Last week, Gary went outside in the early morning and said, “Look, there’s a baby bird on the porch!” Last year, two barn swallows decided to make a nest in the alcove of our porch. We watched as they carefully built a nest and left debris and droppings on the steps. Unfortunately, we were out of town when the baby birds were born.
This spring, the barn swallow couple returned and reinforced their nest. Gary and I danced around them whenever we entered the house and awaited new birth. Three weeks ago, we noticed what may have been a dead baby bird on our sidewalk and feared the worst. Barn swallow babies stay in the nest until they are about 18-23 days old. Although they, like all birds, have an innate instinct to fly, they do have to learn from their parents through reinforcement.
The little bird we saw last week was clearly learning to fly. The mother was perched on our roof and verbally encouraged the fledgling to try. The baby made a valiant attempt, clearly trying to fly up to the high nest in the alcove, but she didn’t get much lift. This went on a few times without much success. Then the baby started walking and hopping down the sidewalk, probably in frustration. Both parents flew around her, offering motivation. The baby tried again but only got a few feet into the air.
I had to get ready for work, but Gary kept watching, fearful that the baby would head into the street as people were heading to work. The two adult birds kept flying around, chirping at the baby, seemingly encouraging and chastising it. About ten minutes later, with the baby three houses down the street by now, the mother took off into the air, indicating for the baby to follow. And, wouldn’t you know it, she did it! She leapt into the air and flew to the top of the house. The baby began the process of becoming who God created her to be by learning to fly.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) Unlike the baby barn swallow, I am still learning to fly. I am continually seeking to become the person God created me to be. Sometimes the way seems clear, the roadblocks few. Other times, the journey has many detours, I become weary and tired, and it seems as if I am traveling in circles without arriving anywhere.
I am taking some time away in July and August to learn how to fly again. Over 36 years of ministry, I have been blessed to take two three-month formational and spiritual growth leaves in 2001 and again in 2011 (Book of Discipline, ¶350.3). It has taken many years to admit this, but I have great difficulty putting boundaries around my ministry. This, in turn, has led to occasional burnout, neglect of family, over-functioning, and an inability to say “no” and stop. My abiding love for the church and deep commitment to excellence in ministry creates blinders at times so that I can no longer maintain a healthy balance between work, family, and play. There is always one more person to visit, one more committee meeting to lead, one more phone call to make, and one more sermon to write.
Learning to fly again and living a balanced life involves becoming our true, authentic selves and is an ongoing process. There are times in each of our lives when taking a “time-out” is necessary. I am aware that many jobs do not provide an opportunity for extended time away. However, the intensity and demands of ministry are such that our Book of Discipline requires periodic professional formational leaves for clergy of at least one week every year, with the option of including at least one month during every four years (BOD, ¶350.2) Bishops are required to take up to three months leave every four years for the purpose of “reflection, study, and self-renewal.” (BOD, ¶410.2)
There are several dimensions to my attempt to become healthy and whole and learn to fly again. I suspect they might apply to you as well.
What do you need to release in order to become healthy? Do you need to let go of anger, bitterness, or jealousy over someone else’s success? Do you need to release an addiction to work or the necessity of always getting everything done before you can relax? What is holding you back?
Recovery and rest
What is preventing you from getting the physical rest that your body needs? Americans are notorious for not getting enough sleep. We burn the candle at both ends, and our addiction to technology exacerbates the difficulty we have with calling it quits and going to sleep.
Even though I have played sports my whole life, it has taken many years to realize that rest is just as important as exercise because it is a necessary component of building strength, endurance, and muscle. Intense training results in micro-damage to our body’s tissues, so if we do not have enough rest and recovery between sessions, our body begins to break down and we risk becoming sick. The body repairs itself when we take the time to recover. Are you getting enough rest? Really?
When I am working, I often lament that I do not have enough time for reflection. It’s common to run from one meeting to another and never stop and ponder what we have done and how we could have improved the process. One thing I like about our Loving, Learning, and Leading (Spiritual Leadership, Inc. or SLI) process in the Iowa Annual Conference is that we always make room for evaluation and assessment. We call it RAD: reflect, adjust, and do. When we honestly assess our processes and make necessary adjustments, we’ll make better decisions in the future. How do you take time to reflect?
If I am going to continually learn how to fly again, I have to be connected with the One who created me. When we take time away, it offers space to “waste time with Jesus”. When I took my first renewal leave in 2001, the most startling discovery in my reflection time was that I had lost my first love. In my passion for doing things for Jesus and building God’s church, I had neglected my relationship with God.
When I make the room to read scripture unhurriedly, ponder my relationship with Jesus, spend time with family, witness the movement of the Holy Spirit in creation, and express my innermost thoughts in writing, I fall in love with God again and learned how to fly once more. How do you reconnect with God?
By occasionally releasing ourselves from all obligations; by resting in Jesus and reflecting on God’s call in our lives, both in our past and in the future; by reconnecting with the image of God that is in each one of us; and by renewing our commitment to mercy, justice, and creating a world where everyone can reach their full potential and experience wholeness, we are able to say with hope and joy, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
Did you notice? Each of the words I chose begins with the prefix “re,” which from the Latin means either “again” or “again and again.” May our lives be a constant reminder to learn to fly again and again and again.
This will be my last blog until September. I will be learning to fly again.