It was a perfect autumn day about this time of year in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I was hiking with a friend during some free time at a spiritual life retreat our college held every fall. The deep ravines and rocky hills and cliffs made for an exhilarating ramble. They also made it difficult to move in a straight line, especially if one avoided the hiking trails as we had done, because where’s the fun in that?
Our choice of path made the hike much more interesting, and just a bit more dangerous, with the smaller rocks often being brittle and slippery. I wasn’t worried; he knew the area and the way back to camp, but on one occasion we had to climb down a cliff to keep on course. It didn’t look too bad; there were plenty of places for handholds and footholds, so we each picked a section that looked promising and started.
I was about halfway down the cliff, when I realized that I’d run out of easy handholds. I was fine where I was, but I obviously couldn’t stay there. There was a good handhold off to my right, and my friend who had reached a narrow ledge below me, confirmed that it looked like it would be the best way to continue. The only problem was that I would have to let go with my feet and my free hand in order to reach the place where I could proceed.
One could create a moral for the story about hiking and staying on the trail – but the broader point is simply that whether we choose it or not, there are times in life where we are faced with situations where the only way to truly move forward is to step out, reach out in faith, willing to let go and risk, to “take hold of life that is truly life”, as Paul puts it.
The invitation to a season of Sabbath is one of those times. To take a look at our lives and our calendars. What are we busy doing? What have we filled our lives with?
And, what will we let go of in this part of the journey? Like being on the cliff, letting go of everything would be disastrous. Holding on to everything will keep us pinned where we are.
- What worries, burdens or fears can we begin to hand over to God in trust?
- What things on our calendars (whether church related or not) can we step back from for a time to create an opportunity to rest, examine and listen for God’s guidance?
- What are the things that aren’t on our calendars, but fill up our time? Are there ways we can simplify or redirect these things for a time?
Let’s do this with the bigger picture in mind: where are we going in this journey?
At the beginning of the year, the diaconate went on a retreat and talked about the purpose of the church. The conversation centered on living in community, and encouraging growth in Christ together.
We also talked about how we know whether we’re being effective in that mission. We often count things like baptisms and proclamations of faith, worship attendance, membership numbers, budget giving, and so on. There is some reality to those measures.
But the diaconate also came up with measures of effectiveness like:
- Reach: Are we increasingly making connections with people outside of the church? Are we finding partners in this mission of seeking God and walking in Jesus’ footsteps?
- Growth: Are we growing the number of people who are discovering and using their gifts to serve God and show love in everyday life?
- Depth: Are we creating the kind of environment wherever we go that invites us to move deeper in following Jesus? Are we willing to get real with each other so that in truth, we discover freedom?
- Focus: Out of all the things we can be doing as a church, how do we structure our time and energy on the things which matter most, and let go of methods and programs when needed?
There are things we do because we’ve always done them. Some of it we need to hold on to. Some things we may need to let go of, adapt or change. As we journey into a Sabbath time together, let’s get creative with our time and energy, reaching out in faith for the life together that God calls us to.