Taking a sabbatical in my home town is a bit like going to a kids birthday party for some peace and quiet.
Nevertheless coming here and taking a sabbatical were both things I felt like God was leading me to do. It’s much easier to make jokes about than to manage well and I’m taking some time today to lay this situation before God. To be honest, I think this very thing is one of my main reasons I need a sabbatical and a huge part of why God led me to do it here in Washington state.
Like when you pray for patience and discover yourself surrounded by frustrating life you can (wrongly) see it as proof that you shouldn’t have prayed for patience, or you can see it as a divine opportunity to get in plenty of practice. And, let’s face it, life is ever full of such opportunities. It is just a matter of choosing to see each thing as a chance to grow instead of as a God given “trial.”
God is not spiteful, but he is wise and he is loving.
So here I am on the verge of a week in which many “opportunities” are presenting themselves, all piled up, pushing and pulling at me…
I want to convey this with much love and grace, because the truth is that it is not other people who are to blame for the stress. I am the place where stress begins as I am far too concerned about disappointing people, missing opportunities to serve, and failing to accomplish every awesome thing that comes into my head. Not only that, but I am quite exhausted from the season I just came through in Colorado.
As I sat here writing in my paper journal and talking to God, I grabbed my Bible and tried to think of a story within it which would speak to my current situation. I immediately thought of Moses (I usually think of him first since he’s my favorite) and the obvious story that jumped into my head was the part (in Exodus 18) when Moses’ father-in-law visits. Jethro sees Moses sitting all day long-
“… Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning until evening.” (Exodus 18:13)
Jethro is like, “Buddy! This is no good! You’re all going to burn out super fast! Find other leaders and delegate this responsibility to them and only have them come to you with the really big stuff.”
This was good advice, and although I didn’t immediately know what it could mean to delegate my life (since I really have no official job, I just have a lot of friends), I did immediately think of something else from Moses’ life that had never occurred to me before:
Moses is called by God to lead His people out of slavery and while the people do rebel and reject him at several points in various ways, he (because of God’s power through him) gets them out and they all make it to Mt. Sinai together. Although there are by this time elders and other helpers (including Aaron, Mo’s easily influenced brother), Moses is still the one guy talking directly with God and he is, therefore, their best Head Cheese.
But what does Mo do at Sinai? Twice he goes up to the top of the mountain to talk with God for forty days. He doesn’t take a cell phone with him… not even a pager or carrier pigeon.
If you were to ask anyone, “What’s the best way to be a leader to hundreds of thousands of people?” no one would advise doing what Moses did by leaving them. It’s not like we can excuse this “foolishness” by saying that it didn’t result in any harm. The consequence of his mountain sabbatical was that the people, forlorn and afraid, chose to turn to idolatry. And yet, even though going up on the mountain seemed unwise in the short term, his time with God yielded the identity of a nation. Moses’ total devotion to God and their friendship spoke even more radically than the laws he brought down.
There are several takeaways:
1. No leader (friend, mentor, sister, father, etc) is responsible for the actions of of the people they have charge over. They are responsible to act wisely themselves, to show love, to teach, to give what they have to give, but they cannot make anyone else respond well.
2. Time with God is the first priority of anyone who walks with him and it will, ultimately lead to better things than if that time were put on the back burner.
3. Sometimes doing the right thing (by God’s standards) will upset other people.
4. Sometimes those upset people will respond sinfully to your obedience to God but this does not nullify your obedience.
The underlying reality of all of this is that what we need most is God. We all stand before him as individuals and are responsible to be obedient for ourselves. No amazing mentor, leader or friend can replace a personal relationship with Him and we, as mentors, leaders and friends have no place feeling responsible for the way others choose to respond to God or to us.
But it’s not black and white and it’s desperately difficult to say ‘no’ to an activity at the base of the mountain even though I know God is calling me to sit in his presence.
Jesus’ words to Martha help me a lot as I wrestle with that feeling that I’m failing others,
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
May I learn how to sit at the feet of Jesus until he says to rise and get to “work.”