What makes the Bible so fascinating to me is the way it invites us to ponder courses of action that run contrary to those of the prevailing culture and how, by so doing, we come to manifest the deeper dimensions of faith.
For example, in the famous 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes, a book that unapologetically promotes a contrarian way of wisdom, the writer commends a season of life that he calls “a time to lose.” I don’t know of anything that calls people to a countervailing path in life more than talk about losing. While everyone and everything around us promotes winning, here is a passage of Holy Writ that tells us while we certainly should invest ourselves in “gain,” there is also a time when we should welcome “losing.”
I thought about this flip side of common thought while reading an article by Judith Shulevitz in the recent issue of Atlantic magazine titled, “Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore.” Shulevitz recounts how our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on us and our sense of community. Because we are obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder and padding our bank accounts, we have “traded our birthright for a mess of pottage” (my metaphor, not hers) and found ourselves never having enough time for others, especially those nearest and dearest to us. Ask the professional who feels as if she has to donate most of her waking hours to her career or ask the family who feels as if they have to be away three out of every four weekends with the travel team. Factor in the myriad obligations that people in a community like ours have and you see quickly that too many of our relationships are superficial and unfulfilling. In the words of Jesus, we have come close to “gaining the whole world and losing our own souls” (Mark 8:36).
Perhaps it’s time for us to revisit the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and ask ourselves if there’s something better for us to give up than our own souls.
As someone whose work schedule is intrinsically unpredictable and at times overbearing (because Sunday rolls around regularly), let me share with you what I’m working on to save my own soul. I’ve discovered I have to be intentional about my personal calendar in two ways. One, while I must make sure that I schedule all of the pastoral responsibilities with which I have been tasked, I also find it wise to schedule time for my family and for myself, both of which feed my soul in life-giving ways. That’s the easy part. The second task is the more difficult one. When I am with family or with myself, I must fight the temptation to check my smartphone constantly so that I am not pulled back into the very demands and pressures that will overwhelm my soul if I allow them to do so. Thus, in a nutshell, I find it important to schedule and separate. Only then will my “losing” be “gain.”
It seems that this practice is one Jesus himself chose with a good deal of frequency. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus “withdrawing” and going off “to a lonely place” where he could spend time alone with God. Only then could he reconnect with the demands of his ministry where he also felt compelled “to do the work of Him who sent me while it is still day” (John 9:4).
As we talk this month about the stewardship of our money, maybe it’s a good thing for us to contemplate as well the manner in which we also steward our time. Perhaps by so doing, our calendars will clear up just a bit and our investment in church won’t be just another task on our calendars we have to mark off, but will become what God always intended it to be – a Sabbath rest and a chance to experience communion with Him and others whose hearts, like ours, are given to Him.
“Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).