In a talk earlier this year, Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told about hearing psychologist Erik Erickson give a lecture about the meaning of life. Erickson said that the richest and fullest lives are an attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play. Pursuing one realm at the expense of the others produces ultimate sadness in old age while seeking all three makes possible a life of achievement and serenity.
Kearns then used the examples of Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Baines Johnson to demonstrate the importance of balance in one’s life. Abraham Lincoln was a self-taught man who had an intense desire to accomplish something worthy and make the world a better place. Lincoln was able to transcend personal grief, failure and hardship to be elected President during the most tumultuous period in our country’s history.
Lincoln was ambitious but also loved deeply. He suffered much sorrow yet knew how to play. He was politically skilled but also had great emotional strength. Lincoln had a sense of humor and attended the theater 100 times in Washington during the Civil War. How ironic that Lincoln was assassinated while attending the very theater he loved. Kearn’s latest book about Lincoln, Team of Rivals, provides the basis for Steven Spielberg’s next film.
By contrast, Kearns claims that Lyndon Baines Johnson was never able to achieve balance in the three realms of work, love and play. Johnson spent most of his life seeking political power and success at the expense of love and play, so that when he retired Johnson had no emotional energy left to enjoy family, friends and hobbies. Kearns, who spent much time with Johnson while writing his biography, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, said that he had everything in retirement that money buy, including a family who loved him. However, years of focusing solely on work meant that Johnson could not find a balance in his life that resulted in serenity, inner peace and joy. As a consequence, Johnson slowly brought about his own death.
Over the past several months, I have been pondering a vision for my ministry as a superintendent. At the same time, a task force of our District Leadership Council is working on a formal vision and mission statement for the Grand Rapids District, which will be presented for approval at our District Conference on February 15, 2009.
My personal vision for the Grand Rapids District is Healthy Churches, Healthy Pastors. The vision is quite simple, yet it expresses my deep conviction that in order to bring in God’s kingdom on this earth, churches and pastors must incarnate the gospel of Jesus Christ as a way of living and being, not simply as a set of beliefs. Both churches and pastors need to cultivate spiritual practices that keep us attentive to God’s presence in every moment and person. When churches maintain a healthy balance between spiritual formation and outreach, nurture and mission, and justice and mercy, they are better able to reach out beyond their walls to a hurting world. That’s why many of you will be attending Dan Dick’s workshop Vital Congregations, this Saturday (it’s not too late to sign up!)
Congregations take their cues from pastors, however. As pastors, we lead from our hearts by modeling health and wholeness and balancing work, love and play. In vital congregations, both churches and pastors must be healthy!
A few weeks ago, we had our annual retirees’ tea at Clark Retirement Community. I shared my vision of healthy churches, healthy pastors with the 60 retired pastors and spouses who had gathered. After relating Goodwin’s story about Eric Erickson, I asked them, “What advice would you give to pastors today? What did you learn from your ministry about keeping a healthy balance between work, love and play? Here is a sampling of their answers.
- Prioritize your responsibilities and set boundaries around your time
- Find someone to talk to; be in a covenant group
- Engage in Bible and spiritual reading outside of sermon preparation
- Don’t be afraid to risk and go where angels fear to tread
- Make friends outside the church and volunteer in your community
- When you’re done working, let it go and be fully present to your family
- Always evaluate and learn from your mistakes
- Keep a file folder with all the positive notes you’ve received over the years
- Forgive yourself, forgive others, and move on
- Remember that if you are doing your job right, you will never please everyone
- Find a blessing in every difficulty
- Take ministry seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously
- Have a hobby, whether it’s sports, music, photography, or woodworking
- Take all of your vacation time!
I’ll be sharing more about healthy churches, healthy pastors in the months to come. Everything that I am doing as a superintendent is now seen through the lens of pastoral and congregational health. This week I am meeting with two parish nurses in the Grand Rapids District to discuss a possible district-wide congregational health and wellness initiative. At the same time, I know that I need to monitor my own health.
What are healthy practices for me? I have learned over the years that I am most healthy when I am fully attentive to God and aware of the burning bushes in my path every day. I am healthy when I am alert and responsive to all living things; when I see beauty all around me; when I have a burning passion to make a difference in the world; when I keep listening, learning, stretching, and going deeper; when I stay connected with my children, spouse and elderly parents; when “thank you” becomes the most important word in my vocabulary; when I stop working in order to run free, practice the organ, enjoy a round of golf, bury myself in a good novel and play with family.
Work, love, play: how’s your balance?
P.S. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow!