to spend in the on-call chaplain’s
In those crazy 11 weeks, Stephanie and I became fast friends.
Eventually we each left Philadelphia, but over the years,
we have seen each other through career crises, a premature
birth, divorces, family illnesses and all the rest of life’s
stuff. For the first year she was in Framingham, I was living
in Boston, so it was like old times in Philadelphia.
But I moved back here years ago. She doesn’t make it to Albany
much and I don’t make it to Framingham much. Even finding
time for phone calls seems harder and harder. Months go by.
was the last thing I had told you about it?” we ask each other,
trying to assess just how far behind we are on each others’
Over lunch we figure out it’s been three years since we’ve
seen each other. Three years is a hell of a long stretch not
to find time to see a friend who lives a couple hours of easy
But we’ve got that much-respected, all-American excuse: We’re
Plus, we work at professions that always involve talking,
processing, reaching out, caring. Sometimes it just feels
like more work to reach out to a friend.
But that’s a sad state of affairs.
It’s actually pretty amazing that we even managed to squeeze
in this lunch.
It was supposed to have been an overnight. We figured we’d
talk, shop, eat, get massages, have a real retreat.
But I got too busy. Let’s make it lunch, I said.
I expected her to say something like “Actually, I’ve got so
much work to do that lunch makes more sense than a whole night
What she said instead was, “OK.”
Stephanie is coming down the homestretch on a five-month sabbatical
from ministry. She told me that when she began her sabbatical
she wasn’t even sure she would want to come back to parish
life, with its endless little problems and personality conflicts.
She thought maybe the sabbatical was a dangerous thing because
it would show her just how tired she was from her work.
And in a way, it did. But what truly amazed her, what she
never would have thought possible was that the genuine rest
her sabbatical was providing was renewing her sense of meaning
in the work she does as a minister.
When generating meaning, envisioning new vistas, resolving
confusions is standard operating procedure in the work you
do, it’s easy to lose sight of the role rest plays in giving
A few years back it became fashionable for people in high-stress
jobs to come up with plans for “self care” so that their own
needs for spiritual and social refreshment—and health—didn’t
fall by the wayside. But the problem with a self-care plan
is that it is a plan: one more thing on a slate of
things to do.
That’s how I’ve been handling things. If it’s not on my to-do
list it’s not important. But if I put something I really enjoy
on my to-do list it becomes an item on a to-do list.
It’s an unending circle that’s really just a kind of hubris.
Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal
and Delight in Our Busy Lives writes “Our reluctance to
rest—our belief that our joy and delight may somehow steal
from the poor, or add to the sorrows of those who suffer—is
a dangerous and corrosive myth, because it creates the illusion
that service to others is a painful and dreary thing.”
Rest, Stephanie concludes, is misunderstood and underrated.
Maybe she’s right.
It’s gotten late. Stephanie and I have talked for so long
that unless I really hurry I’ll get caught in rush hour traffic
by the time I get to Albany.
We hug good-bye, promise that we won’t let three years go
by without seeing each other. And I know we really mean it.
But even as I’m clicking myself into my seatbelt and turning
on National Public Radio for the drive back, I can feel my
mind already wandering back to busyness-as-usual.
When will I be back in cell-phone range so that I can check
the messages at my office? What day next week looks good for
an oil change?
Where can I go to get my computer fixed? What should I say
in the vision statement I’m writing? What should I write about
in the column?