Sabbath: Forgiveness and Responsibility 

November 15, 2016

I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s a troublesome personality trait I’ve worked on for several years. In many ways it serves me well – it prods me to do my best and not settle for sub-par work; but it doesn’t serve me well when I get into a mindset that my best is not good enough and my self-worth gets tied up in continual striving toward an ever-elusive ideal of perfection. I continually try to find equilibrium, to balance the tension between accepting that my best is good enough and the compulsion to never settle for anything less than a never-attainable “perfection.” So much for analysis.

When asked to write about Sabbath, I didn’t think I had anything cogent to say. Growing up unchurched, but with a mother keenly interested in the spiritual practices of all people, I had a notion of the concept of Sabbath – partly because secular life in small-town Indiana was affected by it. Most of the shops were closed, the kids I played with attended church, there was never anything good on TV. I spent my Sundays drawing, writing, reading, wandering the countryside. It was a different kind of day, one when even my work-obsessed father would tend to relax, the one day we might eat a family meal together. Looking back, I recognize those uneventful lazy Sundays as particularly nourishing for body, mind and soul.

Like many on Plymouth staff, I choose to take only some of my accrued vacation. Over the year, I have forfeited many weeks for many reasons. One reason is prompted by the shadowy voice of my perfectionist sneering that if I want something done right I must do it myself, that no one else can do my job “right.” It’s hard to admit this because I know it disservices my talented and diligent colleagues whose hearts are every bit as invested as mine in the work they do for us all. And I realize not taking the leave I’ve earned is akin to rejecting a gift: not cool.

This year, my reasons for leaving weeks of vacation on the table are different. Amid the turmoil and turnover and budget concerns the front office staff were frankly told we’d be wise to update our resumes. After hearing that, I wasn’t about to take more vacation than I’d already requested. I need to be clear that my decision to forego paid vacation has been mine alone. I was encouraged to take it, and I chose not to. In writing this, I realize I have a real problem with “Letting Go.”

Of course I know our discussion of Sabbath isn’t just about taking vacation. I think one of the underlying fundamentals is forgiveness. Allowing myself Sabbath is a way to forgive myself for being weary and needing a break. To forgive myself from always feeling the need to be in control. To forgive the arrogance of feeling I alone can do the job right. Although Sabbath was made for people, not people for Sabbath, the perfectionist in me can more easily come to grips with the idea there’s responsibility involved in the call to observe Sabbath. Taking time off is a responsibility I owe myself, my family and community and ultimately God, who calls us to stillness that we may attune ourselves to the small voice of Spirit that resides therein. -Robert Turner


Topics: Church Life


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