On Monday I took the day off. It doesn't sound so revolutionary, but it was the second day I've had off in over a month. I work at a university, and when I tell people this, they usually reply, "Oh, that must be so fun! And you get the summers off!" I try not to laugh. My job is fun, and summers provide more breathing room, but I do work year-round. There are weddings to officiate, reunions activities to coordinate, and I started a doctoral program this summer as well. The summer is intended to be my catch-up time for reports, planning, and organization, but by the time the whirlwind of the spring semester ends in early June, I'm practically a zombie and spend a couple of days just staring off into space. The quiet is as comforting as a warm blanket and I think of all the rest I'll catch up on as soon as I finish the reports and clear off my desk. In the beginning, the summer seems to stretch endlessly ahead. I'm not sure how it happens, but I get caught off-guard at the end of July every year. How have two months passed? What do I have to show for the time? I worked full days most every day, and yet not a single item on my to-do list has been completed. I start to mildly panic but promise myself I'll get on track. I make charts and lists and set calendar reminders about the tasks that need to be completed. And I ignore every single one until the middle of August. August, then, becomes a frenzy of last-minute preparations and anxiety dreams of forgotten exams and standing naked in public. I start to have feelings of dread and worry that nothing will work like I've planned, that I will be inadequate.
September is non-stop activity and chaos from meeting new students to catching up with old friends. There are a ton of orientation events that I'm involved in while also restarting my programs and student groups. The days, evenings, and weekends are full of programs and unexpected crises and before I know it, I can't remember the last time I had a break. But the exhaustion is incapacitating, and I realize it when I start to lose my filter and my impatience shows in my words and on my face. It's not a good attitude for a chaplain. But what can you do when you're faced with unrelenting pastoral needs, an unexpected death, and the expectations continue to mount? Chaplains are always on call.
I know I'm not indispensable and I'm certainly no superhero. I need breaks and I need to take care of myself just like I encourage my students to do. I bemoan the system that is so unnecessarily busy, and yet I fall into its trap every single time. Some of it is unavoidable, but many times it's of my own choosing. I like to feel needed. I want to be accomplishing things. Busyness becomes a bad habit that makes me feel important. My identity is often wrapped up in what I do, an unfortunate side effect of being the people-pleasing straight A student in my earlier life.
But I realize that I desire something different. Not something more, but something less. I want space between my appointments, time to process and reflect. I want walks with good friends and savoring meals instead of just using them as gripe sessions. I long to enjoy time with my family instead of just being stressed about making time for togetherness like it's an inconvenience. I want Sabbath time to truly be grateful for work that calls me and exhausts me, even as I'm filled yet again with the sacredness and joy of it. I need to be reminded that it's not about what I do, but who I am. As I use my gifts to serve God and others and I hope to be a model that we don't have to do it all. We are valuable, we are accepted, we are loved as we are. We are enough.
The thing about pushing on without a break is that you start to think that it's never enough. There's always one more task to accomplish, one more way to better yourself. Exhaustion becomes a status symbol, until it becomes a liability. It was only in stepping away that I realized that it's not about me at all. I cannot control things by my presence, regardless of how I think otherwise. My absence shows me that the world continues on, and that's actually freedom. I can take care of myself and that doesn't make me weak, but can be a model of strength and faith for those I serve. In my work, I talk a lot about finding sanctuary in our busy lives, but I'm realizing that the most important thing is finding it within our selves. Most times it means stopping what I feel is the "important" work and just doing a little less.